This national hero represents hope
August is a month of festivities in El Salvador. Not only did the country celebrate its patron saints during the fiestas agostinas for 6 days, Salvadorans also commemorated the 100th birthday of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, the Archbishop known for his unrelenting defense of human rights.
Every Sunday in the late 1970s, Salvadorans would turn on the radio to listen to Romero’s homilies and to his words of encouragement for the poor. People also turned to him for his denunciations of the military’s violent repression. As the conflict between left-wing rebels and the regime escalated, Óscar Romero became a threat and a target for the established power. In 1980, he was shot during mass. The murder of the Archbishop unleashed a tragic civil war which left nearly a million dead and disappeared. The Vatican recognized him as a martyr in 2015 and rumors say he will be canonized next year.
Canonized or not, Romero is venerated in El Salvador. In a country in dire need of an inspirational figure, Romero is already a saint. The small Central American nation is still torn by violence and hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans are fleeing gang warfare. The exodus carries on as we speak. Celebrating the martyr’s birthday is therefore a symbol of hope for many Salvadorans.
To build anticipation for the big event, a three-day pilgrimage to Romero’s birthplace was organized by the new Salvadoran cardinal and close friend of Romero, Gregorio Rosa Chávez. Thousands of people participated in the 158 km march. Pilgrims expressed that they believed Romero would intercede in the country’s pacification.
The Salvadoran Church has gained credibility not only in people’s beliefs but also in public debates, particularly thanks to active leaders such as Óscar Romero. Today, it is expected that Cardinal Rosa Chávez, who explicitly follows the footsteps of his friend and mentor Romero, will be committed in finding solutions for the country’s peace and prosperity. The Cardinal encourages Salvadorans to pursue Romero’s example of courage and resilience to heal the country.
August 2017 in El Salvador is a reminder that hope exists, embodied by Óscar Romero. Thirty-seven years after he died, at a time when the country ranks second worldwide in homicides, his teachings on social justice and peace ring true to many Salvadorans.
Latin American Post | Melissa Vida
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto