Monsignor Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while giving a mass on March 24th, 1980. Romero had become a recognized critic of violence and injustice, and was therefore perceived as a dangerous enemy by certain military and right wing civil groups. This March 24th, a mass honoring Monsignor Romero’s memory was held on the same altar where the latter one was gunned down exactly thirty years before.
“On Monday, March 24th, 1980, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while giving a mass in the chapel of the Divina Providencia Hospital. He was gunned down by a professional sniper who fired a single caliber 22 shot from a red vehicle parked outside the small church.” (1)
7:03 –Divina Providencia Hospital
“Monsignor Romero had become a recognized critic of violence and injustice. He was therefore perceived as a dangerous enemy by certain military and right wing civil groups. Monsignor Romero’s homilies, which constantly focused on human rights violations, profoundly irritated these factions.” (2)
“Monsignor Romero’s murder in particular, polarized even more Salvadorian society and became the breaking point that symbolized the utmost disregard for human rights and a clearly marked prelude to the full blown war between the government and the guerrilla forces.” (3)
Samuel Ruiz, Emeritus Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, presided a mass honoring Monsignor Romero’s memory on the same altar where the latter one was gunned down exactly thirty years before.
During the mass, both clergy and parishioners solicited urgent prayers and action with regards to the following issues: against “projects of death” like metal mining and hydroelectric dams, the repression currently going on in Honduras as a result of last year’s coup d’état, sweatshop abuses mostly suffered by women, a proper and dignified reconstruction of Haiti and Chile due to the recent earthquakes, against “uncontrolled and voracious consumerism”, for peace and justice for indigenous peoples – “true inhabitants of our lands”, against wrongfully used mass media that is alienating instead of informing, due reparation for the victims of human rights abuses during the internal armed conflicts that took place in the region, and so that rich countries in the North truly act in solidarity with the poor ones in the South.
Nevertheless, Monsignor Romero’s own words still resound today and rightfully serve as a testimony of his struggle for justice. His homilies prove, 30 years on, that the roots of numerous social ills have not changed enough or, in some cases, at all.
“Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is not an equilibrium of two opposing forces in a struggle. Peace above all is not reached by repressing until death those who are not allowed to speak… True peace is based on justice and equality.” (August 14th, 1977)
“I denounce above all the absolute control of wealth. This is the root of all evil in El Salvador: wealth and private property as an untouchable absolutism, as a high voltage cable that will burn down whoever dares even touch it! It is not fair that few have it all… while the vast marginalized majority starves to death.” (August 12th, 1979)
“[Economic indexes of] progress are not the solution in this country. It is necessary that progress is based on the foundations of justice. If not, national security will become the personal security of those few who are rich, and progress will always benefit a minority.” (November 19th, 1978)
“Development demands audacious and profoundly innovative transformations. We must embark on urgent reforms without any further delay. Each one of us must generously accept their role; above all, those who have a greater possibility of action due to their education, financial situation and status. (January 5th, 1978)
9:15 – March begins towards the Cathedral
“The oligarchy is the cause of all our misfortunes. This small nucleus of families does not care if the rest of the people starve to death. In fact, they need these conditions to have abundant cheap labor available to them for the picking and exporting of their harvests.” (February 15th, 1980)
“Why is there an income available to the poor peasant majority only during the sowing and harvesting of coffee, cotton and sugar cane? Why does this society need to have unemployed peasant farmers, an underpaid working class, and unfair salaries? These mechanisms must be analyzed not from the eyes of an economist or a sociologist, but from a Christian point of view so as not to be an accomplice to this machinery that continually makes people poorer, marginalized, homeless.” (December 16th, 1979)
“It is a shame to have a mass media that is completely sold out. It is a shame not to be able to trust the information from the newspapers or the television or the radio because everything has been bought off and the truth is not divulged.” (April 2nd, 1978)
“So much violence in the country deeply worries me. But what worries me the most is that the people’s capacity to react, condemn, and protest, in general, has decreased significantly. This has allowed the continuation of repression in a shameless manner with complete liberty.” (March 2nd, 1980)
10:05 – At the Savior of the World roundabout
“Until when are we to endure these crimes without any vindication of justice? Where is this justice in our country? Where is the Supreme Court of Justice? Where is the honor in our democracy if people are to die in this way, like dogs, and their deaths are never investigated?” (June 21st, 1979)
“When the People are unorganized, they become a mass that can easily be manipulates. But when they become organized and defend their values, their justice, they become a force that must be reckoned with.” (March 2nd, 1980)
12:05 – Cathedral and Monsignor Romero’s Crypt
“A situation of injustice reigns in Latin America. Violence has been institutionalized… Because whenever there is a force that oppresses the weak and disallows their right to live in justice, their human dignity, then we have a situation of injustice.” (July 3rd, 1977)
“It is sad to read that in El Salvador the two main causes of death are: first is diarrhea, and second is murder… Therefore, right after the result of malnourishment, diarrhea, we have the result of crime, murder. These are the two epidemics that are killing off our people.” (September 9th, 1979)
“I want to make a special request to the men in the armed forces: brothers, we are from the same country, yet you continually kill your peasant brothers. Before any order given by a man, the law of God must prevail: ‘You shall not kill’… No person should have to follow an immoral law.” (March 23rd, 1980. One day before his assassination)
“We want the Government to be aware that blood-stained reforms are completely worthless. In the name of God, well, and in the name of the Salvadorian people who have suffered enormously and whose wails rise each day higher and higher towards the sky, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: stop de repression!” (March 23rd, 1980. One day before his assassination)
Monsignor Romero’s figure has transcended spiritual barriers within Salvadorian society, and the processes for his canonization are on their way in the Vatican. On his crypt, an offering from an emigrant reads: “Gratitude to God and Monsignor Romero for his miraculous intervention in protecting my voyage towards the United States. – Manuel Guillen.”
“The forces at the service of the oligarchy may register an ephemeral victory, but the voice of justice for our People will once again be heard and, rather sooner than later, it will prevail. The new society is coming, and it is coming fast.” (February 15th, 1980)
Versión en español aquí.
1 Mártinez Peñate, Óscar (Compiler). El Salvador. Los Acuerdos de Paz y el Informe de la Comisión de la Verdad. 1st. Ed. San Salvador, 2007. P. 231.
3 Op. Cit. Mártinez Peñate. P. 142.