The news from El Salvador in the early evening of March 24,
1980, sent shock waves beyond the violence-torn Central American nation.
Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, a fiery defender of the poor,
was killed by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass in a hospital
Bernarda Rendon, 75, describes herself as the daughter of
“very poor” farmers in El Salvador. She remembers the times clearly.
Blessed Romero, who will be canonized in Rome on Oct. 14, was
assassinated the day after challenging the government and asking
soldiers to stop killing innocent civilians.
Rendon sat in a
coffee shop in south St. Louis with her son and two members of the St.
Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America. She described Blessed
Romero’s slow acceptance of the clergy and base Christian communities of
his archdiocese working alongside the explited rural poor, promoting
social organizations and land reform. “At that time, the whole Church
was like a flower that bloomed immensely,” Rendon said. “It was a
Christian movement marked by the courage of the people and their deep
faith in God.”
Rendon came to St. Louis with her family in 1983 as
a refugee through the help of the Archdiocese of San Salvador. Her
husband, who died 15 years ago, had just been released from jail in an
amnesty for political prisoners. He was accused of being
anti-government, arrested two years earlier after soldiers burst into
“We were called Marxists, and we didn’t even know what a Marxist is,” she said.
lived in El Salvador during a time when priests were expelled from the
country and other people were persecuted for their faith, she recalled,
noting that many were imprisoned and tortured unjustly. She was a
participant in the base communities studying Scripture and trying to
make sense of the government’s actions against its citizens.
Romero didn’t truly become the voice of the voiceless poor, she said,
until the assassination of his friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande in
1977 just three weeks after Blessed Romero was named Archbishop of San
Salvador. Father Grande was a rural pastor who spoke with passion about
injustices and worked with the people. First, the archbishop took some
time to process the killing, a time many Salvadorans compare to Jesus’
praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion.
Romero gave people strength and power by demanding freedom for their
friends and family who were arrested or disappeared, Rendon said.
Lorenz, a member of the Inter-Faith Committee who has been to El
Salvador 30 times, attended the beatification in Rome. What struck her
is that “he is Romero of the Church, not just Romero of the poor and not
just Romero of El Salvador. His way of being Church is an example to us
that there is a risk to the Gospel,” Lorenz said.
Gustavo Rendon, said Blessed Romero’s life “made you proud to be
Catholic.” Catholics can learn from Blessed Romero that “you have to
speak the truth in order to live the Gospel,” he added.
Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann, Daniel Diaz sat in the cafeteria just
past a poster of Blessed Romero. “It is a very great joy,” he said of
the upcoming canonization.
Diaz, who lived in a rural area of El
Salvador, was about 17 when Blessed Romero was killed. He remembers
listening to his homily on Palm Sunday on an old radio. He also
remembers the false accusations and snipers shooting at people. “All of
us living in rural areas were oppressed by the government,” he said.
that time, just to say the words “liberation” or “oppressed” could
bring death, Diaz said. Blessed Romero, he said, is “the saint of the
oppressed and the poorest people.”
Another Holy Trinity
parishioner, Lorena Contreras was 13 years old and lived in San Salvador
at the time of the assassination. Blessed Romero “fought for the people
even at the cost of his own life,” she said.
With his canonization, Contreras said, “all the blood shed in the country by the people will not be shed in vain.”
said she had two uncles who were part of a labor union — one was killed
and another beaten so bad that he died from his injuries after his
release was arranged by Blessed Romero. Her family kept moving and tried
to avoid people from either side in the conflict. She tells of a friend
and her friend’s father, who went to get wood. While they were away,
the other eight members of their household were slain. She also tells of
people stacked one on top of each other and burned.
The people of
St. Louis now have an intercessor with the extensive violence here, she
said. His intercession also is needed in El Salvador where, after the
civil war, so many young people were left without parents that there was
a rise of gangs and related violence, Contreras added.
Cruz, another Holy Trinity parishioner, said that the people of El
Salvador already recognized Blessed Romero’s saintly qualities at the
time of his martyrdom. “He offered his blood for the peace of his
country,” she said. “We have all become enriched.”
>> Events in St. Louis
On Sunday, Oct. 14, Blessed
Oscar Romero will be canonized as a saint in Rome. In St. Louis,
leading up to that day, a celebration of the canonization, “Walking in
Hope,” is planned starting Oct. 7 and culminating the same day as his
The highlight will be on, Oct. 14, with midnight
fellowship and 3 a.m. live streaming of the canonization Mass at the
Eckelkamp Center for Campus Ministry on the Saint Louis University
campus. That’s followed at 12:30 p.m. with prayer and reflection service
at the Saint Louis University Clocktower at West Pine Mall and Spring
Avenue followed by a pilgrimage to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
for a Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso and homily by
Jesuit Father Tim McMahon. A reception will be held following Mass.
The week’s events begin Sunday, Oct. 7, from 9:15-10:15 a.m., with a talk on “Oscar Romero: Archbishop with an Attitude” by Father McMahon, at St. Francis Xavier College Parish in the ballroom below the church, 3628 Lindell Blvd.
Several academic and public lectures are being held during the week. A community forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, on “A Catholic Response to an Unjust Immigration Policy: What Romero’s Legacy Teaches Us,” will be held at the Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive in Shrewsbury.
On Thursday, Oct. 11, at 5:30 p.m., a free documentary screening will be held of “Monseñor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero,” at the Moolah Theatre, 3821 Lindell Blvd., with a discussion to follow.
“Stations of the Cross — The Journey of the Salvadoran People, Mirrored in the Way of the Cross”
will take place at noon Friday, Oct. 12, at the Saint Louis University
Clocktower at West Pine Mall and Spring Avenue; at 7 p.m. is “Stations of the Cross — Romero’s Meditations for Today’s Families” (music by Adam Bitter) at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 1115 S. Florissant Road in Ferguson.
celebration of the 25th anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church
becoming bilingual and a celebration of Blessed Oscar Romero will be at 5
p.m. Mass Saturday, Oct. 13, at the parish church, 1115 S. Florissant
Road in Ferguson.
An art display inspired by Blessed Romero will
be at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at SLU, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Tuesday - Sunday.
For the full list of events, visit www.romerostl2018.squarespace.com/