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‘They will never silence us’

Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified in San Salvador on Saturday 23 May, moving him a step closer to sainthood. His beatification Mass is likely to be one of the largest public events in El Salvador’s history, with thousands expected to turn out for the celebration. An outspoken advocate for the poor, Archbishop Romero was shot and killed March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital hospital in San Salvador, El Salvador, during the country’s civil war. Archbishop Romero will be beatified as a modern-day martyr who saw the struggle for justice in El Salvador as political economic and, most importantly, a struggle against the forces of evil and sin. The decree declaring the martyrdom of Romero specifies that he had been killed out of “hatred for his faith” rather than assassinated for political reasons, and he is renowned internationally as a beacon of light for all who work for justice in the world.

On Monday 18 May RTÉ One broadcast ‘Who is for Liberation? – Radharc Revisited’, a programme on Oscar Romero which included his last television interview. It gave an overview of the brutal politics of Central America at the time. The programme also featured an interview with the President of the Bishop’s Conference in El Salvador at the time who believed that Romero was too heavily influenced by the Jesuits. Romero had been influenced by a circle of radical Jesuit priests and drew particular inspiration from his close friend Fr Rutilio Grande SJ, who was assassinated for his own work seeking justice for the poor in El Salvador in 1977.

Michael O’Sullivan SJ, an Irish Jesuit who worked for a number of years in South and Central America including El Salvador, was very influenced by the life of Oscar Romero. In 2010 he wrote a tribute article about the martyred Archbishop, which was published in the March/April edition of Spirituality magazine, commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of his assignation. Michael also presided at the Gospel Choir Mass at St Francis Xavier’s Church in Gardiner Street on Sunday 15 February which celebrated his life and upcoming beatification. The El Salvador memorial bell at the front of Milltown Park, where the Irish Jesuit Provincialate is located, commemorates the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, along with the six Jesuits who were assassinated by members of the Salvadoran armed at their residence in the campus of the University of Central America, San Salvador on 16 November 1989. It also commemorates their housekeeper Julia Elba Ramos, and her daughter Celina, 16, who were sleeping in a parlour attached to their residence. There are also eight trees planted in the garden to the rear commemorating the six Jesuits who lost their lives, along with two women. One of the Jesuits, Amando López, SJ, had been ordained at Milltown Park in 1965. Inscribed on the El Salvador bell is the message ‘They will never silence us’, while the slogan on the plaque which commemorates Archbishop Romero reads, ‘Let my death be for the liberation of my people’.