Esther Chavez vividly remembers the day in 1980 when a voice through a university loudspeaker delivered the news: San Salvador’s Catholic Archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, had been fatally shot.
“Everyone went crazy,” said Chavez, a New Jersey-based community activist who left El Salvador decades ago. “I didn’t go directly home to my family; I went to be with the nuns and when I got there they already had the news that he was killed.”
The assassination of the popular Archbishop reverberated around the world, but it had a deep, personal impact on Salvadorans like Chavez.
Now almost forty years later, Chavez is one of many Salvadorans and Catholics who traveled to Rome to witness what they have long been waiting for — on Sunday, the late Romero will be canonized by Pope Francis as a Catholic Saint.
Archbishop Romero was killed by a sniper from a right-wing death squad linked to the country’s military government. It happened while he was conducting mass in the Chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia.
He was assassinated at the beginning of the country’s wrenching civil war, which killed an estimated 75,000 people. According to a U.N. Truth Commission Report, former National Guard Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, a leader within the far right in El Salvador, was behind the extrajudicial killing, but was never tried.
Romero was targeted by right-wing forces who saw a threat in his constant entreaties against human rights abuses and his defense of poor and indigenous communities.
For Salvadorans like Chavez, Romero’s emphasis on community and outreach had a lasting effect on her own personal trajectory.
Chavez first began working with Romero around 1978 when she worked at a school in El Salvador and would type out transcripts of Romero’s homilies that would then be delivered to community members. It was there that she realized how important and influential his message was.
A few weeks later she sat in on a meeting with Archbishop Romero and others and had the opportunity to tell him about the work she was doing.
“He said, ‘Oh, but I think you have a different type of job to do,'” Chavez said. Romero urged her to go back to her hometown and directly help its impoverished residents.
“Most of the women who live in that area were taking care of other people’s children and leaving their own children alone, some of them were washing clothes and others were selling things in the market” said Chavez. “We made the decision, between my brother and I, that maybe we can do a daycare.”
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SOURCE: NBC News, Reynaldo Leanos Jr.