In the film ‘Romero’, we are presented with a weak and feeble Oscar Romero who seems to be aware of the struggles of the El Salvadorans but feels it is not the church’s duty to become involved in politics. However, as the violence and repression of the military escalates and the oligarchy of which he was a part shows indifference to the suffering of the campesino population, Romero undergoes an emotional awakening. It is important to remember that Romero’s initial indifference to the plight of the poor was not unusual in a country where the church traditionally had close links with the ruling oligarchy and other conservative elements of society. The idea of liberation theology was not formally introduced until the 1960s by the Vatican council and then later slowly advanced by Latin American churches. For Romero, it took the murder of his close friend Father Grande and two parishioners to realize that the repression could no longer be ignored by the church.
Up until Grande’s murder Romero maintained a hands-off approach because he felt political non-affiliation of the church was paramount. However, while he dined with the wealthy elite, peasants were murdered at mass and he slowly came to realize that by not speaking out against the repression he was indeed taking sides and supporting the status quo at the expense of the majority of El Salvadorans. The church clearly held a special place in the hearts of the poor, particularly after priests like Grande, Osuńa, and Morantes, began leaving there comfortable postings to live and work directly with the poor. In a scene towards the end of the film, Romero stumbles into a town being raided by the military and then they turn their anger on the Archbishop and begin to strip him. The local campesino run forward to protect Romero even despite the threat of violence and when Romero protests one peasant says “But you are our voice. You speak for us.” The desperation in her voice and the longing on the peasants’ faces say it all and Romero committed himself to ending the repression.
Although Romero had insisted on the church remaining apolitical, he began to preach against the injustice of the military regime. While it may have been prudent for the church to remain unbiased, they also have a duty to stand on the side of their followers and as the political regime was corrupt and repressive, Romero realized he could no longer remain neutral. In one of his sermons he spoke of a letter he sent to the President of the United States imploring them not to send anymore arms to El Salvador. This was a serious problem during the war in El Salvador between the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and their peasant supporters and the El Salvadoran military and state-sponsored terrorist groups throughout the 1980s.
In 1980, Romero was assassinated as a result of his speaking out against the El Salvador regime. However, the year of his death marked the beginning of the civil war in which the U.S. would continue to provide arms and training to the regime’s military and paramilitaries. 80,000 people attended Romero’s funeral at which another massacre occurred and 39 people were killed and 200 injured. Although the event was displayed on television, the US Congress approved military aid in the amount of $5.7 million to the El Salvadoran government. Even despite the challenges the campesino faced, they decided to challenge their oppressors and would spend the next 12 years fighting repression. Clearly, Archbishop Romero played his part in inspiring these people to stand up against injustice and fight for what is right. Ultimately, he died for his beliefs but after viewing various other priests around him being assassinated he was well aware of where his actions would lead. Romero evolved into a humanitarian who fought for the less fortunate majority, not the minority who abused their power and position until they could no longer hold it with guns and money. Today, El Salvador is still developing its economy and democratic foundations but it has certainly moved forward since the assassination of Romero. It appears that the Archbishop did not die in vain.