Words Matter: An Apology for the Murder of Archbishop Romero

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On the 30th anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes apologized for the role of the Salvadoran government in this cataclysmic event.

His words are so moving they require no further introduction.

For text of the speech in Spanish, click here.

For a New York Times article about President Funes' speech, click here.

An English translation of the speech follows.

March 24, 2010

Today, as you all know, we are united by the undying memory of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, our Nation’s spiritual guide.

I am deeply moved to be able to share this day with you, because many times during my life I reflected on the fact that our country would never attain peace without recovering the memory of Monsignor Romero. I would have never thought that I would be a protagonist of this recovery by guiding the destiny of the country.

First, I would say that this is without a doubt a day of sorrow, because the memory of the cruel murder of our Bishop Martyr is still alive in our hearts, but also and primarily this is a day to celebrate life, for the restitution of the figure and works of the most notable man in our recent history.

As I have stated in other occasions, we do not remember nor commemorate the death of Monsignor Romero. We honor the life, his life, the best example that Salvadoran men and women have.

Today, March 24, 2010, is a day of hope for our people and a historic journey for the recovery of our collective memory.

To reinforce this, I will begin by publicly expressing something that should have been said long before but that today is my responsibility to proclaim.

A responsibility that is no burden for me because I know it relieves society, it is a balm for a weary people tired of violence and longing for a reconciliation of the spirits.

Dear Salvadorans,

On behalf of the Salvadoran Government, as President of the Republic, I acknowledge that Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, the Archbishop of El Salvador at that time, on March 24, 1980, was a victim of illegal violence perpetrated by a death squad.

This type of illegal armed groups brought widespread terror amongst civilians during those unfortunate years, leaving behind thousands of victims. These squads, unfortunately, acted under the cover, in cooperation, acquiescence, or participation of government agents.

The members of the violent group that consummated the assassination of Monsignor Romero have been already identified by international investigation agencies, from the United Nations system as well as from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Our Government has already accepted the legitimacy of these reports before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, so our official recognition of the truth in the case of the assassination of Monsignor Romero is indisputable.

Under these circumstances and in my capacity as President of the Republic, I apologize on behalf of the Salvadoran Government for this assassination perpetrated 30 years ago.

I apologize in the first place, to the family of Monsignor Romero, to whom I extend my deepest sympathy and my unconditional support in their struggle to uncover the truth.

I apologize to the Salvadoran people that were, are and will be the “big family” of Monsignor Romero, his inheritor, custodian of his preaching and teachings.

I apologize to the Catholic Church, Salvadoran and Universal, who have in Monsignor Romero one of their most commendable pastors

I apologize to the thousands of families that were affected by this type of unacceptable illegal violence and especially to the members of religious communities that see themselves represented by the spirit of Monsignor Romero and maintain alive his legacy of peace and respect of human rights.

I repeat what I said last January 16, when I apologized for the aberrant violations of human rights during the armed conflict by Government agents: we commit to working with Justice, national as well as international, and will place at your disposal everything necessary to solve the crimes being investigated.

Dear Salvadorans,

Nobody spoke to us about forgiveness as Monsignor Romero did. Nobody else told this nation about the importance of love of neighbor, respect to human dignity and above all peaceful coexistence, even of life itself. Nobody else taught the value of truth and justice, which are pillars of the Church’s social doctrine. Allow me to quote one of his homilies, delivered on June 19, 1977.

“I understand—Monsignor told us then—it is hard to forgive after so many abuses; however, this is the word of the Gospel: «Love thy enemies, do good to those who hate and persecute you, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, that sends the rain and makes his sun shine on the fields of the just and the unjust». Let there be no resentments in the heart”.

Those were his words: “Let there be no resentments in the heart”.

These words summarize the meaning that this anniversary has for me and my administration.

It is my deepest desire that this act of recognition that we make today, this act of love of the Salvadoran people for the priest that gave his life for them, serve as a consolation and confidence in the future for each and everyone of our citizens and help us to get rid once and for all of all resentments.

Let us follow the teachings of our spiritual guide, let us look to the future with peace in our hearts, with love for our brothers and sisters. Ultimately, the sacrifice of our martyred bishop should make sense.

Let’s build from a mended memory, a country with more justice for all, happier for all. Ultimately, a country closer to God.


We are now going to inaugurate a mural. A work that is an artistic expression, an interpretation of a great Salvadoran plastic artist of the figure of our martyred Bishop.

The idea of placing this art work here, the country’s international entry and departure, is from my dear wife Vanda and has the intention of telling all those who visit El Salvador to honor the memory of Monsignor Romero.

That El Salvador walks the path of reconciliation. That El Salvador shares with the international community full respect of human rights. That El Salvador has entered the path of peace and harmony and unity to never again abandon it.

The artwork has been performed by Rafael Varela, who was aided by another Salvadoran artist, Rafael Escamilla.

They worked during 45 days an average of 18 to 19 hours daily. This has been a great effort that I want to emphasize. Although for the artist, in his own words: “having made this mural has been an enormous satisfaction that allowed me to know Monsignor more. It was an honor to paint him and I thank the Presidency for giving me this privilege”.

The honor is for the Presidency, dear friend Varela, to have had your talent to immortalize this tribute.

It is me, it is my wife Vanda, it is the Government of El Salvador who thank you, your greatness and your humility and, of course, your work. With this mural, with other activities being held in previous days, with a concert that tonight will be held at the National Theatre, we commemorate the memory of Monsignor Romero.

Thank you Rafael Varela, Rafael Escamilla, thanks to all those who organized these events, thanks to the Monsignor Romero Foundation, to the Social Inclusion Secretariat, thanks to all of you for being present on this historical day, as I have stated.

May God Bless you all, may God Bless El Salvador.