Salvadorans took to social media to ensure the date didn’t go unnoticed.
With the spread of COVID-19 pushing in-person events online, people from around the world digitally commemorated the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran priest shot by a right-wing death squad on the onset of El Salvador’s civil war.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot by a sniper on March 24, 1980, at the altar of small hospital chapel in the capital San Salvador as he celebrated mass.
“Monsignor,” how Salvadorans still affectionately call him, became an iconic figure in the fight for human rights and against military violence in El Salvador and Latin America.
In 2018, he was canonized as a Catholic saint by Pope Francis.
March 24th is the feast of Saint Óscar Romero: Catholic priest, defender of the poor, Rector of San José de la Montaña Central Seminary, Archbishop of San Salvador, and martyr for the Faith—assassinated by a paramilitary death squad on this day in 1980, while celebrating Mass. pic.twitter.com/RobZ1mjORO
— Tradical (@NoTrueScotist) March 23, 2020
Every year since his death, there are vigils, mass celebrations, and informal gatherings in the small Central American country to remember Oscar Romero’s teachings, and this year promised to be a big celebration.
Adriana Valle, from “Generacion Romero,” a network of grassroots civil and religious organizations that maintain Romero’s memory alive, had been waiting for this year’s March 24 for a long time.
But as El Salvador’s confinement measures got stricter by the day, she had to continuously adapt her events until they became completely digital.
“At first, the measure was ‘no event with more than 500 people’, so we decided to have a smaller event,” she told Global Voices. “Then, it was 200 people maximum,” so they adapted and wanted to organize a concert via Facebook Live.
As of Saturday, March 21, 2020, however, El Salvador imposed a complete 30-day lockdown: citizens can only leave the house to buy food or medicine, thereby making any kind of gathering illegal until further notice.
“But I did not want the date to go unnoticed, because Monsignor Romero talks about current problems,” she continued. St. Romero frequently spoke against social inequality and state violence.
“Now, for example, many Salvadorans don’t even have access to running water in their neighborhoods, which is paradoxical with the official recommendations of needing to wash our hands often.”
She believes the words of St. Romero can inspire people in El Salvador today to pick up the fight for human rights in the country. “With the coronavirus crisis, we see inequality even more than before,” she said.
El Salvador has established early measures to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19. As of March 27, there have been 13 confirmed cases and no deaths.
El Salvador has a relatively high rate of internet access compared to the rest of the region. Last year, the country elected president Nayib Bukele by 53 percent after he solely campaigned through social media.
Generacion Romero established an entire online program to foster a sense of community and reflect on St. Romero. With a complete program made of music playlists, videotaped messages from different communities and families across the country, international greetings, interviews with priests, live-screening of a documentary on Romero, and a symbolic commemoration in the evening, in which they asked participants to light a candle, make a prayer, and take a selfie with Romero’s image.
Participants were encouraged to share their photos and videotaped songs with Generacion Romero: