Photo essay: `May my blood be the seed of liberty' -- Assassinated 30 years ago, Monsignor Oscar Romero honoured

Photos and text by James Rodriguez, San Salvador, El Salvador

March 24, 2010 --

Versión en español aquí.

“On Monday, March 24th, 1980, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while giving a mass in the chapel of the Divina Providencia Hospital. He was gunned down by a professional sniper who fired a single caliber 22 shot from a red vehicle parked outside the small church.” [1]

7:03 am –Divina Providencia Hospital
“Monsignor Romero had become a recognized critic of violence and injustice. He was therefore perceived as a dangerous enemy by certain military and right wing civil groups. Monsignor Romero’s homilies, which constantly focused on human rights violations, profoundly irritated these factions.” [2]
“Monsignor Romero’s murder in particular, polarized even more Salvadorian society and became the breaking point that symbolized the utmost disregard for human rights and a clearly marked prelude to the full blown war between the government and the guerrilla forces.” [3]Samuel Ruiz, Emeritus Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, presided a mass honouring Monsignor Romero’s memory on the same altar where the latter one was gunned down exactly thirty years before.
During the mass, both clergy and parishioners solicited urgent prayers and action with regards to the following issues: against “projects of death” like metal mining and hydroelectric dams, the repression currently going on in Honduras as a result of last year’s coup d’état, sweatshop abuses mostly suffered by women, a proper and dignified reconstruction of Haiti and Chile due to the recent earthquakes, against “uncontrolled and voracious consumerism”, for peace and justice for Indigenous peoples – “true inhabitants of our lands”, against mass media that is alienating instead of informing, due reparation for the victims of human rights abuses during internal armed conflicts that took place in the region, and so that rich countries in the global North truly act in solidarity with the poor ones in the global South.
Nevertheless, Monsignor Oscar Romero’s own words still resound today and rightfully serve as a testimony of his struggle for justice. His homilies prove, 30 years on, that the roots of numerous social ills have not changed enough or, in some cases, at all.
“Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is not an equilibrium of two opposing forces in a struggle. Peace above all is not reached by repressing until death those who are not allowed to speak… True peace is based on justice and equality.” (August 14, 1977)
“I denounce above all the absolute control of wealth. This is the root of all evil in El Salvador: wealth and private property as an untouchable absolutism, as a high voltage cable that will burn down whoever dares even touch it! It is not fair that few have it all… while the vast marginalised majority starves to death.” (August 12, 1979)
“[Economic indexes of] progress are not the solution in this country. It is necessary that progress is based on the foundations of justice. If not, national security will become the personal security of those few who are rich, and progress will always benefit a minority.” (November 19, 1978)
“I do not know why, in a civilised country, we still discriminate women. Why will a woman not earn as much as a man if she works just as hard?” (July 8, 1979)
“Development demands audacious and profoundly innovative transformations. We must embark on urgent reforms without any further delay. Each one of us must generously accept their role; above all, those who have a greater possibility of action due to their education, financial situation and status. (January 5, 1978)

9:15 am– March begins towards the cathedral
“The oligarchy is the cause of all our misfortunes. This small nucleus of families does not care if the rest of the people starve to death. In fact, they need these conditions to have abundant cheap labour available to them for the picking and exporting of their harvests.” (February 15, 1980)
“Why is there an income available to the poor peasant majority only during the sowing and harvesting of coffee, cotton and sugar cane? Why does this society need to have unemployed peasant farmers, an underpaid working class, and unfair salaries? These mechanisms must be analyzed not from the eyes of an economist or a sociologist, but from a Christian point of view so as not to be an accomplice to this machinery that continually makes people poorer, marginalized, homeless.” (December 16th, 1979)
“It is a shame to have a mass media that is completely sold out. It is a shame not to be able to trust the information from the newspapers or the television or the radio because everything has been bought off and the truth is not divulged.” (April 2, 1978)
“So much violence in the country deeply worries me. But what worries me the most is that the people’s capacity to react, condemn and protest, in general, has decreased significantly. This has allowed the continuation of repression in a shameless manner with complete liberty.” (March 2, 1980)

10:05 am– At the Saviour of the World roundabout
“Until when are we to endure these crimes without any vindication of justice? Where is this justice in our country? Where is the Supreme Court of Justice? Where is the honour in our democracy if people are to die in this way, like dogs, and their deaths are never investigated?” (June 21, 1979)
“The right means exactly that: social injustice. It is not morally correct to ever maintain a right-wing political agenda.” (March 19, 1980)
“When the people are unorganised, they become a mass that can easily be manipulates. But when they become organised and defend their values, their justice, they become a force that must be reckoned with.” (March 2, 1980)

12:05 – Cathedral and Monsignor Romero’s crypt
“A situation of injustice reigns in Latin America. Violence has been institutionalised… Because whenever there is a force that oppresses the weak and disallows their right to live in justice, their human dignity, then we have a situation of injustice.” (July 3, 1977)
“This week I received information that I am on the list to be eliminated next week. I want to leave on record that now, the voice of justice can no longer be killed.” (February 24, 1980)
“The military aid provided by the United States is only reinforcing the oppressors of the people.” (November 4, 1979)
“It is sad to read that in El Salvador the two main causes of death are: first is diarrhea, and second is murder… Therefore, right after the result of malnourishment, diarrhea, we have the result of crime, murder. These are the two epidemics that are killing off our people.” (September 9, 1979)
“I want to make a special request to the men in the armed forces: brothers, we are from the same country, yet you continually kill your peasant brothers. Before any order given by a man, the law of God must prevail: ‘You shall not kill’… No person should have to follow an immoral law.” (March 23, 1980. One day before his assassination.)
“We want the government to be aware that blood-stained reforms are completely worthless. In the name of God, well, and in the name of the Salvadorian people who have suffered enormously and whose wails rise each day higher and higher towards the sky, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression!” (March 23, 1980. One day before his assassination.)
Monsignor Romero’s figure has transcended spiritual barriers within Salvadorian society, and the processes for his canonisation are on their way in the Vatican. On his crypt, an offering from an emigrant reads: “Gratitude to God and Monsignor Romero for his miraculous intervention in protecting my voyage towards the United States – Manuel Guillen.”
“The forces at the service of the oligarchy may register an ephemeral victory, but the voice of justice for our people will once again be heard and, rather sooner than later, it will prevail. The new society is coming, and it is coming fast.” (February 15, 1980)


1 Mártinez Peñate, Óscar (Compiler). El Salvador. Los Acuerdos de Paz y el Informe de la Comisión de la Verdad. 1st. Ed. San Salvador, 2007. P. 231.
2 Ibid.
3 Op. Cit. Mártinez Peñate. P. 142.


“I want to make a special request to the men in the armed forces: brothers, we are from the same country, yet you continually kill your peasant brothers. Before any order given by a man, the law of God must prevail: ‘You shall not kill’… No person should have to follow an immoral law.” (March 23, 1980. One day before his assassination.)