On His Centenary, Please Don’t Spiritualize Oscar Romero’s Legacy

By Liz Colmant Estes, M.Div. 2017
Oscar Romero did not want to die. He was terrified of bullets and bombs and spent his last nights sleeping in an altar chamber in a hospital chapel, praying for safety. Romero didn’t seek martyrdom. As a shepherd, however, he felt obliged to give his life for all Salvadorans, even those who might kill him. “If I am killed,” he told a Guatemalan reporter who asked about death threats Romero received a few weeks before his murder, “I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.” If God accepted the sacrifice of his life, he said, “Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.” Then, on the Sunday before the was murdered, while delivering a sermon on national radio, Romero beseeched his government’s soldiers:
“Brothers, you are part of our people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters… No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law…I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”
This January, as El Salvador commemorated the 25th anniversary of its savage civil war, I traveled there with five seminarians and two alums—our instructor Dr. Whit Hutchison and T.A. Timothy Wotring—for Union’s bi-annual, January-term class, “The Liberative Spirituality of Archbishop Romero.” At a hospital for people with long-term illness, we entered the humble, cinder-block home of the archbishop who was fatally shot in 1980 while

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