For those who have a passion for human rights and social justice, the life of Oscar Romero can still be seen as an inspiration today. As the Archbishop of San Salvador in the 1970s, he reached out beyond his pulpit to serve the needs of his people and speak out against the violence and corruption that existed.
Early on, it was clear that Romero had a calling. As a Bishop in Santiago de Maria, he toured the countryside trying to understand the plights of his people. He was shocked to learn about their lack of medicine, low wages and terrible treatment of workers. He began to write about these injustices in pastoral letters, which informed the parishes in the community of what was happening.
During this time, the country was on the brink of civil war and the government was a corrupt oligarchy. Many became the target of the military junta, including his friend, a fellow priest, who was brutally murdered on his way to church. He informed the government that until this murder was investigated, religious leaders would no longer make appearances at government ceremonies. He also ceased all catholic masses, with the exception of one in a cathedral, in protest of the murders.
To counter the ongoing violence in El Salvador, Romero spoke out against the regime and their corruption and called for an end to it. His sermons were broadcasted on the radio every Sunday, so the people could hear about his ongoing fight for peace.
He petitioned abroad, seeking help from the Pope in Rome and the U.S President at the time, Jimmy Carter. But his words to other countries went largely unheeded.
On March 24, 1980, during a sermon in San Salvador while he was performing a mass, Romero was brutally shot dead. At his funeral, many who gathered to pay tribute to him were killed. Thousands more were killed in a civil war that took place over the next twelve years. The UN truth commission ruled that this war was a genocide that claimed over 75,000 lives.His life has been such an inspiration that a town in his name in El Salvador exists. The Catholic Church has deemed him as a“servant of God,” which officially has opened his case for the sainthood.
“The world of the poor teaches us that liberation will arrive only when the
poor are not simply on the receiving end of handouts from government or
from churches, but when they themselves are the masters and
protagonists of their own struggle for liberation.”
In present day in El Salvador, there is a continued fight for rights inspired by Romero. For instance, the Coornidora, a Salvadoran campesino peasant movement formed in 1994, works to fight against poverty, hunger, violence, government indifference and to promote education in over 86 communities. They also support sustainable agriculture and political participation in these communities.
Currently, the country is on the eve of a new election where they have a choice between two parties: a candidate from the leftist ‘FLMN’ party, Mauricio Funes, and Rodrigo Avila, the presidential candidate from the conservative ‘ARENA’ party, the party thought to be behind Romero’s assassination. The polls say the FLMN has a lead in popularity and therefore stand a chance of winning the 2009 election.
Although many injustices and hardships continue to be felt in El Salvador, Romero’s fight for people’s rights and democracy continues.