Sisters strove to save martyr's legacy

Sr. Maria Julia Garica shows some of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero's relics.


Sr. Maria Julia Garica shows some of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero's relics.

May 18, 2015

The Church hierarchy in El Salvador has shown little interest in the relics of Archbishop Oscar Romero in the 35 years since his death, says the sister who is director of the hospital where Romero was murdered in 1980.

"Now that the pope has recognized his martyrdom, everyone is interested in Romero, including those who disagreed with his message," said Sister Maria Julia Garcia, Carmelite superior and director of the Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador.

"We as the moral owners of these relics fear that they will be taken away from us and relocated to another place where they would not be treated with respect," Garcia said.

"Today, everyone who could benefit with a personal or financial gain is Romero's friend or follower," she said.

Romero will be beatified in San Salvador May 23.

Garcia said she is happy the beatification is just around the corner and is also aware the government might declare the chapel a national cultural heritage.

But that would put the sisters in an awkward situation, because they would have no say in the care of the relics, she said.

"There are not too many things left by Archbishop Romero. This indicates that he lived not surrounded by many luxuries. It shows the simplicity in the way he lived." Garcia said.

It was in the small chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital that on March 24, 1980, Romero was killed, shot near his heart, just as he prepared to consecrate the host.

The day before, the archbishop had challenged army soldiers for killing their own brothers and sisters. Afterward, some said the bishop was advised to go into hiding, but he refused.

He believed he had not done anything wrong by asking the soldiers not to kill, and he was already committed to celebrate a memorial Mass at the hospital's chapel for the mother of one of his friends.

When Romero was shot, the vestments he wore were bathed in blood. After the attack, the Carmelite nuns kept them with the greatest possible care.

For a while, the sisters hid his belongings for fear that the murderers would return to eliminate any form of evidence.

"Some of the sisters who were there at the moment of his death rushed out and washed their habits because they were stained with blood," said Garcia.

"They feared for their lives since they had been witnesses of the crime. From then on, things have never been the same at this small dwelling place."


The chapel of is one of the most visited places by local and foreign pilgrims. They come wishing to learn more about Romero, the controversial archbishop who has become a Salvadoran icon.

Sister Elvia Elizett Cazun Penate is responsible for the archbishop's small house, known as Oscar Arnulfo Romero Historic Centre. She is also concerned about the future of his relics.

"Now these relics have become the most precious treasures left by the archbishop. But for 35 years, no one here in El Salvador offered us any help to preserve them, not even the hierarchy of the Salvadoran Catholic Church.

"Many locals and foreigners visit this place with great reverence, and they find themselves close to Romero, just by looking at these relics," Penate said. "We encourage all Salvadorans to stop by this centre and learn more about Romero."

The only help the sisters have received to preserve these relics is from The Archbishop Romero Trust.


"We have not been selfish with people; the doors of this small museum are open to all those who wish to spend some time at the chapel and the little house." Penate said.

The sisters see with joy the fact that there are images and statues of Romero all over the country.

But more than statues and murals, they said, they would like to see the legacy of his message preserved and remembered from generation to generation.