Today marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero. As a bishop in El Salvador, he regularly denounced the brutal violence and oppression sponsored by the military-led right-wing government during the nation’s civil war.
Originally Romero made it a point to stay out of politics. However after Jesuit priest and friend Rutilio Grande was killed for calling for land reform on behalf of peasant farmers, Romero was motivated to take action. He was the only one to speak out and demand an investigation of Grande’s death. The government predictably did nothing, but Romero continued to be vocal in his defense of the poor, speaking out against poverty, violence, terror tactics and overall injustices that were routinely being committed by the state. He gained international fame, which he used to argue that supporting the Salvadoran government was to support violence.
On March 24, Romero proclaimed in his last homily, “One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.” Moments later, he was gunned down by a death squad.
Citizens and civil organizations have commemorated Romero’s death over the years, but this year is the first time in history that the Salvadoran government has recognized the tragedy. In fact on March 4 the Salvadoran National Assembly declared March 24 to be Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Day.
President Mauricio Funes issued a public apology on behalf of the Salvadoran state for the assassination of Romero. Ironically President Funes is the nation’s first leftist president and sided with Romero during the war.
There is a strong campaign for Romero to be canonized and he is often referred to as San Romero. He has not become a saint yet, but the late Pope John Paul II did bestow upon him the title of Servant of God. Regardless, his legacy lives on for the people of El Salvador and for the marginalized and voiceless who struggle for justice.