by Alyssa Saari
“My mission is for the oppressed,” said Óscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador in the film “Monseñor: The Last Journey of Óscar Romero.” During the 1970s, Romero declared his religious and humanitarian mission, the main focus of the movie, shown Thursday, Sept. 18 in Robinson Teaching Theatre.
Rafaela Acevedo-Field, assistant professor in the history department who also oversees the Latin American studies minor, introduced the film to about 40 attendees.
“It’s important that you understand some background history,” Acevedo-Field said before the film began, launching into an informational timeline of Salvadoran history to improve the audience’s understanding of the film’s cultural context.
Romero preached to raise the spirits of the poverty-stricken souls of El Salvador and form a union strong enough to overcome the dictating oligarchy in control. During the 1970s, El Salvador was considered a republic, but was instead ruled by a wealthy family-generated oligarchy that terrorized the poor and everyday people of El Salvador. The military and church also played a major role in the oppression of society. Government officials oppressed the people in almost every way possible: burning public buses, kidnapping and killing children, physical abuse, threats and even assassination of church officials, including Romero himself.
“Romero is one of my heroes representing faith and discipline, and you’ll see why,” Acevedo-Field said.
The film demonstrated her statement. Romero kept his faith regardless of the obstacles he and his followers faced. He and his growing flock of sheep gathered in worship despite the government’s oppression. Disregarding government reprimandation, Romero’s faithful followers supported his vision for peace until the end.
“What do we do? Form together and together we’ll organize,” Romero said in the film, as he worked to instill the value of togetherness and faith in the hearts of the fearful citizens. He introduced a new concept known as liberation theology, which consisted of the idea that Christ is part of our everyday lives and circumstances out of our control.
“The Kingdom of God is not in heaven, but here on Earth,” said one of Romero’s parish members in the film. The idea that God is present on Earth and within common people, motivated and carried the Salvadoran peasants forward to protest and fight for their rights as human beings. Romero led the people through his preaching and God’s word, building their faith and strength in order to march, congregate during mass, and eventually go to war.
After recapping some important concepts of the cultural differences, Acevedo-Field held a Q-and-A session. “Why would the government allow these protests to go on as long as they did?” one student asked. Acevedo-Field responded, “The Catholic Church was very powerful and simply untouchable.”
Other students contributed to the discussion, bringing up the idea that history repeats itself on a global level and regardless of race or religion, humanity is all one in the same. In life, everyone is bound to face common struggles; it’s who leads the way through the conflict who makes the difference. The film was shown as part of a community-wide program called Fiesta Spokane, designed to celebrate Hispanic culture. Fiesta Spokane will be sponsoring events throughout the month of September.