April 19, 2018 Faith

Remembering el Monseñor

Written by: Cesar Olivares


Last month, the Vatican announced the canonization of Archbishop Óscar Romero. This saintly recognition, now welcomed by many in the Catholic Church, may actually be long overdue for Romero, who was just declared a martyr after decades of theological debate in 2015. The Archbishop spoke out against the oppressive Salvadoran dictatorship, becoming a national hero to the Salvadoran people as well as to my family. You see, my family is from El Salvador, just like Óscar Romero; and like Óscar Romero, they too were victims of the Salvadoran Civil War.

An armed struggle between the Salvadoran federal government and a loose coalition of left-wing guerrilla outfits, the Salvadoran Civil War lasted over a decade and resulted in over 70,000 deaths, including Romero’s. But in the early years of the War, Archbishop Romero, affectionately referred to by Salvadorans as “el Monseñor,” or Monsignor, served as a voice for the rural poor of El Salvador. Through “liberation theology,” a revolutionary blend of the Christian Gospel and Marxist social theory, Archbishop Romero urged the Salvadoran government to disband its death squads and the United States to stop funding the same military dictatorship.

I remember the people running away from the shots being fired by the ‘Guardia Nacional’ [National Guard] at the top of the buildings, and people falling on the floor like flies.

– My dad

Because of his outspoken position against state-sponsored violence and his advocacy for the economic and social advancement of El Salvador’s poor, the passionate critic of tyranny was soon publicly assassinated while performing clerical duties.

Cesars Dad Edit

My own father, a native of the Salvadoran state of Usulután, remembers the day of Romero’s funeral. Reportedly, thousands of mourners who attended the service fled after an explosion went off by the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador. Shortly thereafter, sharpshooters indiscriminately opened fire on the crowd from rooftops. Many now believe that the Salvadoran government was responsible for the massacre.

My father remembers: “I was sick with chickenpox when it happened, and since my family was the only one in our village that had color TV, I watched the whole thing. Even though I was only 12 years old, my eyes acted as cameras recording atrocities of violence and the pain it incurred. I remember the people running away from the shots being fired by the ‘Guardia Nacional’ [National Guard] at the top of the buildings, and people falling on the floor like flies not knowing what hit them.”

Like a lot of other first generation citizens of the United States, I grew up hearing the traumatic stories my parents and grandparents told about the countries they fled from. Thanks to the internet, video footage of the Civil War exists and is easily accessible, breathing new life into their stories. Violence is in no short supply. This keeps people informed about Cold War-era Central America, which saw the mass exodus of Central Americans like my parents from their home countries.

You see, my family is from El Salvador, just like Óscar Romero; and like Óscar Romero, they too were victims of the Salvadoran Civil War.

Rather than be paralyzed by the horrors committed by guerrillas and federales alike, Salvadorans worldwide hold onto their memories of great men like Archbishop Óscar Romero when remembering the Civil War. Aware of his status as a government target, Monseñor Romero once said, “If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.”

My father (left) pictured here with my uncles.

Because of my family heritage and my status as a Salvadoran American, Óscar Romero to me represents the voice of reason and justice in the face of senseless violence. It’s appropriate that an organization which carries out Romero’s humanitarian philosophy would stand with the Oceti Sakowin who have suffered like hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans worldwide. My experience in becoming aware of the Lakota people’s struggle, of their battle against repression courtesy of corporate America, helped form my connection to the Romero Institute.

Through the Lakota People’s Law Project, a social justice organization with the focus of protecting tribal sovereignty and autonomy for the Lakota people, I was made aware of the vivid scene at Standing Rock. Police dogs, armored vehicles, full body armor, and M16 rifles all described the militarized opposition to the peaceful DAPL protesters. Needless to say, I was shocked upon learning this, and, upon hearing that LPLP was looking for interns, I made doubly sure to write down their information.

When I got the chance, I did some research of my own on the Lakota People’s Law Project and soon found out that LPLP is an important endeavor of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit law and public policy center focused on humanitarian causes. Having gotten its name from the Archbishop Óscar Romero, the Institute made me excited to hear that more people have become aware of the man who stood up for the oppressed. To be part of an organization that not only commemorates Óscar Romero’s memory in name but also carries out his humanitarian vision to the underrepresented communities of Native Americans is an opportunity I am very glad to have.