Brother forgives Salvadoran priest's killers, regrets inaction


San Salvador (AFP)

The younger brother of murdered Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero, who is to be canonized a saint, said he forgives the killers but regrets the government's failure to prosecute them.

Speaking to AFP in an interview, Gaspar Romero said his brother had confided in him before his death: "'I know they are going to kill me, but I already forgive those who are going to do it.' So, picking up on those words, I forgive those who did it."

But 38 years since his brother's assassination sent shock waves around the world, 88-year-old Gaspar laments that the culprits were never caught and brought to justice in El Salvador.

"Everyone already knows" who did it. "Why didn't the prosecutor's office act? That's the question. Many prosecutors have come and gone and everyone knows it -- except the prosecutor's office," he said.

Romero was shot dead by an assailant while celebrating mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital where he lived in San Salvador on March 24, 1980.

A beloved advocate of the poor, Romero was an outspoken critic of the civil war in the Central American country.

The assassination occurred at the outset of El Salvador's civil war and propelled the country deeper into a brutal conflict that raged until 1992.

No one was ever convicted of Romero's killing, but a UN-sponsored truth commission later concluded it was carried out by a right-wing death squad under the orders of a former army officer, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, who died the year the war ended.

Gaspar, a former telecommunications worker, said he could take a certain amount of satisfaction and die in peace after the Vatican announcement on March 7 that his brother is to be made a saint.

-- Close brothers --

"In life, he was a saint who did no harm to anyone."

Gaspar said his brother was known for his humility and generosity throughout his life and "we want his person to be respected because they defamed him a lot."

"We want the truth to be told."

Conservatives within the Catholic Church and the Salvadoran right had long campaigned to block Romero's canonization over what they saw as veiled Marxism in his sermons eulogizing the poor and his radio broadcasts condemning government repression.

His brother's eyes turn tearful when he talks about the impact his death had on the family that continues to mourn him.

"As brothers we were very close, I felt the pain of losing a brother, and as a Salvadoran, I felt the loss that the country had of a great, good and wise man, who did not hurt anyone."

He insisted that "we as a family that knew him very well wanted that the truth be told of what he was, a simple man and a defender of the poor."

Gaspar recalls he chauffeured his brother around the city on many occasions. The archbishop "never had money because he was charitable in the extreme," so he would ask for coins to give to beggars who approached his car at traffic lights.

He also remembers a group of "high society" people who presented Romero with a huge well-stocked refrigerator. Thanking his donors, he asked them to take it to a nursing home "because they have great need."

He is looking forward to the canonization ceremony at the Vatican later this year.

But as it is taking place so far away, in Rome, "I'm going to have to get a loan to be able to go."