“The greatest sign of faith in a God of life is the witness of those who are willing to give up their own life … Frequently I have been threatened with death. I should tell you that, as a Christian, I don’t believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.” ~~ Archbishop Oscar Romero
Today marks the twenty-ninth anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 – 1980. On March 24, 1980, he was mortally wounded with a single bullet to the heart while presiding at a Eucharist service at the Divina Providencia Chapel, but he lives on in the people of El Salvador in their struggle for justice and peace. Monseñor, as he was affectionately known, was a great martyr whose life revealed a dedicated faithfulness to the lowly and impoverished. Romero was truly the “people’s pastor” as he became a “voice for the voiceless” preaching God’s preferential option for the poor. He said, “My position as pastor obliges me to be in solidarity with all who suffer, and to make every effort for the sake of people’s dignity.”
During his three years as Archbishop, Romero became known across the world as a fearless defender of the poor and suffering, and because of this, he was despised by the powerful leaders in his war-torn country. It was this hatred that eventually led to his martyrdom. Violence was escalating in El Salvador, and on the day before his death, in his last Sunday homily and radio address, he addressed the military leaders directly, “In the name of God, then, in the name of this suffering people, whose cries rise to the heavens, every day more tumultuously, I ask you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression!”
The following day, Monday, March 24, 1980, at 6pm, he offered a memorial Mass for the mother of a local newspaper editor. The readings for that Mass seem uniquely appropriate. He read Psalm 23 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The Gospel reading was from John 12: 23 – 26, “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” At the close of his homily, he said these words at the Eucharist:
“Whoever offers their life out of love for Christ, and in service to others, will live like the seed that dies … May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain – like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people. Let us join together, then, in the faith and hope of this intimate moment of prayer …”
At that moment, a single shot pierced his heart, and he immediately fell to the ground. His death while presiding at the Eucharist is symbolic for the Salvadoran people in that his blood was mixed with the “blood of Christ” from the cup of salvation. The Salvadoran people believe in resurrection; Romero’s presence is still with them. On this anniversary of his death, we remember Romero and join with the Salvadoran people in their resurrection chant, “Oscar Romero: Presente!”
Quotations taken from the following sources:
Marie Dennis et al. Oscar Romero. New York: Orbis Books, 2000.
Oscar Romero. The Violence of Love, translated by James R. Brockman. New York: Orbis Books, 2007.
Oscar Romero. Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements, translated by Michael J. Walsh. New York: Orbis Books, 1985.