Romero not forgotten among Toronto Latinos

  • April 1, 2010

{mosimage}TORONTO-While Salvadoreans took the week of March 22-28 to reflect and honour the life of a hero and martyr, so too do they continue to wonder if they will ever see an example like his ever again.

Thirty years ago, Toronto area resident Rodolfo Molina witnessed firsthand the murder of San Salvador’s most revered Catholic, Archbishop Oscar Romero. Molina, among the congregation of Mass-goers in San Salvador, watched Romero fall to the ground as he was celebrating communion, shot dead by an assassin March 24, 1980.

Romero was known and widely respected by Salvadoreans for openly speaking out against the terrorizing and oppressive regime that ruled El Salvador. For many Latino Catholics, he was also someone who brought the Gospels to life in the context of social justice and relevance to political issues of the day.

“Many of us here knew him personally, and lived that terrible experience (of seeing him killed),” said Molina, in Spanish. “But why do we love him so much? First of all because never had we encountered an archbishop for whom peace was so clear in his messages and who was also accessible to the people.”

Since moving to Canada, Molina said many of the Salvadoreans have struggled in finding a parish where they felt as passionately called to live the Gospel in their daily lives as they did during Romero’s homilies.

“We don’t understand how a priest can preach without referring, at least minimally, to the injustices suffered in other countries or at home,” Molina said.

For this reason, he said, Salvadoreans have continued to keep their culture alive by passing on the teachings of Romero to their children on their own terms and celebrating his life every year for a week surrounding the March 24 anniversary of his death. This year, about 50 people gathered March 22 to listen to recordings of Romero’s speeches, reflect and watch a movie about Romero released this year. March 24, they celebrated a Mass in his name at Our Lady of Lourdes parish. March 27, several hundred people gathered for a cultural event complete with food, dancing and performances by Salvadorean artists from as far away as Washington.

Eusebio Garcia, an organizer of the week-long celebrations in Toronto, said this year they witnessed an outpouring of interest from people of other cultures, and the events drew more people than normal. This was also reflected worldwide, he said.

“More and more people are becoming aware of what happened in San Salvador,” Garcia said. “And in El Salvador this year, the wife of the president took the responsibility of organizing huge events in El Salvador (in Romero’s honour) — something that has never been done by the government before.”

For Garcia, Romero was the ultimate human rights activist, prophet of his era and part of a historic memory that the Salvadorean community needs to keep alive.

But sadly, where Canada was once an example of peace for Romero and other Salvadoreans, Garcia said that is starting to change. And many of the Salvadoreans wonder when the clergy will take notice.

“Recently, Canada was known in South America and Central America for being a peaceful country and this was also the case when Romero was alive, and it is what he wanted for the whole region of Latin America,” Garcia said. That, he added, has changed.

“The Canadian government has changed. You have Canadian mining companies bullying our countries down there now and that’s something that never happened before. So I think there’s a message that could be used from Romero’s perspective even though he’s not alive any more.”

Porfirio Garcia, a Salvadorean and employee of the archdiocese of Toronto, said Romero is considered a prophet because he came to call people to conversion, repent, warn and reprimand sinful structures as well as bring hope.

“For many years Salvadoreans lived in oppression without a hope for a better future,” he said. “God heard the cry of the Salvadoreans suffering and sent a pastor not just to call all for conversion, but to confront the structures of sin oppressing them and to bring hope based on love, justice and peace.”

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