Blessed Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while celebrating the Eucharist on March 24, 1980. Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, Archbishop of San Salvador and President of Cáritas El Salvador reminds us of his legacy.
How did you meet Monsignor Romero?
Monsignor Romero and I are originally from the same diocese, the diocese of San Miguel. He was ordained priest in 1942, the year I was born. I met him in the city of San Miguel, where he was in charge of the cathedral that was then still under construction. I was only fourteen years old. Over time our friendship grew and I had the privilege of being at his side in the most difficult moments of his ministry as Archbishop of San Salvador. In his diary, he considered me as someone who had been “a good friend for a long time” (Su Diario, May 18, 1979).
What charitable things has Monsignor Óscar Romero done or said that have impacted the people of El Salvador more?
Monsignor Romero criticised in his famous homily those ‘Christians who attended mass on Sunday but did not behave accordingly during the week’. He encouraged Christians to be consistent with teaching and to have a great social sense. And he was a model of what he preached. His close associates worried that his policy of charity towards the poor meant the parish economy was often in red. Being a priest in San Miguel, we reproached him for giving money to poor people who would use it to get drunk. I still remember his reply: “I would prefer being wrong and giving help to those who do not need it, rather than hesitating and denying it to those who really need it.”
As an archbishop, he spoke clearly that we must go beyond merely giving aid; integral human development must be fostered and efforts must also be made to ensure adequate policies are formulated and that major decisions affecting the poor are made. The people appreciated his great spirit of poverty, his simple way of living and his deep solidarity.
Has Óscar Romero talked about the work of Caritas during his lifetime?
The subject often appears in his diary. But it is good to remember that the birth of Caritas in El Salvador was unusual: there was a national secretariat, but there were hardly any diocesan structures and we had practically no parish Caritas. It was like “an army without soldiers.” On the other hand, Caritas, at that time, was involved in welfare work and, gradually, in the work of integral human development.
As archbishop he was faced with a serious accusation: the government reported that during the war bullets for the guerrillas were being hidden in consignments beans in Caritas trucks. The bottom line is that Caritas, by bringing food to the war zones, made the military’s strategy difficult: “We have to get water out of the fish.” The “water” was food. We can say that Monsignor Romero had a deep esteem for Caritas and strongly supported our work.
What memories do the people of El Salvador have of Óscar Romero?
We must distinguish two moments: before and after the beatification. Before, during his three years of ministry as an archbishop, he was attacked and slandered in a ruthless way by the government. They even went so far as to modify his name with very bad intentions: he was called Óscar “Marxnulfo” Romero. It was an ignoble way of accusing him of being Communist and an instrument of communism.
The beatification of Monsignor Romero opened the eyes of many, even among powerful people who celebrated the day of his death because “this communist was finally killed.” Many of these people have asked for forgiveness in confession and before the tomb of this venerable martyr. It’s what I call a true “spiritual earthquake”.. Pope Francis has played a crucial role in making known the true Óscar Romero. And it became even clearer on Tuesday, March 21, when the Holy Father presided over the morning Eucharist in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta surrounded by all the bishops of El Salvador ahead of the thirty-seventh anniversary of his martyrdom.
What events will Caritas El Salvador organise for the centenary?
Perhaps the most relevant one is that Caritas El Salvador will host the meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean regional Secretariat of Caritas (SELACC). We will also provide logistical assistance to many visitors who will come to honour Blessed Romero, hoping that he will soon be canonised. And, of course, we will mobilise many faithful from all dioceses to join this unforgettable date.