‘Each one of you must be a microphone of God, each one of you must be a messenger, a prophet’
El Salvador in the 1970s was a country deeply divided.
Most Salvadorans lived in extreme poverty, while a small number of rich families controlled most of the wealth and political power.
Violence was regularly used against those who stood up to challenge this inequality.
This was the situation when Oscar Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador, the nation’s capital, in 1977.
Originally he was seen as a safe pair of hands; someone who would not rock the boat.
But as Archbishop he would regularly hear first hand accounts of the ordinary, working people who would be threatened, or ‘disappear’ without trace.
Romero said: “The word of God is like the light of the sun. It illuminates beautiful things, but also things which we would rather not see.”
Weeks after he had become Archbishop his close friend, the Jesuit Fr Rutilio Grande, was killed. It was then that Archbishop Romero began to speak out. “If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path” he said.
Each week, after many hours of research, consultation, and prayer, Romero used his lengthy Sunday homilies as a platform.
He condemned the repression and would name and account for every man, woman and child who had been targeted and killed or ‘disappeared’.
He used his sermons to challenge those in power. “It is not God’s will for some to have everything and others to have nothing,” he said.
In a time of heavy press censorship his sermons, broadcast nationwide over the radio, were the only way that people could hear the truth about the atrocities happening in their country.
It was a dangerous path.
Receiving death threats every day, Romero knew that one day soon he could be killed. Still, he remained committed to carrying out his mission.
Days before his assassination he said: “As a Christian I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador. A bishop may die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never die.”
On the eve of his assassination, he urged soldiers and police not to follow orders to kill:
"The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When a man tells you to kill, remember God's words, 'Thou shalt not kill’.
“In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”
At 6.26pm on 24 March 1980, whilst celebrating Mass, Archbishop Romero was shot dead at the altar in the chapel of the cancer hospital where he lived.
Oscar Romero gave his life to speak out on behalf of the poor and oppressed in his country. Romero’s example remains an inspiration to millions across the globe who work for justice, reconciliation and peace.
Archbishop Oscar Romero