Quoted excerpts are from James W. Douglass’s book, The Nonviolent Coming of God:
Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador wrote a letter to Jimmy Carter on February 17. He asked the President — “if you really wish to defend human rights” — not to send more military aid to El Salvador and “to guarantee that your government will not intervene directly or indirectly, by military, economic, diplomatic, or other pressures, in determining the destiny of the Salvadoran people.”
He read a draft of this letter aloud in his homily on Feb. 17 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in San Salvador, and the people applauded. The next day a bomb exploded the Salvadoran Catholic Church’s radio station, on which the archbishop’s homily had been broadcast.
“On Sunday, February 24, a Costa Rican short-wave radio station began broadcasting Archbishop Romero’s homilies to all of Central America. That morning Romero made an appeal to the oligarchy and revealed a threat to himself…
On succeeding Sundays Archbishop Romero addressed ever more urgently a series of government and rightist killings…
On Sunday March 16, Archbishop Romero preached a long sermon on reconciliation, addressing every sector of the society, making specific appeals to the oligarchy, the government, and guerrilla groups…
On Sunday, March 23, the day before Romero’s death, the church radio station was back on the air. Once again his homily was broadcast to the nation. The Costa Rican station had been bombed but continued to carry the Archbishop’s words. The Vatican was urging him to tone down his preaching. Death threats had intensified.
In this final Sunday homily, Archbishop Romero recounted the violence of the previous week. Then, with the people interrupting him frequently with applause, he made the appeal to conscience that likely sealed his death sentence, but will never be forgotten by suffering Salvadorans:
I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, and in particular to the ranks of the Guardia Nacional, of the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, the dignity of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to take seriously that reforms are worth nothing when they come about stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!
The Gospel reading that day was
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains infertile. But if it dies, it produces a great yield. Those who love their own life lose it; those who hate themselves in this world will be preserved for life eternal. Let whoever wants to serve me, follow me; and my servant will be where I am. Whoever serves me will be rewarded by my Father.