Oscar Romero’s Funeral


Oscar Romero
San Salvador Cathedral

On Palm Sunday, March 30, 1980, Oscar Romero’s funeral mass was held on the front steps of San Salvador’s Cathedral. In attendance were the Papal Nuncio to El Salvador, Cardinal Ernesto Corripio of Mexico and bishops from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, France, Ireland, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The mass was concelebrated by Cardinal Corripio; Father Miguel D’Escoto, who was the Foreign Minister of Nicaragua; Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian liberation theologian; 30 bishops; and 300 Salvadoran priests.[1]

An estimated 250,000 people crowded into Plaza Libertad in front of the Cathedral, whose front steps held Romero’s coffin on an improvised alter. Many people carried photos of Romero with flowers and palms for Palm Sunday. They listened to the mass over loudspeakers.

Cardinal Corripio delivered the homily. In reference to one of Romero’s well-known teachings, “Violence cannot kill truth or justice,” Corripio said, “We cannot love by hating. We cannot defend life by killing.”

The Cardinal was interrupted by a loud explosion near a corner of the adjacent National Palace, which also fronted onto the plaza. It was a bomb. Soliders from the roof and windows of the National Palace started shooting into the crowd.

The people in the plaza starting running away. Many fled to the streets going away from the Cathedral. Others ran towards the Cathedral, but an iron fence prevented many of them from entering. Of the 40 who were killed that day, many had been trampled by others fleeing to safety.

People at Romero Funeral

Somehow Romero’s coffin was moved to the inside of the Cathedral, and Cardinal Corripio and others hastily buried Romero’s body in the tomb that had been prepared in the east transept of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral was packed with so many people they could hardly breathe for the next two hours until they thought it was safe to leave.

That afternoon the government released a statement blaming a popular organization (Coordinating Commission of the Masses) for the bomb and the violence and also alleging that the organization had tried to steal Romero’s body and had held people inside the Cathedral under the pretext of protecting them.

That evening a group of the foreign visitors at the funeral issued a statement that was signed by eight bishops and 16 others. They denied the accusations in the government’s statement and reported that witnesses said the bomb and shooting came from the National Palace.

These attacks on the people, in my opinion, were intended to frighten them from following Romero’s denouncements of human rights violations by the state and others.

[1] Treaster, 26 Salvadorans Die At Bishop’s Funeral, N.Y. Times (March 31, 1980); James Brockman, The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero at 221-23 (Orbis Books 1982); Maria Lopez Vigil, Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic at 416-22 (EPICA; Washington, DC 2000). Romero’s funeral provides the opening scene for Sandra Benitez’s novel, The Weight of All Things (2000). The main character, a nine-year-old boy Nicolas Vereas, and his mother are in the crowd in the plaza to pay homage to Romero. When bullets fly, the mother throws herself on top of her son to protect him and is killed. Nicolas, however, believes she is only wounded, but cannot find her. The rest of the novel describes his perilous search for her.

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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