¡Romero Vive! This shout echoes from the voices and lives of Salvadorans as we march through the streets of San Salvador. 30 years ago the country lost its archbishop to an assassin’s bullet. Oscar Romero was targeted because he proclaimed that Christianity was good news for the poor, that Christian life demands standing for freedom from oppression. Just three years into his arch-episcopate the bishop was silenced. His people continue to shout.
Our group of 10 came from the Virginia Theological Seminary and from the Episcopal Campus Ministry at the University of California, San Diego. Like the pilgrims who journey to Jerusalem or Canterbury, we came to walk in the way of martyrs. Romero was not alone. During the war right-wing leaflets proclaimed, “be a patriot, kill a priest,” and several dozen priests and nuns fell. At the University of Central America, in San Salvador’s South West Suburbs, we visited the memorial to the 6 Jesuit priests who were murdered 9 years after Romero. The memorial displayed eyeglasses, photos of family, toothbrushes: simple daily possessions. In a case at the center of the room hung the clothes the men wore as they died. The bloodstains reminded us that this was not a simple museum, but a massive reliquary.
From the UCA, after strawberry liquados and discussion, we headed to Divina Providencia. The little cancer hospital where Romero had his house became the site of his martyrdom. Sr. Bernadette told us stories of his life, and about the thousands of Salvadorans who come to the hospital to give thanks for Romero’s intercession since his death. The resultant miracles are necessary proof for Catholics of Romero’s sainthood. The official case continues to build as lobbyists push Rome for his recognition. In El Salvador the question is closed. He is called, “San Romero de las Americas” (Saint Romero of the Americas).
After the hospital we headed on to the Cathedral crypt and Romero’s tomb. We came to witness an “ecumenical act,” convened in the crypt by Anglicans and Lutherans. A Muslim leader talked about Romero’s example for all Salvadorans, and a Jewish rabbi sang the final prayer for a martyr. Later in the week we would hear Bishop Barahona talk about the establishing of a “new spirituality” recognizing that all of these religions approach the same God. “This is hard for some to accept, but it is where we are headed.”
We spent the next days in a small village, built by the Episcopal Church’s relief and development agency. We were there to help with the construction of a cistern. The community is cut off from the local water supply for all but a couple of days a month. Indeed we spent much of our time hauling water uphill to mix cement. On March 24, the actual anniversary of Romero’s death, we sat down to talk with the people of San Marcos. We listened as they described their community as struggling yet hopeful. A number in our group remarked that it seemed fitting to spend Romero’s day out among the people for whom he died.
Romero said before his death, “if they kill me I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” As we spent the rest of the week with the Anglican Church I couldn’t help but notice amazing signs of life. We talked with the growing LGBT fellowship at the Cathedral San Juan with over 20 young people about struggle against homophobia. In El Maizal we walked with Ingeniero Cabezas as he described the agricultural projects before seeing some incredibly articulate teenage girls, Cabezas’ students, graduate from the local 4H program. All over El Salvador we saw signs of new life. It was apt preparation for Holy Week. ¡Que Viva Romero!