CSPG’s Poster of the week celebrates Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the declaration this week by Pope Francis that Romero was a martyr. This moves him closer to being declared a Saint, something many throughout the Americas already believe.
Romero was a conservative priest, and his appointment as Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 was welcomed by the right wing Salvadoran government. It was simultaneously a big disappointment to many progressive priests who supported liberation theology, a religious movement which seeks to end economic and political injustice.
His change of consciousness perhaps began the same year, when Rutilio Grande, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend of Romero’s was assassinated for organizing the poor. The Salvadoran government ignored Romero’s requests to investigate the murder—probably because government supported death squads were behind it.
Romero began speaking out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. Violence and repression continued to escalate, and led to the Salvadoran Civil War (1979-1992) which was fueled by U.S. aid to the Salvadoran military. Romero criticized U.S. for giving military aid to the right-wing government, and in February 1980, Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter, warning that increased US military aid would "undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the political repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights." Carter, concerned that El Salvador would become "another Nicaragua", ignored Romero's pleas and continued military aid to the Salvadoran government. U.S. aid to the Salvadoran government and death squads was increased under President Ronald Reagan.
On March 23, 1980, Romero delivered a now famous homily in which he urged soldiers to turn to their consciences and disregard orders to kill fellow Salvadorans.
"Brothers, you are all killing your fellow countrymen. No soldier has to obey an order to kill," he said. "It is time to regain your conscience. In the name of God and in the name of the suffering people I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression."
That sermon drew sharp rebuke from government officials, who said Romero was committing a crime in inciting rebellion. A day later, a gunman shot Romero through the heart as he celebrated Mass.
Romero’s Funeral Mass in San Salvador on March 30, 1980 was attended by more than 250,000 mourners from all over the world. During the ceremony, smoke bombs exploded on the streets near the cathedral and subsequently there were rifle shots that came from surrounding buildings, including the National Palace. Many people were killed by gunfire and in the stampede of people running away from the explosions and gunfire; between 30-50 died. Some witnesses claimed it was government security forces that threw bombs into the crowd, and army sharpshooters, dressed as civilians, that fired into the chaos from the balcony or roof of the National Palace.
Years later, a U.N. Truth Commission said the assassination was planned by Roberto D'Abuisson, notorious founder of the ARENA party and paramilitary death squads. D’Abuisson and the ARENA party had close ties with U.S.
film: Romero (1989) starring Raul Julia as Archbishop Oscar Romero and Richard Jordan as Fr. Rutilio Grande.
Saint Romero of America March 24 Day of Peace in Central America
On 12 March 1977, Rutilio Grande, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend of Romero who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor, was assassinated. His death had a profound impact on Romero, who later stated, "When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path'". Romero urged the government to investigate, but they ignored his request. Furthermore, the censored press remained silent.
Tension was noted by the closure of schools and the lack of Catholic priests invited to participate in government. In response to Fr. Rutilio's murder, Romero revealed a radicalism that had not been evident earlier, speaking out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture.
In 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst a wave of human rights abuses by paramilitary right-wing groups and the government in an escalation of violence that would become the Salvadoran Civil War. Romero criticized the United States for giving military aid to the new government and wrote to President Jimmy Carter in February 1980, warning that increased US military aid would "undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the political repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights." Carter, concerned that El Salvador would become "another Nicaragua", ignored Romero's pleas and continued military aid to the Salvadoran government.
As a result of his humanitarian efforts, Romero began to be noticed internationally. In February 1980, he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Louvain. On his visit to Europe to receive this honor, he met Pope John Paul II and expressed his concerns at what was happening in his country. Romero argued that it was problematic to support the Salvadoran government because it legitimized terror and assassinations.
Statements on persecution of the Church
“In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs--they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands....
But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people's defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.”
In 1997, Pope John Paul II bestowed upon Romero the title of Servant of God, and a cause for beatification and canonization was opened for him. As the canonization process continues, some[who?] consider Romero an unofficial patron saint of the Americas and/or El Salvador; Catholics in El Salvador often refer to him as "San Romero". Even outside of Catholicism, Romero is honored by other Christian denominations, including the Church of England and Anglican Communion through the Calendar in Common Worship, as well as in at least one Lutheran liturgical calendar. Archbishop Romero is also one of the ten 20th-century martyrs depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London. In 2008, Europe-based magazine A Different View included Romero among its 15 Champions of World Democracy.
FuneralRomero was buried in the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador (Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador). The Funeral Mass on 30 March 1980 in San Salvador was attended by more than 250,000 mourners from all over the world. Viewing this attendance as a protest, Jesuit priest John Dear has said, "Romero's funeral was the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America."
At the funeral, Cardinal Corripio Ahumada, speaking as the personal delegate of Pope John Paul II, eulogized Romero as a "beloved, peacemaking man of God", and stated that "his blood will give fruit to brotherhood, love and peace."
During the ceremony, smoke bombs exploded on the streets near the cathedral and subsequently there were rifle shots that came from surrounding buildings, including the National Palace. Many people were killed by gunfire and in the stampede of people running away from the explosions and gunfire; official sources talk of 31 overall casualties, while journalists indicated between 30 and 50 died. Some witnesses claimed it was government security forces that threw bombs into the crowd, and army sharpshooters, dressed as civilians, that fired into the chaos from the balcony or roof of the National Palace. However, there are contradictory accounts as to the course of the events and "probably, one will never know the truth about the interrupted funeral."
As the gunfire continued, Romero's body was buried in a crypt beneath the sanctuary. Even after the burial, people continued to line up to pay homage to their martyred prelate.
International reactionArchbishop Romero's assassination received considerable attention across the world.
IrelandAll sections of Irish political and religious life condemned his assassination, with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Lenihan 'expressing shock and revulsion at the murder of Dr Romero', while the leader of the Trócaire charity, Eamon Casey, revealing that he had received a letter from Romero that very day. The previous October parliamentarians had given their support to the nomination that Archbishop Romero receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. In March each year since the 1980s, the Irish-El Salvador Support Committee holds a mass in honour of Archbishop Romero.
United KingdomIn October 1978, 119 British parliamentarians nominated Romero for the Nobel Prize for Peace. In this they were supported by 26 members of the United States Congress. When news of his assassination was reported, the new head of the Church of England, Robert Runcie, was about to be enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral. On hearing of Romero's death, one writer observed that Runcie "departed from the ancient traditions to decry the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador".
Investigations into the assassinationTo date, no one has ever been prosecuted for the assassination, or confessed to it, or took credit for it. In 2010, Alvaro Saravia named Roberto D'Aubuisson as giving the assassination order to him over the phone. Saravia said that he drove the assassin to the cathedral and paid him 1,000 Salvadoran colons after the event. The assassin has not been identified.
It is widely believed that the assassins were members of a death squad led by former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson. This view was supported by ex-US ambassador Robert White, who in 1986 reported to the United States Congress that "there was sufficient evidence" to convict D'Aubuisson of planning and ordering Archbishop Romero's assassination. It was also supported in 1993 by an official United Nations report which identified D'Aubuisson as the man who ordered the killing. It is believed that D'aubisson had strong connections to the Nicaraguan National Guard and to its offshoot the Fifteenth of September Legion and had also planned to overthrow the government in a coup. Later he founded the political party Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), and organized death squads that systematically carried out politically motivated assassinations and other human rights abuses in El Salvador. Álvaro Rafael Saravia, a former captain in the Salvadoran Air Force, was chief of security for D'Aubuisson and an active member of these death squads. In 2003, a United States human rights organization, the Center for Justice and Accountability, filed a civil action against Saravia. In 2004, he was found liable by a US District Court under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) (28 U.S.C. § 1350) for aiding, conspiring, and participating in the assassination of Romero. Saravia was ordered to pay $10 million for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity pursuant to the ATCA. On 24 March 2010—the thirtieth anniversary of Romero's death—Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes offered an official state apology for Romero's assassination. Speaking before Romero's family, representatives of the Catholic Church, diplomats, and government officials, Funes said those involved in the assassination "…unfortunately acted with the protection, collaboration or participation of state agents."