Several hundred people attended an ecumenical service in Central London on Saturday 28 March to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. During the service at St Martin in the Field's Church in Trafalgar Square they laid candles around a large crucifix and reliquary containing a piece of blood-stained cloth, worn by Romero at the time of his murder. He was assassinated by a right-wing death squad in 1980 while saying Mass.
"The purpose of remembering Romero is not to condemn others but to animate us to lead lives marked by Christian responsibility" said keynote speaker Fr Frank Turner SJ, a trustee of the Archbishop Romero Trust which organised the service. He noted that Romero lived close to the poorest people in an El Salvador, plagued by civil war and death squads, and this shaped his experience and his conversion to become their most courageous defender.
"The violence of the state determined Romero's mission" he said, and churches today "must stay faithful to those suffering in the current economic downturn and offer a vision for a more just and sustainable world". Fr Turner reported that the people of El Salvador have been deeply touched that Romero is one the ten 20th century Christian martyrs commemorated with statues at Westminster Abbey's west gate.
The congregation prayed for the new president of El Salvador, Maricio Funes, whose election two weeks ago gave a former rebel movement its first taste of power, squeezing out the right-wing Arena party after 20 years in power. Funes dedicated his presidency to Romero, who had called on politicians to listen to demands for justice in El Salvador. Funes has promised to "build a social democratic state based on human rights".
At the conclusion of the service, Julian Filochowski, Chair of the Archbishop Romero Trust urged participants to become a 'Friend of Romero' through the Trust, and to join the 'Put People First' rally passing through Trafalgar Square as the service ended. Many did so, including staff of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, East Anglia Justice and Peace Commission, and CAFOD's Westminster Office. They headed across Trafalgar Square carrying a colourful selection of peace flags, banners, placards and an inflatable globe.
For more information see: www.romerotrust.org.uk