+ March 24, 1980
As I pointed out in the last blog, after Grande’s death, Monsenor Romero refused any and all invitations from the Government to participate in public functions and this left the Government naked of moral respectability both in front of its own citizens and of the world. Moreover, the Archbishop’s separating himself from the government and military made it clear in the eyes of the Salvadoran people that the establishment was inherently sinful. Though the method was different the results were not unlike the way Becket had undercut the authority of the King in 12th century England. Without moral legitimacy, the Government could not claim any real authority. Without moral legitimacy, people could resist the Government; even overthrow it to replace it with a legitimate government. The situation became ever more perilous. More and more people, especially those connected to the Church, were murdered, “disappeared” or tortured. And wherever the Government used violence to put down the people, Romero showed up to denounce the Government and legitimize the struggle of the people for social change.
Now Romero did not, unlike some “liberation theologians’ legitimize the use of violence to fight violence. He condemned those who had taken up arms against the government though he recognized the justice of their cause. Like Gandhi, King, Tutu and other moral leaders of the twentieth century he was consecrated to non-violence but non-violence, while it may work more slowly, is more dangerous to illegitimate authority than is violence. Non-violence consistently claims moral high-ground. By 1980 El Savador was totally destabilized, in no small part by the Archbishop’s preaching. On March 23, 1980 he gave a famous sermon in which he addressed the soldiers—the common soldiers—of the army.
"Brothers, you came from our own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, 'Thou shalt not kill'. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination. ...In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression"
Such a speech was calling the military to mutiny. It could not be tolerated. The following day, March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was shot and killed by a government assassin as he raised the chalice at Mass.
Romero’s death caused a huge outcry. The Pope denounced the “sacrilege” of killing a bishop while he was saying Mass. World leaders decried the murder. Bishops and religious figures—from many different Christian denominations and religions—flocked to San Salvador to the funeral to pay tribute to the Archbishop. But the violence did not stop. During the Archbishop’s funeral, in an act of moral contempt, the Salvadoran military to cause panic dropped smoke bombs on the huge crowd gathered before the Cathedral. Then in the panic they began firing on the crowd. Dozens of people were killed.
The war in Salvador continued for another 12 years. Peace has finally come to the country. Oscar Romero stands as the national hero. His picture is everywhere. Scores of folk songs tell his story. Although not officially recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, he is venerated as on in Salvador and his tomb in the Cathedral is a place of pilgrimage. His cause for Sainthood has been introduced at official levels and he has been given the title “Servant of God” by the Vatican, but in Salvador he is “San Romero.” His statue stands alongside those of Martin Luther King, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Maximilian Kolbe, and other “Martyrs of the Twentieth Century” over the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey. Most important however, his memory and example are imprinted on the hearts of the People of San Salvador and in their National story.