1917 – 1980
Never shall I forget the energy, zeal, knowledge and joy of the small, slender man with flashing eyes and winsome smile whom I heard speak on the University of Toronto campus in 1977. Neither could I know that I was face-to-face with someone who had been appointed, like Stephen before him, to see Jesus standing (Acts 7:56 ) as the risen Lord honours yet another martyr.
Oscar Romero was born in Ciudad Barrios, a small town in El Salvador . Longing to be a priest, he left home at fourteen as his horse picked its way to San Miguel, seven hours away, where he could begin preparing himself for his vocation.
Ordained in Rome in 1942, he was appointed in 1967 as Secretary General of the National Bishops’ Conference. His ecclesiastical career was on track. In the twenty-five years of his priesthood Vatican II (1962-65), with its plea for aggiornamento (renewal), had not impressed him. He supported the arrangement whereby the Church kept the masses credulous and docile while the aristocracy exploited them and the military enforced it all.
Coffee had been planted in El Salvador in 1828. International demand soon found private interests commandeering vast tracts of arable land while expelling subsistence farmers. By 1920 the landowning class comprised fourteen families. Dislocated peasants were now either rural serfs or urban wretched, in any case trying to live on black beans and tortillas. One-half of one per cent of the population owned 90% of the country’s wealth.
In 1932, 30,000 people died in the first uprising. Aboriginals were executed in clumps of sixty. The Te Deum was sung in the cathedral in gratitude for the suppression of “communism.” In no time El Salvador was known as yet another “security state”, a totalitarian arrangement that suspended human rights and slew internal “enemies” at will. Supporting a policy of “peace at any price”, Romero, now editor of the archdiocesan magazine Orientacion,...