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Remember Oscar Romero, A "Voice For The Voiceless"

Cara Palmer |
March 24, 2012 | 8:52 p.m. PDT

Senior Editor

(On Being, Creative Commons)
(On Being, Creative Commons)
Thirty-two years ago, on March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot and killed by a member of a death squad as he celebrated mass in the chapel of a hospital in San Salvador. On this anniversary of his death, it is fitting to remember why he died.

In the weeks immediately preceding his death, Archbishop Romero had pleaded to then-President Carter and to members of the military, “appealing for a halt to further U.S. military assistance to the junta” and calling on the military to “stop the repression” of “our tormented people whose cries rise up to heaven.”

He died for speaking out against the brutality of a military junta in El Salvador, a government that employed practices of violent repression against its people, targeting civilians and massacring entire villages for their supposed support of left-wing opposition to the government.

He died for speaking out against the tortures and murders of tens of thousands of Salvadorans, and the attempts to deny that the tortures and massacres occurred.

He died for speaking out against the goal of the United States in financially assisting the junta with $1.5 million in aid every year for over a decade, a goal that rested on its own interests, not on the interests of the Salvadoran people, and in fact supported and furthered the violent repression committed against them.

He died for asking the members of the Salvadoran militaries and death squads to disobey orders and instead refuse to kill the people of El Salvador.

Archbishop Romero called attention to the human rights abuses occurring in El Salvador, and by doing so demonstrated his devotion to the people of El Salvador. He wanted the military and the government to recognize the need for social justice, a need that could not be met with a system in place that favored the rich and powerful, to the fatal detriment of the people.

His was a basic message of humanity – stop the killing, stop the repression; help the people, do not become complicit in their demise. The United States was giving military aid to a government that was systematically committing human rights abuses in El Salvador, and it did not stop, despite the pleas of Archbishop Romero and the persecuted people to whom he gave a voice.

He was denounced by his fellow bishops and hated by the rich and powerful, but he became known as “a voice for the voiceless” and “a gospel for El Salvador.” He courageously vocalized the needs of the people, especially the poor, at a time when statements such as his, more often than not, earned the speaker death.

The assassination of Oscar Romero was one of the events leading up to the Salvadoran Civil War, which would result in the deaths of over 75,000 Salvadorans, the catapulting into homelessness of one million others, and the flight of another one million people from the country of El Salvador. While witnessing the atrocities that led to this war that reached genocidal proportions, "all Romero had to offer the people were weekly homilies broadcast throughout the country, his voice assuring them, not that atrocities would cease, but that the church of the poor, themselves, would live on."

Weeks before he died, Archbishop Romero commented,

“I have frequently been threatened with death. I must say that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death but in the resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”

And he was right.

Services this Sunday will honor the archbishop, and the people of El Salvador will march, as they do each year, on the anniversary of his death, with banners reminding the world that his spirit is still alive, and reminding the world of the voice he gave to the voiceless. His legacy has not disappeared. Rather, his life today is an inspiration for the people of the world, including Salvadorans, who actively struggle to create a more just world through the liberation of the oppressed. One such individual reminds us that “Archbishop Romero is inside each one of us.”

Just days before he was assassinated, Archbishop Romero told a reporter:

“You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.”

Reach Senior Opinion Editor Cara Palmer here or follow her on Twitter.



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