St. Romero’s impact is still felt on Salvadorans, at home and abroad, says Felix Kury, a lecturer at San Francisco State University.
“Jesus walked through Salvador with Archbishop Romero by speaking the truth. We were afraid. We had no sense of hope, and he gave us hope. We could hear the truth in his voice that those in power were threatened by,” he told The B.C. Catholic in an interview.
Kury grew up in El Salvador, but moved to the U.S. in the 1970s. With family and friends still living in his conflicted home country, he kept an ear out for anything Archbishop Romero said, trusting him over any news source.
“From 1977 to 1980, you couldn’t read anything in the newspapers. No one was speaking the truth about what was going on in the country,” he said.
But, “every detail of the suffering, torturing, and the oppression of the people who would come to (Romero). He became like a journalist.”
Inspired by St. Romero’s witness, Kury began working with refugees and torture survivors who arrived in the U.S., teaming up with groups like the U.S.-based Center for Justice and Accountability.
In 2001, CJA began collecting evidence to try to bring to justice the main suspect in the killing of Archbishop Romero, Alvaro Saravia. Kury agreed to testify.
“Romero’s words gave hope and inspiration to many of us who missed our homeland and were afraid for the safety of our families and friends,” he wrote in 2004.
“Healing the scars of war and violence of these refugees is a difficult task. For many of the relatives of the 75,000 civilians that were killed in the last twenty years, healing takes a quite different and profound meaning … The trial of individuals involved in the death of Romero would be a significant part of healing process of all Salvadorans everywhere.”
The U.S. court did find Saravia legally responsible for the death of St. Romero, though the man fled his California home before ever facing justice.
Now, said Kury, it is important to survivors of El Salvador’s civil war that Archbishop Romero is declared, officially, a saint. “It was difficult for people to say, ‘I am a follower of Msgr. Romero.’ All that has changed as a result of the canonization,” said Kury. The canonization takes place in Rome Oct. 14.
Desmond Tutu, retired Anglican bishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent protest of apartheid, also testified in that 2004 lawsuit.
While he never met Archbishop Romero, Tutu felt “we were partners together in similar situations, speaking the word of God to encourage our people who were battered, beaten, and oppressed by governments whose role should have been to nurture, protect, and uplift their citizens.”
He called Archbishop Romero “prophetic” and his death a “great shock” that reminded Tutu of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a peaceful activist for Indian independence, 32 years earlier.
“The assassination of Oscar Romero had a profound effect upon the churches involved in the struggle in South Africa … it only increased our resolve to overcome apartheid and to do so by non-violent means.”