USF Commemorates Slain Priest With Art and Prayer

A class of Fine Arts students collaborated on a mural depicting Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in Harney Plaza on March 24, the day of Romero’s assassination. Photo Courtesy of Kique Bazan

March 24, 2010 marked the 30 year anniversary of the assassination of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Romero was one of the most outspoken and internationally recognized Salvadoran priests to speak out against human rights abuses during the Salvadoran Civil War. His death was tragic to his supporters, and to this day people remember him and what he stood for. USF is one such place that takes the time each year to remember Romero.

Although his work is often referenced with that of liberation theology, an idea that suggests the church’s role should be one of solidarity with the poor, he is known to have been very conservative before becoming archbishop. The turning point in his life came in 1977 when Romero encountered the dead body of close friend and Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande. Knowing his friend had been killed for his work with agricultural peasants, Romero embarked on a mission to continue Grande’s struggle by being a voice for the voiceless.

The week following Grande’s death, new archbishop Romero canceled all of the masses in the country and held one single mass in the Cathedral. There he delivered a sermon denouncing social injustice, killings and tortures taking place in the country. Throughout his term he set up a radio station from which he broadcast his sermons, becoming the only uncensored voice during the Civil War of the 1980s in El Salvador. His courageous tone was persistent until the day he was assassinated. Before being shot at the heart while giving mass, he said to the Salvadoran government, “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression.”

At USF, those words have not been forgotten. Today the repression continues not only in El Salvador but in places like Uganda, Guantanamo Bay and Iran. University Ministry and the Lane Center for Social Justice and Catholic Thought joined the Center for Latin @ Studies in the Americas in creating a series of events to commemorate the Salvadoran martyr on campus.

Eric Hongisto, associate professor of fine arts, coordinated his students in creating an 8 by12 foot mural of Monseñor Romero, now displayed in Parina Lounge. He said, “It started with a suggestion by University Ministry and some students and I did research on Romero. We developed a design and began painting it.” The students, all Fine Arts majors, finished painting the mural in Harney Plaza and we were then asked to transport it St. Ignatius Church for a candlelight vigil. In moving the mural to the church, Professor Hongisto said, “One of the ABLE workers helping us held my hand and said ‘Thank you for painting the man. I was 14 years old in El Salvador when he was killed.’”

A screening of the 1989 film, Romero, was shown in Mclaren at 6 p.m. accompanied by a photo exposition organized by the new Salvadoran student organization, U.S.E.U. (Union Salvadoreña de Estudiantes Universitarios). Their collection of pictures will soon be put on display on the campus but the location is yet to be determined.

Director of Liturgy and Music Paul McWilliams, organized a short candle light prayer service held last Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in St. Ignatius Church. He also said his participation in the events helped him become more informed of the social justice struggle he represented. “I’m from Scotland and we don’t really hear too much about him there. Working on this was very informative. It helped me become more aware of who he was and what happened in El Salvador.” McWilliams also said the candlelight vigil was combined with a reconciliation service taking place at the same time. “It was for the outside parish community as well as for USF. It was nice to bring both together because that doesn’t happen very often.”

Junior Marisela Castañeda, who attended the service said, “Students were given candles to put in front of the mural. On the mural there was a quote and a short paragraph about him. It helped me remember his work and how the Church continues his legacy.”

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