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 Remembering El Salvador’s holy martyr:

Blessed Archbishop Romero

By Charlene Scott Myers
Special to the Catholic

An excellent film about the life and death of Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero was shown recently on EWTN the evening of April 21. 

Romero might have reached his 100th birthday last August 15, 2017 had he not been shot down at the altar while celebrating Mass at Divine Providence Church in San Salvador 38 years ago on March 24, 1980.  Pope Francis declared him a martyr in May, 2015. 

A faithful supporter of El Salvador’s people who were suffering under a brutal persecution by soldiers and government leaders, Romero was the gentle but brave and outspoken defender of the poor in San Salvador.

The fourth archbishop of El Salvador, he paid for his bravery with his life.

I visited El Salvador with 13 lay persons and clergymen after the murders of Romero and the three nuns and a lay woman who all worked with the indigenous poor in El Salvador.  We drove down the lonely, rough road to the area where the four women had been raped and murdered, returning with tear-stained cheeks.

Following his murder, Archbishop Romero was not buried, but his body rested outside in a beautiful closed casket in the city of San Salvador for all to visit.  I stood in tears twice at the casket to pray for the people and clergy of El Salvador who had suffered so much in recent years.

El Salvador’s poor had lived not only in terrible poverty, but also with constant fear of torture and death for themselves and their children.  It is possible they suffered more from terror and sickness than any other country in Central or Latin America, including Guatemala.         

Hundreds—perhaps thousands—of native inhabitants who dared to oppose the corrupt government in El Salvador were “disappeared” and never heard from again.  The diabolic murderers of these missing persons had no fear of being brought to justice or held accountable for their dastardly deeds.  They were protected by the corrupt government and military, as well as by some wealthy leaders of the country.

Archbishop Romero spoke out against those hideous killers of men, women, and children during his weekly radio broadcasts and from the pulpit of his church.  His strong words brought hope to his stricken parishioners. 

But there were many leaders among the wealthy and in the government and military of El Salvador who hated Romero and feared the power of the Catholic Church and the thousands of people he represented.

I have interviewed many persons of different races and backgrounds during my years as a journalist, but the saddest interview of my life was with the distraught “Mothers of the Disappeared” while I was in El Salvador. 

The “disappeared” were mostly teenagers and college students, falsely accused by the government of being “dangerous and radical.”  Some mothers wept as they told the heartbreaking stories of their kidnapped missing children, whom they would never see alive again.  Other mothers had photos of their children—both boys and girls—who had been brutally beaten or shot to death.

I wrote an article about the pitiful children and their sorrowful mothers for the Oklahoma Observer newspaper when I returned to my job as director of the Canterbury Center’s Peace and Justice Office at the University of Tulsa.  My office had sponsored the trip to El Salvador, and several of the 13 people with me on the trip to the torn country of brutal deaths were board members of the Peace and Justice office.

Our trip to El Salvador was long ago and far away.  But I never will forget it, nor will I forget Archbishop Oscar Romero and his beautiful parishioners of San Salvador.  Those of us on the trip were given a large poster of Romero before we left his country, and we drew lots for it.  I had the winning (golden for me) ticket! 

But a burly soldier stopped us at the airport check in and yanked the poster away from me.  “You can’t take this out of the country!” he growled. 

One of the ministers with me on the trip, an Episcopal priest, shouted at the soldier: “I will report your rudeness to us, and there will be an international incident if you keep that poster!” 

The burly officer hesitated as he stared at us with obvious hatred.  Finally he backed down, and with a scowl thrust the poster back into my hands.  Every member of our tour group breathed a sigh of relief.  What a blessing it was to travel to a dangerous foreign land with a brave and outspoken priest and friends of many different faiths! 

I also believe that the Catholic Archbishop Romero in Heaven brought this prickly predicament to the notice of Our Good Lord.  What a friend we have in Jesus, and what a friend I always will remember, although I never was blessed to meet him: the dearly beloved and brave Oscar Romero!

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