People of Faith Mark 25th Anniversary of Archbishop Romero’s Martyrdom
March 24th (Holy Thursday this year) is the 25th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination in El Salvador in 1980. Various prayer memorials and actions of solidarity with the Salvadoran people are planned throughout the world this month … to give thanks for Romero’s witness, and to seek inspiration once again for our social justice efforts today.
Archbishop Romero was killed while celebrating Mass in the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital – after having spent many months challenging both the Salvadoran and US governments on their actions and policies which continued to oppress the country’s poor. More than 70,000 of these people died as well, in their long struggle for justice with Romero and after his death, against brutal force by the nation’s military. Many Christians and people of faith worldwide regard Oscar Romero as a modern-day saint, martyr and “Prophet to the Americas.”
Testimonies from young people who never knew Archbishop Romero are perhaps among the most inspiring and relevant resources to use in classes with youth. Two quotes from young Salvadorans speaking about Romero’s impact on their lives are printed in the current Maryknoll magazine and follow below. The March 2005 issue of Maryknoll features several articles about Romero and his legacy. The Maryknoll website is www.maryknoll.org.
“It is often said they killed Monseñor Romero, but from the beginning he gave his life so it could be a seed of liberation so that we young people would follow his example. We in our group, Romeristas of San Eladio, feel that he is alive. How do we show that? By our works: theater, dance, talks at schools and spreading the word. He showed us something very important: what it is to have dignity, something that many young people lack.”
- Rosa Marisel Iraheta, 16
“The life of this martyr, a great man, a true child of God, is something we have come to cherish. His love was so great he gave his life – for us….We believe this doesn’t just end. We must continue this struggle. I believe Monseñor Romero’s message to young people is that we not be lazy, that we struggle for others, that we desire a more just country, that we don’t waste our lives, that we fight for our rights and that we not be dismissed just because we are poor.” - José Salvador, 21
From the Teachers Enterprise in Religious Education in London, an essay about Oscar Romero by a young British student can be found at www.tere.org/secondary/inspirational/oscar_romero.html, and a one-page biography of Romero for younger students (with discussion questions) at www.tere.org/primary/pdf_downloads/support_material/6_2_oscar_romero_ws.pdf. Information about the needs of the poor in El Salvador today and the work of Catholic Relief Services there, as well as El Salvador facts geared for children, are available at the CRS website: www.catholicrelief.org.
For high school or adult audiences, the Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico website (www.rtfcam.org) offers several prayer services in memory of Romero, as well as reflections on his legacy and the opportunity to join in their campaign to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death. An excerpt from a liturgy for the 20th Anniversary in 2000 is the following quote from Romero about authentic and prophetic Christian preaching: “A preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens – as when a light turned on awakens the sleeper – that is preaching of Christ, calling: Wake up! Be converted! … Naturally, such preaching must meet conflict, must spoil what is called prestige, must disturb, must be persecuted. It cannot get along with the powers of darkness and sin …”
The RTFCAM and Pax Christi USA have joined with other Catholic organizations to issue a “Call for Peace” statement to commemorate Romero’s 25th Anniversary, which applies his preaching and actions during the Salvadoran confict to reflections about the present war in Iraq. The statement can be found at www.paxchristiusa.org.
Another excellent resource for teaching the Romero story is the film Romero (rated PG-13), from Vidmar. Though it runs 105 minutes, a segment can be used for a regular class period. The video is available from the diocesan Religious Education Office.
The powerful and worldwide impact of Oscar Romero’s life and death is for many Christians today one of the surest testimonies to our faith in the Paschal Mystery of death followed by resurrection, and to the truth foreseen by Romero in his own words shortly before his death: “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” And not only in the Salvadorans, we can add, but in the countless people of many faiths who struggle still for justice and peace throughout the world.