From staff and wire reports
From Washington to Dallas, Chicago to Los Angeles and from countless other communities in El Salvador, thousands of people gathered in churches, parks and plazas to remember Blessed Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 for his staunch defense of the poor during the country’s bloody civil war.
Blessed Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass. After the murder of one of his priests and countless civilians, the archbishop used his weekly homilies, which were recorded and broadcast across Central America, to condemn the government and military for shootings and kidnappings in the war between the powerful and the poor. A few weeks before his death, the archbishop had urged soldiers to lay down their weapons and told them that they did not have to obey an immoral law.
In Dallas, more than 500 people gathered Aug. 15 for a Mass at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in downtown Dallas, with Bishop Edward J. Burns paying homage to a man he called courageous and who never stopped fighting for his people.
Bishop Burns recently had traveled to El Salvador as part of his work on the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services and was inspired to organize a Mass and celebration to honor Blessed Romero on the Feast of the Assumption and what would have been his 100th birthday.
Blessed Romero was born Aug. 15, 1917, and hundreds of people gathered at San Salvador’s cathedral on Aug. 15 for a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Ricardo Ezzatti of Santiago, Chile, who served as Pope Francis’ special envoy for the celebration and called Blessed Romero “a martyr of hope.” Masses also were celebrated in other parts of the country.
Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez of San Salvador and a close friend of Blessed Romero gave a presentation on the archbishop’s life and work during a Mass on Aug. 12 in the western Santa Ana Diocese.
Too many people in El Salvador “continue to call martyrs those who picked up arms and died following an ideal” in the country’s 12-year-long civil war, the cardinal wrote in an article for L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
The country’s real martyrs, the cardinal said, “never stained their hands with blood,” and they were “men and women who strove to love God and their neighbors.”
The real martyrs of El Salvador, he said, are Blessed Romero, “the assassinated priests and the four U.S. women—three religious and a laywoman—whose lives were taken in December 1980,” referring to Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, a laywoman.
In addition, he wrote, “we all have a debt that we must begin to settle as soon as possible. We are obliged out of gratitude to God and love for the truth to redeem the memory of hundreds of anonymous martyrs, most of whom were humble campesinos.”
“For us, martyr means witness,” he said. “We must walk with them in the name of Christ.”
The article by Cardinal Rosa Chávez was published Aug. 10 in the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, but was written for the newspaper’s Spanish edition, which published a special issue for Blessed Romero’s birthday Aug. 15.
The murdered priest was beatified May 23, 2015, in San Salvador. In a letter to the gathering, read before an estimated 250,000 people gathered for the event, Pope Francis described Blessed Romero as “a voice that continues to resonate.”
Ordained April 4, 1942, in Rome, the Salvadoran religious leader was appointed archbishop of San Salvador Feb. 23, 1977, and was gunned down during Mass at a hospital chapel March 24, 1980, a day after a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers to obey what he described as God’s order and stop carrying out actions of repression.
The archbishop’s March 30 funeral at the cathedral, attended by more than 200,000 mourners, was interrupted by gunfire that left 30-50 people dead. Thousands of Salvadorans were killed while countless others were listed as “disappeared” after being taken by the military during the 12-year conflict that ended in 1992.
On Aug. 12, the archbishop officially promoting Blessed Oscar Romero’s cause for sainthood said he hopes the process will conclude within a year and Catholics around the world will honor St. Oscar Romero, martyr.
“Keeping alive the memory of Romero is a noble task, and my great hope is that Pope Francis will soon canonize him a saint,” Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of the Salvadoran archbishop’s cause, said in a homily in London.
The biggest hurdle in the sainthood cause was obtaining recognition that Blessed Romero, who was shot while celebrating Mass, was a martyr, Archbishop Paglia said in London. Some church leaders, including some who worked in the Roman Curia, had insisted Blessed Romero was assassinated because of his political position.
But, Archbishop Paglia said, “The essence of his holiness was his following the Lord by giving himself completely for his people.”