As Salvadorans begin their Easter time celebrations starting on Holy Thursday, they will also remember the 36th anniversary of one of their country’s most tragic moments: the day that Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down while saying mass in San Salvador.
In life, Romero was loved by the poor, whom he defended passionately, and loathed by conservatives who considered him too close to left-leaning movements in the tumultuous years ahead of El Salvador's 1980-92 civil war.
Romero was celebrating Mass in a cancer hospital chapel on March 24, 1980, when he was shot through the heart by a sniper, who apparently fired from a car outside. The day before, Romero had delivered a strongly worded admonition to the U.S.-backed military to stop repressing civilians.
The trigger man has never been identified, and no one has been prosecuted for the killing. Alleged paramilitary death squad leader Roberto d'Aubuisson, who was named by a U.N. truth commission after the war's end as the mastermind of the assassination, died in 1992 having maintained his innocence to the end.
Romero was beatified last spring after being held up by church politics for year. It was finally determined he had not been an adherent of the revolutionary Liberation Theology as many claimed.
"The beatification ... is a cause for great joy for Salvadorans and for those of us who rejoice at the example of the greatest children of the church," Pope Francis said in a statement. "Monsignor Romero, who built peace from the strength of love, gave testimony of the faith with his life, committed to the very end."
The day Romero was murdered has also became the Church’s day of prayer for missionary martyrs, which unfortunately will be overlooked this year as Holy Thursday falls on that date.
“The Triduum naturally takes precedence and the celebration of his feast day will be suppressed,” Julian Filochowsky, the former director of the English Catholic aid agency CAFOD and a friend of Romero’s told Vatican Radio.
Filochowsky, however, gave a glimmer of hope for the faithful by saying that August 15th 2017 will mark the centenary of Romero’s birth and that there is a “real hope” that Pope Francis may move to canonize the Salvadoran martyr by then.