El Salvador: Viva Romero! Viva John Paul II!

 A CAFOD delegation has just returned from El Salvador after what director Chris Bain describes as 'the Easter experience' of celebrating the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Tens of thousands of people packed the central square of the capital San Salvador on April 2 and turned the 'big day' of events for Romero into a double celebration. With news of the death of Pope Jean Paul II, crowds of young people in brightly coloured Romero T-shirts began shouting: "Viva, Oscar Romero! Viva, John Paul II!" It was the culmination of ten days of prayer, reflection and commemoration for the man who is already a saint to the peoples of Latin America. "Romero is truly resurrected in his people" said Mr Bain. Archbishop Romero - inspirational priest, martyr and hero - was murdered on March 24, 1980, a day after his defiant plea to the military: "I beg you, I beseech you, I order you, in the name of God, stop the repression! The actual day of his death fell on Maundy Thursday this year, but the official celebration came on April 2. CAFOD Latin American specialists Clare Dixon and Sarah Smith-Pearse accompanied Mr Bain to El Salvador. The Bishop of East Anglia Michael Evans, representing the Bishops, Conference, travelled with the group. Following a Mass on Maundy Thursday, a weeklong theology conference took place at the University of Central America (UCA), which sits on the slopes overlooking San Salvador. The university is integral to the mission of Romero. Six of its Jesuit priests and two women were murdered there in 1989 because of their commitment to his mission of social justice. At the conference, speeches by Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa and Father Jean Floribert of the Democratic Republic of Congo evoked the spirit of Romero and roused a crowd that spilled out onto the grass and followed the proceedings on plasma screens. "Before Romero's death, El Salvador was described as 'the crucified country' but in these celebrations of his life, he was a symbol of hope - even to youngsters who were not born at the time of his assassination," said Ms Dixon. After the death of Romero, El Salvador suffered a decade-long civil war that claimed the lives of 60,000 civilians. Today the country remains wracked by violence, because of a failure to invest in the peace. A third of the population has fled and remittances from exiled Salvadorans are a lifeline to family members who remain in the country, said Ms Dixon. On his return, Mr Bain said: "It was important for CAFOD to be in El Salvador because of our close relationship with the church in Central America." "The legacy of Romero is as relevant now - with a whole new range of poverty and justice issues as it was 25 years ago."

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