35 years since his assassination Oscar Romero will be beatified in San Salvador on the 23rd May 2015 by Pope Francis. His assassination on the 24th March 1980 followed the three years the archbishop had spent denouncing violence and the injustices facing the people of El Salvador.
In a time of heavy press censorship, Romero’s weekly radio broadcasts were often the only way people could find out the truth about the atrocities that were happening in their country. He defended the right of the poor to demand political change, a stance which made him the most outspoken critic of the country’s rulers.
The day before he was assassinated, he spoke out once again and went as far as to tell soldiers and police not to follow orders to kill civilians, and stop be party to government’s repression of its people, saying: “The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘Thou shalt not kill’. 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!”
In the 1970s the Catholic community in England and Wales reached out and supported Oscar Romero through CAFOD and helped fund his vital radio broadcasts which were the only way for people in El Salvador to hear about the atrocities happening in their country. When Romero’s radio station was blown up, CAFOD provided funding to rebuild it. CAFOD also helped to fund the support given by the Church to thousands of people who had fled their homes because of the violence.
After Romero was martyred, CAFOD staff successfully petitioned Lambeth Council to rename the Brixton street where their office was located ‘Romero Close’. And when CAFOD moved to a new office in 2009, it was named ‘Romero House’. Romero is an inspirational figure one that can be compared to the likes of Martin Luther King and Gandhi as not only a peacemaker but a man of extreme courage and wisdom standing up and speaking about the important issues and what should be done.
Oscar Romero is such a key figure in modern history that the United Nations set up the 24th March as the ‘International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims’ not only to honour the memory of victims of human rights violations and promote the importance of the right to truth and justice but to also as they say “Recognize, in particular, the important work and values of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, who was assassinated on 24 March 1980, after denouncing violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable populations and defending the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence.”
Oscar Romero’s life and witness reminds us that Christ is found in people living in poverty, and that we cannot ignore the suffering of our brothers and sisters in need. Romero’s legacy has helped inspire many Catholics throughout the world to not only stand in solidarity with the poorest and most marginalized but to also take a stand against war, violence and corruption which for many still hold back people in poverty.
Romero’s legacy has had a major effect on his home country with El Salvador’s government enabling positive social and educational policies that Romero would approve of: fiscal reform, free school uniforms and books for children, funding for cooperatives, more social programmes. However despite such positive steps the country still suffers the problems of organized crime and gang violence as well as the ongoing threats of natural disasters including earthquakes, floods and hurricanes.
Romero’s beatification will be attended by thousands of people and millions more will be reached by the TV broadcasts of the occasion, and it will perhaps be one of the most memorable occasions of our lifetime and of our faith journey.
Romero’s legacy will never be forgotten and his eventual canonization as a saint will continue to inspire Christians and people from other faiths and none to stand in solidarity with people living in poverty and injustice and to act to create a fairer world where all people can reach their full potential free from fear and oppression.
For more information visit CAFOD’s Romero page: www.cafod.org.uk/romero