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Remembering Oscar Romero

March 23, 2010 |  5:40 pm

Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Msgr. Oscar Romero, the revered archbishop of San Salvador who spoke out against social injustices facing poor Salvadorans as El Salvador marched toward a long and bloody civil war.

On March 24, 1980, a gunman shot and killed Romero as he said Mass in a small chapel at a hospital called La Divina Providencia, in the Salvadoran capital. Days later, massive crowds attended Romero's funeral, which also resulted in tragedy as snipers shot at the gathered mourners, killing at least 20 people. El Salvador then plunged into a civil war that did not end until 1992, after tens of thousands of deaths.

After his assassination, "Romero became world-famous overnight," writes Christine Allen, a Catholic charity director, in The Guardian. "Over the last 30 years, he has been a guiding light for all Catholics concerned for peace and justice."

Commemoration events were scheduled this week throughout El Salvador and among Salvadoran and Catholic communities in other regions. In Los Angeles, home to the largest Salvadoran community outside El Salvador, the Salvadoran Consulate is screening a film about Romero's life and hosting a panel discussion on his legacy. Local radio outlet KPCC-FM has more, as does L.A.'s Clinica Romero.

Even 30 years later, justice remains elusive for Romero and the thousands of victims of El Salvador's war. That might be changing. The Salvadoran weekly El Faro published this week a detailed interview with the man long identified as a key participant in Romero's slaying, Rafael Alvaro Saravia. "Thirty years and I will die being persecuted for this," Saravia tells his interviewer. "Yes, of course I participated."

Amnesty International released a statement Tuesday calling for El Salvador to repeal a 1993 amnesty law that protects former U.S.-backed death squad assassins from trial for human rights abuses. The inauguration last year of the country's first leftist president, Mauricio Funes, has changed the atmosphere in El Salvador after two decades of right-wing governments, as The Times noted in November. For the first time, the state is commemorating Romero's death, as reported by Tim's El Salvador Blog.

Speaking to Vatican Radio from San Salvador this week, English bishop Arthur Roche said that "an enormous crowd of people" attended a memorial Mass for Romero on Saturday.

"He himself said days before he was assassinated, 'If they kill me, I shall rise again in the people of El Salvador.' And I think that's very clear to see," Roche told the radio program. "It's very touching as you go around not only the city but other places within this country, you know that you're standing on very hallowed ground."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City