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Saturday, 25 March, 2000, 02:59 GMT
Salvadoreans remember slain cleric
Romero march
Catholics march through the streets of the capital
By Mike Lanchin in San Salvador

The Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador has been remembering one of its most famous and controversial leaders, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered 20 years ago.

Religious leaders from across Latin America as well as from Europe and the US have been gathering in the Salvadorean capital to remember the archbishop, killed at the altar on 24 March, 1980, by a right-wing death squad.

As the country tottered on the edge of a civil war, Archbishop Romero's outspoken style captured the hearts of the poor majority and evoked hatred among the wealthy landowners and military. But his memory still provokes divisions in the central American country.

Painting a tribute to the slain archbishop
Painting a tribute to the slain archbishop
The mere mention of Archbishop Romero's name provoked immediate applause among worshippers packed into San Salvador's cathedral for one of Friday's memorial masses.

The awaiting crowds surged forward as the long line of bishops and dignatories filed into the cathedral, while many more people were left outside to listen to the service on loudspeakers under the hot midday sun.

Even 20 years after his violent death, Archbishop Romero still attracts immense popular support as people remember him as a man who stood up to the poor at a time of social upheaval in the late 1970s.

The archbishop still attracts strong support 20 years after his death
He is now the object of a consumer group, with a CD, several books, numerous posters and even balloons on sale for the memorial services.

The left-wing mayor of San Salvador has even got on board, naming a street in the centre of the capital after him.

But many of those whom Archbishop Romero chastised from the pulpit two decades ago still blame his preaching for pushing the country into a civil war that ended eight years ago.

While Congress issued a timid declaration marking the occasion, several right-wing members of the legislature, all belonging to the ruling party, opposed the motion, nor has there been any government presence at the remembrance activities.

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