By Father Edward Mason
“If they kill me, I shall rise in the Salvadoran people” – The legacy of Oscar Romero
I have heard this statement of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero countless times as I showed the movie “Romero” every semester to my high school students and read it over and over in books and publications about him. But while in El Salvador in March celebrating the 35th anniversary of his assassination, I saw the truth and reality of these words as I walked and prayed with the Salvadoran people.
Part of my time in San Salvador was spent participating in a Theology Conference conducted by the University of Central America. This place too has become holy ground, being the site of the assassination of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. Each day that I took the 20-minute taxi ride to and from the university afforded me the opportunity to engage in conversation with different taxi drivers on the topic of Oscar Romero. Most of them were middle-age men who would have been at most young children in 1980. Each of them, whether they were Catholic or not, would immediately begin speaking about the archbishop as if they knew him, as if he was their personal friend. They are his legacy.
On the eve of Romero’s anniversary, I gathered with some 3,000 people in the park around the statue of Salvador Del Mundo, the site of the upcoming May 23 beatification. It was a marvelous display of faith, unity and affection for their martyred and beloved archbishop. People from all over El Salvador, Latin America and the world gathered to pray while processing together the three-mile route to the Cathedral to celebrate Mass. The scene that night seemed reminiscent of Romero’s funeral 35 years earlier except for one thing. The vast majority of the faithful this day never met him, never saw him, never heard him speak. They too are his legacy.
On Wednesday, March 25, on the Feast of the Annunciation, one day after the anniversary of his assassination, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass at the altar at which he was shot and killed. It was an incredible honor for me, something I had dreamed of doing for years. Following Mass, I visited the small and very simple residence on the grounds of the hospital where Romero found solitude escaping the hustle and bustle of his chancery office and residence.
As I walked the grounds with Maryknoller Father John Spain, the highlight of the day became the opportunity to interact with the busloads of visiting school children. They were engaged, asking questions and truly excited about the opportunity they had that day to learn about Archbishop Romero. While looking at a display of pictures of Romero’s life, it was pointed out to some of them that the priest with me was one of the people carrying the casket of Oscar Romero to the steps of the Cathedral for his funeral Mass. They stepped back seemingly in awe, feeling even closer to the man they came to learn about that day. It was obvious to me this was not just another school outing for these children. They too were on a pilgrimage to a holy place to honor a holy man. They seemed to understand that yes, they too are his legacy.