In March of 1980 a solitary gunman raised his rifle in a small hospital chapel in the Central American country of El Salvador and killed the man who was standing behind the altar.
Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador grasped the altar cloth, and fell to the floor scattering the hosts, and spilling the chalice of wine, that then mingled with his own blood.
Romero, as the account goes, was a rather ordinary, bookish man, known to be something of a conservative on questions of a social or political nature. He was known to be thoughtful, sincere, and no one could have been more surprised than he to find himself elected to the highest office in the Roman Catholic church in his tiny, troubled country.
At that time, in 1977, liberation theology was sweeping through Latin America, especially among the Fathers and Sisters and the lay people who worked in the poorer communities. Romero preached caution, believing that the gospel needed to steer clear from questions of controversy - until his close friend Father Rutilio Grande, a known social activist priest, was killed along with two companions.
That event marked a turning point - Romero began to reflect on how the church could be involved in the transformation of people's lives. He became convinced that the church needed to actively denounce violence in every context.
His sermons were broadcast on radio across the country, and around Central America. Many, many people turned to him in hope. On Sunday, March 23, 1980, the day before he was killed, Archbishop Romero pleaded, prayed and ordered the soldiers to stop their terrible campaigns of killing.
Before he died Romero said, "They can kill an archbishop but I will rise again in the lives of the Salvadorean people."
This March a number of activities will be taking place around the world and in our own diocese to commemorate the important 25th year anniversary of Romero's martyrdom.
Highlights include an Ecumenical Service, La Misa Campesina, at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, March 16 at 7 pm.; a Techno-Cosmic Ritual and Liberation Dance at St. Michael's, 409 E. Broadway, on Saturday, March 19, 8 - 12 pm.
On Maundy Thursday, March 24, a meal and the foot washing ceremony will take place at St. Michael's, beginning at 6 pm.
Please look for more events posted around the city, and for more information contact the Rev. Emilie Smith at St. Michael's 604 876-8191 or 604 253-3462 or emilietsmith@hotmail. com.