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The Ongoing Legacy of Oscar Romero View Comments
By Peter Feuerherd

LAST MARCH, as the city of San Salvador began its weeklong commemoration of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s death, the souvenir T-shirts were abundant, worn by locals and visiting pilgrims alike. They were hot sellers in the stalls surrounding the downtown cathedral. There, Romero’s body lies in a crypt where everyday campesinos (native farmers) come, light candles, touch his tomb and metaphorically whisper in his ear, beseeching favors.

“As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am murdered, I will arise again in the Salvadoran people,” reads one popular shirt. The shirt bears the archbishop’s words and his bespectacled image above a map of the New Jersey-sized nation where more than 75,000 people perished in the civil war of the 1980s.

Romero, killed by soldiers while celebrating Mass at a hospital chapel on March 24, 1980, was an atypical victim, if one judges by his elevated position. But he joined thousands of others far less famous, from human-rights lawyers to union organizers to campesinos, as well as three North American sisters and a laywoman missionary, whose deaths have never been legally addressed in El Salvador. No one has ever been convicted of the murder of the archbishop.

Romero remains alive in the hearts of Salvadorans. Three decades later, tens of thousands crowded the downtown streets in a march to the cathedral, shouting, “Viva Romero.” Long an unofficial national hero, he has been formally embraced by the country’s new government. At the country’s only airport, international visitors are welcomed with an official mural depicting the archbishop.

President Mauricio Funes, elected in 2009, joined last year’s commemoration march, the first Salvadoran president to do so, and has formally apologized for the government’s role in the murder. During his inaugural address, he asked that his administration be judged by the standards set by Romero.

While Romero's prophetic witness stirred divisions within the Church when he was alive—some of his auxiliary bishops cautioned that he went too far in defending the poor—his cause for sainthood is being pursued by the Archdiocese of San Salvador.

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Peter Feuerherd is now communications director for the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey. Previously, he taught journalism at St. John’s University. He attended the commemoration last March.

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First Martyrs of the Church of Rome: There were Christians in Rome within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus, though they were not the converts of the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 15:20). Paul had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his great letter in 57-58 A.D.. 
<p>There was a large Jewish population in Rome. Probably as a result of controversy between Jews and Jewish Christians, the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49-50 A.D. Suetonius the historian says that the expulsion was due to disturbances in the city “caused by the certain Chrestus” [Christ]. Perhaps many came back after Claudius’s death in 54 A.D. Paul’s letter was addressed to a Church with members from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. </p><p>In July of 64 A.D., more than half of Rome was destroyed by fire. Rumor blamed the tragedy on Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace. He shifted the blame by accusing the Christians. According to the historian Tacitus, many Christians were put to death because of their “hatred of the human race.” Peter and Paul were probably among the victims. </p><p>Threatened by an army revolt and condemned to death by the senate, Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 31.</p> American Catholic Blog People are not perfect. But God does not only call upon great saints to reveal his love for the world. He also calls the broken and desperate. We are all called to act as God’s light in this darkening world.

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