LA's Salvadoran Americans Celebrate St. Romero

Edwin Deras, Myra Deras, Luz Garcia, Roberto Jovel, Marta Jovel pose with a banner of Saint Romero at a canonization mass at the Our Lady of Los Angeles Cathedral on Sunday. (Photos by Aaron Schrank/KPCC)

Archbishop Oscar Romero has been the informal patron saint of El Salvador since he was murdered by a right-wing death squad while saying mass in 1980 — but now it's official.

On Sunday, he was canonized at a ceremony in Rome. A voice for the poor and defenseless, Romero's became a hero of the Catholic left and social justice symbol.

Romero's sainthood was a long time coming for many Salvadorans living in Los Angeles.

El Salvador Native Marta Jovel stayed up all night at the Dolores Mission in East L.A. to watch her beloved "Monsenor Romero" become "Santo Romero" in a livestreamed Vatican ceremony Sunday morning. Hours later, she celebrated the martyred Salvadoran archbishop's canonization with thousands at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral.

"We've waited so many years for this," said Jovel, who moved to L.A. in the '80s, just after Romero was killed. "Even though he wasn't named 'Saint,' we've always considered him a saint."

Jovel is part of a group called "the Messengers of Monsignor Romero" from Highland Park's St. Ignatius of Loyola parish. They attended the mass wearing blue shirts emblazoned with the Romero's spectacled face.

"We always remember everything he did for his country, for the poor people, and for people that most need help," Jovel said. "We're here to honor his legacy."

Salvadoran folk dancers with Asosal (Association of Salvadorans) performed the story of Romero for churchgoers Sunday.

Visitors took photos with posters of Saint Romero on display around the Cathedral. The mass was one of several events held around L.A. on Sunday in honor of the canonization.

Ricardo Parada said he wouldn't miss the celebration. Parada was baptized by Romero in 1963 in San Miguel. As a student activist, he attended Romero's funeral in San Salvador in 1980, where dozens of mourners were murdered.

"The only message Romero gave us was hope," Parada said. "To never give up against the evils."

Parada fled persecution in El Salvador in 1980 and moved to L.A., where he's been organizing for immigrant rights. He says Romero's message of hope is much needed amid the Trump administration's harsh immigration policies.

"Right before he was killed, Romero said, 'In the name of God, stop the repression,'" said Parada. "Well, we're saying the same thing right now. Stop the deportation."

Women religious admire a portrait of Saint Oscar Romero, on display at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral for the martyr's canonization.

Saint Romero is El Salvador's first saint, but Parada said he's more than that now.

"He's called 'San Romero de Americas,'" said Parada. "From the whole continent and the whole world. He's not only Salvadoran anymore. Now he belongs to the people of the world."

L.A. Archbishop Jose Gomez was among those who attended the official ceremony in Rome along with a delegation of more than 120 local Catholics.

Aaron Schrank covers religion, international affairs and the Southern California diaspora under a grant from the Luce Foundation.