The arrival of European powers and the conquest of Latin America by Spain and Portugal that began in the 15th century aligned the ruling elite and the Roman Catholic Church. Indigenous peoples were not only subjugated, they were taught that their suffering was the will of God and that they should accept their earthly existence, which included forced labor, poverty, and oppression. Their liberation from these conditions would only come in the afterlife if they remained faithful and accepted their fate.
However, by the 20th century calls for both social and political change caused the Church to transition towards an acknowledgement that it had a role in helping the poor and underprivileged. Rather than just focusing on their souls, it began advocating “the power of man to determine his own destiny.” This radical shift in doctrine became known as Liberation Theology.
In the small Central American country of El Salvador clerics not only spoke out about the impoverished conditions under which most Salvadorans labored, but advocated rising up in confrontation to the authorities. One of the more outspoken voices was that of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
The Archbishop vocally preached against the repression of the underprivileged calling upon all Christians including the military dictatorship to heed Jesus’ teachings regarding social and economic justice. In his final sermon the Archbishop urgently petitioned those in power to alter course. In the name of God and this suffering population, whose cries reach to the heavens more tumultuous each day, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you, in the name of God, cease the repression.
His words were met by a sniper’s bullet to the heart. Archbishop Romero became the first Catholic bishop killed in a church since Thomas Becket was slain at Canterbury in 1170. He was canonized and declared a saint October 14, 2018.
Archbishop Romero’s assassination galvanized a fledgling FMLN guerrilla movement in El Salvador resulting in a brutal civil war that lasted from 1980-1992. My latest book Tarnished Brass looks at that war and all its causes and ramifications, spotlighting American involvement in the conflict and the ongoing struggle in El Salvador that to this day continues to impact the immigration crisis on our southern border and the spread of MS-13 gang violence throughout the United States.
Look for it on Amazon and at other major online retail book stores.