Thirty-two years ago on March 24, 1980, Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero, a Catholic archbishop and the beloved “voice of the voiceless” in El Salvador was gunned down at mass by Salvadoran state-linked forces, in an operation planned and executed by Salvadoran graduates of the US military training academy known as the School of the Americas. The evening before, he had delivered his famous homily ordering the military to lay down their weapons and stop killing their own Salvadoran brothers and sisters (listen to the homily below). His murder was a clear signal to the Salvadoran masses organizing for economic and social justice that any challenges to the authority of the US-backed military dictatorship government - including calls for peace – would be met with brutal, calculated violence.
Every year on the anniversary of his murder, thousands of people gather in San Salvador’s to commemorate the life and spirit of struggle embodied by Monseñor Romero. This year, Romero also received international recognition as part of the United Nations 2nd annual “International Right of Truth Day” to recognize human rights defenders as well as restore dignity to the victims of human rights abuses. “We pay tribute to Monseñor Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 for refusing to be silent in the face of violence, abuse and injustice,” declared UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in a message to the Salvadoran people and state.
Romero’s assassination – which happened a year after the military party yet again fraudulently stole the presidency after a democratic victory by the opposition candidate – catalyzed a major change in the popular movement’s consciousness. After Romero’s death the social movement realized that every peaceful route for winning their basic rights and needs from the government had been exhausted, and that armed struggle was necessary to gain a voice for the poor majority of Salvadorans in the government.
On October 10, 1980, the five clandestine armed organizations of the Salvadoran resistance to the military dictatorship joined together to form the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation, or FMLN, and declared war against the Salvadoran military government, which had already slaughtered thousands of unionists, students, campesinos and unemployed poor for demanding government solutions to the poverty, landlessness and unemployment that afflicted the population. The united rebel force of the FMLN continued the struggle represented by another historical Salvadoran martyr – Farabundo Martí – killed by order of General Hernández Martínez in 1932 for leading a peasant and indigenous insurrection demanding land reform from the landowning, elite-controlled government.
Monseñor Romero, ¡presente!
¡Que viva la lucha por justicia en El Salvador! Long live the struggle for justice in El Salvador!
Hear the call for peace and justice that Monseñor Romero made on March 23, 1980 with the following video. The homily excerpt is accompanied by images depicting the reality during and before the 12-year Civil War, including the brutal repression that the Salvadoran people faced. Thanks to the Romero Trust for providing the English translation of Romero’s words below.
I would like to appeal in a special way to the army’s enlisted men, and in particular to the ranks of the Guardia Nacional and the police – those in the barracks.
Brothers: you are of part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. Before an order to kill that a man may give, God’s law must prevail: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to take back your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The Church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such abominations. We want the government to understand seriously that reforms are worth nothing if they are stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!
The Church preaches its liberation just as we have studied it today in the Holy Bible – a liberation that includes above all, respect for the human person, the salvation of the people’s common good, and transcendence, which looks before all to God, and from God alone derives its hope and its force.
- Monseñor Romero