Mar 24: Oscar Romero Assassinated By Death Squad



c393scar_arnulfo_romero_with_pope_paul_vi_28129On this day in 1980, San Salvador Bishop Oscar Romero was assassinated at a small chapel located in a hospital called “La Divina Providencia”. As soon as he finished his sermon, Romero proceeded to the middle of the altar and at that moment he was shot.  The assassination came one day after he gave a public sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights.

His assassination also came a month after this writing to President Carter urging him to reconsider American support for the current El Salvadorian government since

 contribution of your government instead of promoting greater justice and peace in El Salvador will without doubt sharpen the injustice and repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been struggling to gain respect for their most fundamental human rights.


Romero was buried in the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador (Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador). The funeral mass (rite of visitation and requiem) on 30 March 1980, in San Salvador was attended by more than 250,000 mourners from all over the world. Viewing this attendance as a protest, Jesuit priest John Dear has said, “Romero’s funeral was the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America.”

During the ceremony, smoke bombs exploded on the streets near the cathedral and subsequently there were rifle-fire shots that came from surrounding buildings, including the National Palace. Many people were killed by gunfire and in the stampede of people running away from the explosions and gunfire; official sources talk of 31 overall casualties, while journalists indicated between 30 and 50 died. Some witnesses claimed it was government security forces that threw bombs into the crowd, and army sharpshooters, dressed as civilians, that fired into the chaos from the balcony or roof of the National Palace. However, there are contradictory accounts as to the course of the events and “probably, one will never know the truth about the interrupted funeral.”

 St. Oscar?

After his assassination, a case for beatification and canonization was opened for Romero by the Church, but was blocked for political reasons for many years.  Pope Francis declared Romero to be a martyr and he was beatified in 2015.  Over 250,000 Salvadorans attended the beatification celebration.

Romero is honored by other religious denominations of Christendom, including the Church of England through the Calendar in Common Worship. He is one of the ten 20th-century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London, a testament to the wide respect for him even beyond the Catholic Church. In 2008, he was chosen as one of the 15 Champions of World Democracy by the Europe-based magazine A Different View.


No persons were ever prosecuted for the assassination. No persons or organizations ever confessed to it or took credit for it, and no one ever came forward with a claim to have any inside knowledge of the event.

It is widely believed that the assassins were members of a death squad led by former Major Roberto D’Aubuisson. This view was supported by ex-US ambassador Robert White, who in 1986 reported to the United States Congress that “there was sufficient evidence” to convict D’Aubuisson of planning and ordering Archbishop Romero’s assassination. It was also supported in 1993 by an official U.N. report, which identified D’Aubuisson as the man who ordered the killing. D’Aubuisson had also planned to overthrow the government in a coup. Later he founded the political party Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), and organized death squads that systematically carried out politically motivated assassinations and other human rights abuses in El Salvador.

Álvaro Rafael Saravia, a former captain in the Salvadoran Air Force, was chief of security for Roberto D’Aubuisson and an active member of these death squads. In 2003, a U.S. human rights organization, the Center for Justice and Accountability, filed a civil action against Saravia. In 2004, he was found liable by a US District Court under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) (28 U.S.C. § 1350) for aiding, conspiring, and participating in the assassination of Archbishop Romero. Saravia was ordered to pay $10 million for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity pursuant to the ATCA.

On 24 March 2010—the thirtieth anniversary of Romero’s death—Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes offered an official state apology for Romero’s assassination. Speaking before Romero’s family, representatives of the Catholic Church, diplomats, and government officials, Funes said those involved in the assassination “…unfortunately acted with the protection, collaboration or participation of state agents”.

Photo: A mural of Óscar Romero by Giobanny Ascencio y Raul Lemus- Grupo Cinteupiltzin CENAR El Salvador (Mural pintado con acrílico y óleos) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


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