Romero spent the day of 24 March 1980 in a recollection organized by Opus Dei, a monthly gathering of priest friends led by Msgr Fernando Sáenz Lacalle. On that day they reflected on the priesthood. That evening, Romero was fatally shot while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital called La Divina Providencia, only one day after preaching a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights. The following day, after he finished his sermon [at the hospital chapel], Romero proceeded to the middle of the altar and at that moment was shot. His assassin was never identified.
Romero was buried in the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador. The funeral mass on 30 March 1980 was attended by more than 250,000 mourners from all over the world. At the funeral, Cardinal Corripio Ahumada, speaking as the personal delegate of Pope John Paul II, eulogized Romero as a ‘beloved, peacemaking man of God,’ and stated that ‘his blood will give fruit to brotherhood, love and peace.’
During the ceremony, smoke bombs exploded on the streets near the cathedral and subsequently there were rifle shots that came from surrounding buildings, including the National Palace. Many people were killed by gunfire and in the stampede of people running away from the explosions and gunfire; official sources talk of 31 overall casualties, while journalists indicated between 30 and 50 died. Some witnesses claimed it was government security forces that threw bombs into the crowd, and army sharpshooters, dressed as civilians, that fired into the chaos from the balcony or roof of the National Palace. However, there are contradictory accounts as to the course of the events and ‘probably, one will never know the truth about the interrupted funeral.’
As the gunfire continued, Romero's body was buried in a crypt beneath the sanctuary. Even after the burial, people continued to line up to pay homage to their martyred prelate.
After viewing the film there was a ‘question and answer’ time. I asked if anyone knew what conditions in El Salvador were like today. Had anything good resulted from the martyrdom of this holy prelate (and many of his priests)? There were several people in the audience who had been to Central America, and the general consensus was, that things were still very bad there. I asked if the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador was still defending the people and working to end the regime of injustice and oppression. To that question I didn’t get a clear answer from anyone. I was a bit stunned by both the film, and the innocuous reaction to it by us who viewed it. We tend to ‘return to normal’ after witnessing any tragic event, especially when ‘it was only a movie.’
If the story of archbishop Romero is at least as true as the film, I am astounded that the Roman Catholic Church must still find ‘two authentic miracles’ before it can canonize him, ‘make him a saint.’ In this, the weakness of Christian Orthodoxy in having no pope and only primitive machinery for canonization or, as we call it, ‘glorification,’ is a strength. Saints are often ‘canonized’ by popular demand in the Orthodox Church long before their official glorification.
|Feast Day of St Oscar, March 24|
In the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ Jesus, may the saints bless us by their love, which they offered to us while they were alive and in our midst, and now that they have been freed from these bodies of death to intercede for us who remain, until they come again with Him in glory ‘to judge the quick and the dead,’ amen!