¡San Romero de las Américas, Presente!

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From the Spring 2018 issue of El Salvador Watch

Approaching the 34th anniversary of the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, the Catholic Church announced that Romero will officially be declared a saint in a ceremony taking place this October. The long-awaited decision has been welcomed and celebrated by countless people around the world who have been inspired by his example of accompanying the poor and marginalized, and opposing the US backed military's brutal repression of the Salvadoran people.

Archbishop Romero is part of a long tradition of liberation theology inspired Catholic clergy and laypeople who refused to passively accept inequality and injustice, and who saw it as part of their faith to take action to make the world a more just place. Liberation theology has long been opposed by more conservative elements of the Catholic world, but Pope Francis, since assuming the papacy, has taken up elements of liberation theology and has spoken out against inequality, capitalism and climate change.

In 2015, Romero was beatified, a requisite step for sainthood, in a ceremony attended by thousands in San Salvador. Romero's message of taking action for justice and caring for the poor and marginalized still resonates in El Salvador today, where the same families of oligarchs still control the economy and much of the political system.

Romero's assassination by right wing death squads on March 24, 1980 was one of the catalysts for the beginning of El Salvador's 12-year civil war. He came from an unlikely background; for much of his career he was a fairly conservative member of the Catholic hierarchy. When he was appointed as Archbishop no one thought that he would take up the cause of the poor and oppose the government's ongoing repression.

Nevertheless, as he saw the killings and disappearances continue, he began to take a stand against them. A major turning point for Romero was the assassination of his friend and mentor Father Rutilio Grande in 1977. Father Rutilio was a liberation theology priest who had dedicated his life to fighting for the poor and oppressed, and was, like many others, assassinated for his work organizing workers and farmers.

As the repression intensified, Romero began to speak out more and more forcefully against the government and the military. Recognizing the role of the US government in the ongoing violence, he wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter asking that the US stop funding the Salvadoran military.

During his sermon on March 23rd, 1980, he called for the soldiers to stop the violence against the population by saying “In the name of God … I beg you, I beseech you, I order you to stop the repression.” The next day while giving mass, a gunman approached and shot him through the heart.

While many in El Salvador and throughout the world already consider Romero to be a saint, the official process will no doubt strengthen the legacy and work that he gave his life for. His message of justice for the poor and oppressed lives on thanks to those on the frontlines of struggle for human rights, economic justice, peace and the planet.

¡San Romero de las Américas, Presente!

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