El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero Canonized at the Vatican

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The President of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, was in Rome last month to participate in the October 14 canonization ceremony of El Salvador’s slain archbishop, Oscar Romero. While helping to unveil a new statue of Romero that now sits in Rome’s El Salvador Garden, Sánchez Cerén stated, “The commitment of Monseñor Romero to the full respect of the human rights of the most vulnerable guides the actions of my government and Salvadoran society, determined to advance along the path of social and economic development for the benefit of the entire population.”

Sánchez Cerén also met a group of young people from the United States whose parents are Salvadoran immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The group traveled to Rome as a delegation from the National TPS Alliance to meet Pope Francis and speak in defense of TPS. When asked to make a statement, Pope Francis told them, “Migration is a human right, don't forget. May Saint Romero help you.”

Meanwhile in El Salvador, the country prepared for the canonization with music, performances, food, and a commemorative Mass in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador. During the Mass, José María Tojeira, a Jesuit priest, noted, “In the act of beatification he was rightly called the Father of the poor. He demanded justice for the peasants and workers, supported their demands and their popular organization, and defended them against the hatred and violence of the powerful.”

However, the response to Romero’s elevation to sainthood has not been enthusiastic everywhere. Just days before the canonization, the ARENA mayor of Ciudad Delgado, Elmer Cardoza, ordered the removal of a statue of Romero, ostensibly for maintenance. The response was major public outcry. Similarly, Carlos Calleja, ARENA’s 2019 presidential candidate, recently stated that the link the UN Truth Commission has identified between Roberto D’Aubuisson, ARENA’s founder/U.S.-trained organizer of the Salvadoran death squads, and Romero’s assassination was merely a “speculation.” It’s clear that the recognition of Romero by the Vatican, which not only validates his condemnation of the Salvadoran oligarchy but could also advance the search for truth behind his assassination, has put the right wing on the defensive.

Members of a Salvadoran death squad assassinated Monseñor Romero on March 24, 1980, in response to his growing criticism of the Salvadoran military government and U.S. funding and support for the repressive regime. On March 20, 1993, five days after the release of the UN Truth Commission report, the right-wing–dominated legislature passed the Amnesty Law that granted blanket immunity to those implicated in war crimes during the armed conflict, effectively blocking any possibility of reconciliation or restorative justice.

But in 2016, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court of Justice finally overturned the Amnesty Law, and individuals involved in Romero’s murder might now face charges. On October 23, 2018, the Fourth Investigating Judge of San Salvador, Rigoberto Chicas, issued an arrest warrant for former military officer Álvaro Rafael Saravia on the charge of aggravated murder, marking the first attempt to seek justice in the 38-year-old case. Saravia had previously admitted his role in the archbishop’s assassination but had been protected by the now-obsolete law. It remains to be seen whether Saravia will actually be tried in court, given that any indictment could implicate members of the ARENA party as well as other former military officers. (Read more here from CISPES about other cases that have been opened following the reversal of the Amnesty Law.)

To those who carry on his work denouncing injustice and defending marginalized communities, including migrants and refugees, Romero will continue to be an inspiration, just as he will continue to be a threat to the Salvadoran oligarchy and those in the United States who have a vested interest in maintaining the structures that perpetuate inequality.

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