Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Day of Infamy

Source: Maryknoll Magazine, March 2005

When Oscar Romero was named archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, his native El Salvador was embroiled in a civil war that would eventually claim 75,000 lives. Wealthy landowners, backed by the military and supported by U.S. foreign policy, were fighting a grassroots guerrilla movement. However, the military made little or no distinction between killing guerrilla fighters and peasants, the majority of whom were desperately poor. By publicly condemning the slaughter of innocent people, as well as a political system in which “a few have everything and the majority live in destitution,” Romero, like many priests, Sisters, and churchworkers, became targeted as an enemy of the state. What follows is an excerpt of “Romero: A Life” by James R. Brockman. It reports on Romero’s last day.

On the afternoon of March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romeo found Father Segundo Azcue at the old Jesuit house in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. “I want to feel clean in the Lord’s presence,” the prelate told his Jesuit confessor. The confession was brief.

Afterward, his close friend Salvador Barraza, a small-business man who often volunteered as the prelate’s chauffeur, drove the archbishop to Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador. He left him there at half-past five.

An announcement had been published in the newspapers for the 6 p.m. Mass in the cancer hospital’s chapel. Some of Romero’s friends were unhappy with the publicity. The threats to his life were serious, especially following his homily heard on national radio the previous day. “No government,” he had told the congregation in the cathedral and his millions of radio listeners, “can prevail, much less so when it wants to impose its program through bloodshed and suffering.”

He went on, “I would like to appeal in a special way to the army’s enlisted men. … Brothers: you kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. … God’s law must prevail that says, ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. … I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

Romero was offering the Mass in the hospital chapel for the late Doña Sarita, mother of his friend Jorge Pinto, whose weekly newspaper, El Independiente, had been bombed less that two weeks before. It was a simple liturgy – for her family and relatives mostly. Sisters, nurses and patients from the hospital were also there.

Romero read the first lesson, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; “Christ is indeed raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” He led the people in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd. … Though I walk in the valley of the shadow, I fear no evil.” The Gospel reading was John 12:23-26: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

In his short homily, Romero spoke of Sarita’s simple dedication to building the kingdom of God and the encouragement she gave to her children. “You just heard in the Gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life. … Whoever out of love for Christ gives themselves to the service of others will live, like the grain of wheat that dies – but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. Only in undoing itself does it produce the harvest.”

He exhorted all to follow Sarita’s example, each one undertaking the task in his or her own way, with hope, with faith, with love for God. “This holy Mass, this Eucharist, is an act of faith. With Christian faith we know that at this moment the wheaten host is changed into the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the world’s redemption, and in the chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and blood to suffering and to pain – like Christ, not for self, but to teach justice and peace to our people. So let us join together intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer for Doña Sarita and ourselves.”

At that moment, a shot rang out!

As the sound reverberated and Romero fell to the floor, shock and confusion struck those present. No one in the chapel saw the assassin, who fired through the chapel’s open rear door. (Outside a bystander reported seeing police cars covering the escape from the chapel of three men in a red car.) Several nuns and other people ran to Romero, and turned him onto his back. Romero was unconscious, gasping, blood pouring from his mouth and nose. The bullet had entered his left breast and lodged in his back. Fragments of the bullet scattered in his chest, causing heavy internal bleeding.

Blood was turning the violet vestment and white alb red as the people carried him from the chapel to a small truck outside. Down the drive, down the street, down the hill it went, five minutes, to the Policlínica Hospital. In the emergency room, he lay on a table, still gasping, strangling on his own blood, still unconscious, as the nun on emergency-room duty probed for a vein in his arm to start a transfusion. The veins had collapsed from lack of blood. In a few minutes he stopped gasping and was dead.

Jesuit Father James R. Brockman, a native of Cincinnati, served as a missioner in Peru and as director of Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas. He died in 1999 at age 73.

For additional information: also


Post a Comment

<< Home