Remembering Oscar Romero in Film

 Oscar Romero is remembered in music.[1] So too is he remembered in three films.

Oliver Stone in his 1986 film Salvador stars actor James Wood as U.S. journalist Richard Boyle who goes to El Salvador to report on the violence of the early years of its civil war. It includes the famous portion of Oscar Romero’s homily of March 23, 1980. Woods was nominated for an Oscar for his role as were Stone and Boyle for their screenplay.[2]

The biographical film Romero from 1989 was produced by the Paulist Fathers, and in one sense it is a Christian evangelical film designed to convert people to Christianity as lived by Romero.

Staring Raul Julia as Romero, the film accurately shows the new Archbishop in 1977 as a man singularly unsuited for high office, particularly in such a time of crisis. By nature timid, bookish, and retiring, he had no presence, no political instincts, no sense of moral authority. Romero, however, had one important “virtue” at the start of his service as Archbishop–in the eyes of El Salvador’s wealthy oligarchy, military officials and other Salvadoran bishops: he was noncontroversial.[3]

What no one anticipated — including Romero himself — was how he would respond when horrible things happened. Less than a month into his office, demonstrators in the main plaza of San Salvador were surrounded by police forces, and some were killed. Days later, Romero was stunned when his friend, Father Rutilio Grande, who was known for his advocacy of reform and social justice, was assassinated, along with an old man and a young boy accompanying him to Mass. The film shows Romero’s increasing courage in denouncing the human rights violations in his country and includes his homily asking President Jimmy Carter to stop military aid and the most famous homily in which he says to men in the military, “I beg you, I implore you. I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”[4]

"Romero" film in Plaza Libertad, March 2000

When I was in El Salvador for the 20th anniversary of Romero’s assassination in March 2000, the Romero film was being shown for the first time in the country. In Plaza Libertad in front of the Cathedral the film was playing in continuous loop on television monitors. Many people were watching the film as I walked through the plaza.

Rutilio Grande Memorial
Misa para Rutilio Grande, March 2003

The mention of Father Grande reminds me that in March 2003 I attended his 25th memorial mass in the village of El Paisnal, where he served near the town of Aguilares. On the road to the village we stopped to pay our respects at the memorial where he was assassinated. Interestingly the priest at the church in 2003, Father Orlando, was a former banker and a relative of Grande’s.

A third film, a documentary, about Romero entitled “Romero by Romero” was premiered in San Salvador in March 2010 as part of the Romero anniversary celebration. I was especially touched to see scenes of Romero walking around a poor neighborhood and warmly greeting and touching the people he met without a lot of ceremony. This was the film promised by the Funes Administration at the November 2009 hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Post: Oscar Romero’s Assassination Case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Oct. 13, 2011); Tim’s El Salvador Blog, Romero’s life documented in film and video, (Mar. 17, 2010) (includes YouTube trailer for the film).)

[1] Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Music (Oct. 14, 2011).

[2] Wikipedia, Salvador (Film),; Post: Oscar Romero, A Saint for All People and All Time (Oct. 5, 2011).

[3] Decent Films Guide, Romero (1989),; Wikipedia, Paulist Fathers,

[4]  Decent Films Guide, Romero, supra; Post: Oscar Romero, A Saint for All People and All Time (Oct. 5, 2011).

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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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