As It Happens

As It Happens wins 2016 Gabriel 'Certificate of Merit' Award for Romero Martyrdom interview

The Gabriels, considered to be like the 'Oscars' for public radio, are run by the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals.
Patricia Morales-Tijerino and Oscar Romero (Patricia Morales-Tijerino / Archive)
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In February of 2015, just days after Pope Francis announced that Oscar Romero -- the late Archbishop of San Salvador -- would be officially declared a "martyr of the faith", we found Patricia Morales-Tijerino. And we found her in El Salvador still vividly remembering meeting  Archbishop Romero, just days before his assassination on March 24th, 1980.

Morales-Tijerino is now a poet and a human rights activist. But at the time she was a teenage Catholic schoolgirl. She tells As It Happens  host Carol Off that her world changed forever on the day Romero was killed.

Patricia Morales-Tijerino speaks at an event in El Salvador, 2009 (Patricia Morales-Tijerino)

"It was a Monday. And it was about six o'clock when I heard the news. And I remember being at home and just feeling orphaned. We never thought they would touch the Archbishop...there was this hope that nothing would happen to him. But then when we realized it had happened, it was devastating. There is a before and after, with that March 24th of 1980."

But Morales-Tijerino is also moved to tears when she remembers meeting Romero two days before he was murdered. On that day, she and her sister had attended a ceremony in the same Chapel where he would be killed. And as they were leaving, she spotted him.

"He was dressed in white...he was just standing there, by the rose garden. He was alone, probably just having his alone time."

Morales-Tijerino says she and her sister became very excited, and started acting like teenagers  about to meet a famous celebrity and someone they admired.

"We approached him and we said 'hello'. And we asked politely 'how are you?'. His answer was: 'preocupado', which means 'worried'. He didn't say 'fine, thank you", he was not being polite. He was just very sincere about how he felt."

Morales-Tijerino now believes Archbishop Romero already knew -- on that day -- that he was about to take a major step.

"He was about to deliver his famous homily the next day, Sunday. That's when he summoned the miltary, the soldiers, the guards. He told them to stop killing, to stop the repression...that they should not follow the orders of men, but the orders of God. That was a risky thing to do."

The homily, from John Duigan's 1989 biopic "Romero", starring Raul Julia:

The day after delivering his homily, Oscar Romero was killed by an assassins bullet. At the time, El Salvador was being engulfed by brutal violence. In the end, the civil war lasted more than a decade and claimed seventy-five thousand lives.

Soldiers patrolling in the outskirts of San Salvador, 1980 (Gallo/Getty)

The "martyr of the faith" declaration issued by Pope Francis, means that Oscar Romero is now on the fast-track to sainthood.

A Romero mural in San Salvador (Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters)

Regardless, church groups and others worldwide have already proclaimed Romero an unofficial "patron saint" of the Americas and of El Salvador. And Catholics in El Salvador often refer to him as "San Romero".

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