One of the commemorative posters from the Sanctuary Oral History Project Collection
Thirty years ago Oscar Romero was shot and killed while celebrating mass in the chapel of a hospital. The date prompts commemorative activities in El Salvador and across the world in recognition of his courage in confronting a repressive regime. Of course, he still has his enemies, who condemn him as a recruiter for Marxism and not as a martyr for human rights.
In the early 1980s, refugees from Central America became the focus of the Sanctuary Movement. Faced with civil war, military aggression and terror, citizens left the country and joined refugee camps in Honduras or traveled north to Mexico and then to the United States. US policy did not recognize Central Americans, or El Salvadorans, as qualifying for refugee status. Those who were caught were deported and returned to their countries. Becoming aware of the situation, churches responded to the needs of the refugees by offering sanctuary.
On March 24, 1982, five congregations in Berkeley and one in Phoenix, Arizona, publicly committed to "protect, defend and advocate for" men, women and children fleeing from Guatemala and El Salvador. Churches throughout the country joined in this movement. After protection was no longer necessary for Central American refugees, the movement continued, focusing on issues with immigrants from throughout the world
For the past few months, we've been adding materials from our collections on the sanctuary movement to our digital content site. Of special note are transcripts of 12 of the leaders of the movement, part of an oral history project begun by Eileen Purcell, one of the movement leaders.
We also have two very comprehensive collections of the movement: Gustav Schultz Sanctuary Collection, GTU 90-5-01; National Sanctuary Defense Fund Collection, GTU 98-9-04.
This Saturday, March 27, an Archbishop Oscar Romero Commemoration will be held at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, beginning at 11 am. Carla DeSola and the Omega West Dance Company will be among the performers.