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24 de Marzo de 1980

24 March 2010

Photo: John Donaghy

Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, Archbishop of San Salvador was gunned down during Mass at a hospital chapel (he lived in a three-room house on the hospital grounds) the day after giving a sermon in his Cathedral including this direct appeal to the Salvadorian Army:

Brothers: you are of part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. Before an order to kill that a man may give, God’s law must prevail: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to take back your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The Church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such abominations. We want the government to understand seriously that reforms are worth nothing if they are stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!

Like a more famous advocate of justice, equality and compassion for the poor, Romero was a carpenter before entering preaching as a profession. Born in 1917, Romero was ordained in Rome in 1942, where he was working on a doctorate. Sent home to El Salvador in 1943, he was for a time incarcerated in Cuba, suspected of being an agent of Italy’s fascist regime. Four months later he was expelled from the island on a ship to Mexico, from which he was able to return home to take up his pastoral duties.

In 1970, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador, and in 1975 as Bishop of Santiago de María. His reputation was as a conservative or even a reactionary defender of the status quo, both in politics and religion. Supporters of the Church’s Liberation Theologians in particular objected to his elevation as Archbishop in 1977.

A worsening human rights situation in Salvador throughout the 1970s led to an extreme rightist coup in 1979. Romero reacted with dismay to the increasing repression and violence, especially when attacks were directed at clerics and religious workers. He came to the conclusion that the only way to stop the violence was to stop the repression … and the only way to end the repression was to stop funding and supporting the military.

On 17 February 1980, he sent a letter to the Military government’s patron and supplier, United States President Jimmy Carter.

… Because you are a Christian and because you have shown that you want to defend human rights, I venture to set forth for you my pastoral point of view in regard to this news and to make a specific request of you.

I am very concerned by the news that the government of the United States is planning to further El Salvador’s arms race…

I have an obligation to see that faith and justice reign in my country, I ask you, if you truly want to defend human rights:

* to forbid that military aid be given to the Salvadoran government;

* to guarantee that your government will not intervene directly or indirectly, with military, economic, diplomatic, or other pressures, in determining the destiny of the Salvadoran people;

In these moments, we are living through a grave economic and political crisis in our country, but it is certain that increasingly the people are awakening and organizing and have begun to prepare themselves to manage and be responsible for the future of El Salvador, as the only ones capable of overcoming the crisis.

It would be unjust and deplorable for foreign powers to intervene and frustrate the Salvadoran people, to repress them and keep them from deciding autonomously the economic and political course that our nation should follow. It would be to violate a right that the Latin American bishops, meeting at Puebla, recognized publicly when we spoke of “the legitimate self-determination of our peoples, which allows them to organize according to their own spirit and the course of their history and to cooperate in a new international order”

The letter would, of course, be ignored.

Romero ratcheted up the pressure to cut off military aid to his country’s rulers, leading fascist death squad leader — and founder of Salvador’s ARENA Party — Roberto D’Aubuisson to take up the task of ridding El Salvador of this meddlesome priest.

Romero’s murder, and the subsequent murder of at least 40 people during his funeral, did not end Salvador’s nightmare, but did force the issue of United States support into public consciousness. If anything, it led to many within the Church into re-examine their previously apolitical stance or their support for the ruling regime and hardened opposition, leading to another 12 years of civil war.

The Salvadorian Civil War ended inconclusively in 1992 with a Mexican brokered agreement — the Chaputepec Accords — which basically implemented a cease-fire between the various factions, and a military demobilization. The United States backed the Accords, mostly because they had no choice the country wanted any control over a country where the regime had lost all credibility on 24 March 1980.

As a matter of theological trivia, Pope John-Paul II’s initial response to Romero’s murder echoed that of Alexander III, who after Thomas Beckett’s murder (also a desecration of the Mass) specifically permitted the lead bishop of a nation’s Church to post bodyguards during services. The Anglican Church’s vergers are usually elderly, harmless gents today, but originally they were big guys carrying big clubs to bash would-be bishop-stabbers. Romero being gunned down, the Salvadorian guards carry firearms.

Romero was proposed for  Canonization as a Martyr to the Faith during the Papacy of John-Paul II,  although (possibly because of his seeming ties to Liberation Theology) the process seems to have stalled. The people themselves however, have venerated the site of the Archbishop’s martyrdom and his tomb has — like Beckett’s — become a pilgrimage site for the faithful from Central America and beyond. Unofficially, for them, Romero is already a saint… and viewed as the patron of human rights and freedom from state sponsored terrorism.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary O'Grady permalink
    24 March 2010 7:38 pm

    In early church history, all Roman Catholic saints became known as saints because they were venerated by the faithful. In Archbishop Romero’s case, even an atheist like me can hope that when the people lead, the hierarchy will eventually follow.

  2. Alex permalink
    4 November 2011 10:20 am

    I am very concerned by the news that the government of the United States is planning to further El Salvador’s arms race…I have an obligation to see that faith and justice reign in my country.

    Anyway, great articles!

    Best regards,
    Diablo 3 barbarian skills

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