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Oscar Romero

About Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero

On Monday, March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was shot and killed while saying Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital in San Salvador. Once regarded as a quiet, bookish cleric, Romero had dared to speak out against state-sanctioned terrorism on behalf of its otherwise voiceless, and often impoverished, victims. In his homily at the basilica the previous day, he had directly addressed the army and National Guard: “I implore you, I beg you, in God’s name I order you: Stop the repression!” Tragically, his appeal was not heeded: at least 75,000 Salvadorans died in the ensuing 12-year civil war between the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government and a coalition of rebel groups known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Though much has changed for the better since the war ended in a negotiated settlement in 1992, significant challenges remain, and on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, Romero continues to be a symbol of hope for those on the underside of Salvadoran history—a history inextricably linked, for better or worse, with that of the United States.

“I will not tire of declaring that if we truly want an effective end to the violence, we must eliminate the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, the exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression,In his weekly homilies and radio addresses as archbishop, Romero repeatedly called for an end to the escalating violence—the murders, disappearances, and torture that were becoming daily occurrences—and implored the U.S. government to stop sending weapons to El Salvador, but the real thrust of his critique was that these visible and overt convulsions were merely recurring symptoms of a larger, more insidious disease. “I will not tire of declaring that if we truly want an effective end to the violence, we must eliminate the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, the exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression,” he said in his homily of September 23, 1979. “All this is what constitutes the fundamental cause, from which the rest flows naturally.” Romero’s insistence on the structural origins of violence brought him into increasing confrontation with those who benefited from these political and economic arrangements, and six months later, Romero was dead.

A 1993 report by the U.N. Truth Commission identified Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, founder of the ARENA party, as the architect of Romero’s assassination, but D’Aubuisson had died of cancer a year earlier, and his alleged co-conspirators have never been brought to trial in El Salvador.

“Romero matters regardless of the generation”Romero’s legacy remains a powerful force in Salvadoran life both at home and abroad. “Romero matters regardless of the generation,” says Ana Grande, 30, a second-generation Salvadoran-American community organizer from Los Angeles. “For the younger generation, although they didn’t have first-hand contact, it is a remembrance of faith and justice. They have heard stories of how their family members or friends were impacted by Romero’s words. Others may have lost family members during the civil war and reflect on the courage that each of them had alongside Romero.” Grande’s great uncle, Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest and advocate of land reform, was ambushed and murdered, together with an elderly man and a teenage boy, on March 12, 1977, just two and a half weeks after Romero was installed as archbishop. Father Grande and Romero had been friends, and late the same night, Romero celebrated a funeral Mass for the three—an event widely regarded as the tipping point in his shift from social moderate to human rights advocate.

As Holy Week approached three years later, Romero knew that his own life was in danger, but he refused bodyguards, preferring to share the lot of the people he served. Speaking on the evening of March 24 to those assembled for Mass in the chapel of the cancer hospital run by nuns where he lived in a small apartment, Romero referred to the day’s gospel text:

By contrast, whoever out of love for God gives oneself to the service of others will live, like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently.  . . .  Only in undoing itself does it produce the harvest.”

“You have just heard in Christ’s gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history requires of us, and that whoever seeks to avoid danger will lose his or her life. By contrast, whoever out of love for God gives oneself to the service of others will live, like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently.  . . .  Only in undoing itself does it produce the harvest.”

Moments later a single bullet struck him in the chest as he readied the bread and wine for the sacrament. He was 62 years old.

“Salvadorans in this violence-stricken country call upon San Romero de America in the hopes of converting their gangster children into productive citizens,” Grande says. “They call upon Romero in times of sickness or in despair. Whatever the case is, Romero is always present.”Whether on murals by the sides of roads or in the purses of campesinas selling fruit on the streets, Romero’s image is today ubiquitous in the lives of Salvadorans. Rarely is a Mass celebrated, especially in the campo, where Romero’s name is not invoked. “Salvadorans in this violence-stricken country call upon San Romero de America in the hopes of converting their gangster children into productive citizens,” Grande says. “They call upon Romero in times of sickness or in despair. Whatever the case is, Romero is always present.” Hernández Pico agrees: “He was present when people were suffering. That presence, that closeness, that merciful attitude to suffering is what the Salvadoran people remember.” The result, Hernández Pico observes, it that “Romero has become a saint much earlier than the church has felt the need to canonize him.”

Taken from http://killingthebuddha.com/mag/damnation/presente/, written by by Richard Amesbury and Andrew Kirschman, S.J.

In his words: Oscar Romero quotes

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” Monseñor Romero, January 7, 1978.

We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways.  Monseñor Romero, December 24, 1979

“If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death be for the freedom of my people … A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish.” Monseñor Romero, March 1980.

“When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises. Monseñor Romero, August 6, 1978.

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.”

“I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally. Monseñor Romero September 23, 1979

“If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more human qualities. Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted on to Christ’s life, his cross and resurrection. That is a person’s measure.” –Monseñor Romero, March 4 1979

On March 23, 1980, Monseñor Romero made the following appeal to the men of the armed forces:

“Brothers, you came from our own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law o f God, which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to ob ey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church c annot remain silent before such an abomination. …In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression”

The day following this homily, Monseñor Romero was murdered.


Romero Resources:

Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic, by Maria Lopez Vigil
Romero and the Communion of Saints, by Scott Wright
Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections, by Jon Sobrino
The Violence of Love: A Compilation of Romero quotes
Romero: A Life, by James R. Brockman
Romero, the 1989 film
Accompanying El Salvador during Holy Week, by Pat Marrin, NCR
Echos of Impunity: From Monseñor Romero to Radio Victoria
SHARE Legacy of the Martyrs page