With great enthusiasm and devotion, hundreds of Salvadoran families gathered for a March 24 Mass at the Sacred Heart Shrine in Washington to celebrate the feast of St. Oscar Romero, bishop and martyr from El Salvador.

During the Mass, the faithful thanked Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington,for the support that he provides to the Hispanic community. Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjívar, believed to be the first Salvadoran bishop appointed in the United States, was officially received by the parishioners. Bishop Oswaldo Escobar of Chalatenango, El Salvador, also concelebrated the Eucharist.

Many Massgoers of different ages attended the celebration wearing traditional El Salvadoran attire and carrying images of St. Oscar Romero and lighting candles in memory of the more than 75,000 people who died during the Salvadoran civil war in the 1970s.

Beside Sacred Heart's Spanish-speaking parishioners, the celebration also was attended by representatives of the communities of Brazil, Vietnam, U.S. and Haiti, as well as priests from different parishes of the archdiocese.

In his homily, Bishop Menjívar talked about the pastoral legacy of St. Romero and the importance of always being on the side of the poor, those who suffer, those who cry out for justice and those who defend life.

"Today, the legacy of St. Romero is still valid. He was a shepherd of the church with the smell of sheep. With his example, he showed us the way to holiness, to live in community and not be indifferent to the pain of others. He was brave as our immigrant community in the United States is now, who always raises his arms to ask God to show him the path to justice, love, and truth," said Bishop Menjívar.

The prelate also mentioned Bishop Escobar's book "Romereando por Chalatenango," which describes the human side of St. Romero and reflects on the important contributions of the Hispanic faithful -- especially Salvadorans -- to a country that generously opened its doors to them.

"I feel proud to be Hispanic. We never stand still before problems; we always go out with a lot of faith and courage in search of solutions and offer our help to solve the problems. The example of St. Romero tells us that God is the strength, vitality, and inspiration to be good Christians who seek holiness," said Bishop Menjívar.

The presence of 21 Hispanic members of the Knights of Columbus-St. Oscar Romero, who belong to Sacred Heart Parish, was acknowledged during the Mass.

They are third-degree Knights who carry out tasks of humanitarian assistance, community development, support in youth training tasks and participate in evangelization programs. Soon, all will be promoted to the fourth degree, which will mean an important support for the pastoral work of the Sacred Heart Parish.

"The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882, currently has close to 2 million members around the world and, at this moment, we are helping a group of Central American brothers in the repair of the parish's benches," said Willians Castillo, a Hispanic member and formator of the Knights of Columbus in Maryland.

After the Mass, Bishops Menjívar and Escobar shared drinks, pupusas and pork rinds with Salvadorans residing in Washington's Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Carmen Lara, president of the Catholic organization "Casa Betania," oversaw the preparation of the typical Salvadoran dishes.

"For years, our organization has financially helped the Diocese of Chalatenango in the maintenance of social works, especially for single mothers, the elderly and abandoned children. Today we have donated the food so that all the faithful can share with their priests and bishops that they always smell like sheep," commented Lara told El Pregonero, a publication of the Washington Archdiocese.

Bishop Escobar's book mainly describes the human side of St. Romero, such as when he stopped to have a cup of coffee and eat a cake with the farmers, or when he stopped to observe the beautiful landscape of the place, taking advantage of the fact that the bus that transported them had broken down.

Although there is abundant literature on St. Romero and his theological, political and historical vision, Bishop Escobar in his book tried to show the human side of a shepherd and the people of God, especially in the bloodiest moments of the Salvadoran conflict.

St. Romero used to speak in those years about the much-ignored region of Chalatenango during his radio show and in articles highlighting crimes in remote corners that no one paid much attention to, calling for justice for murdered catechists and other ministers. Catholics, priests and religious were dismembered and disfigured in El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Nobody has loved Chalatenango more than St. Romero," the bishop said in his book. Bishop Escobar in October 2018 was able to fulfill his dream to attend the first canonization ceremony for a Salvadoran saint at the Vatican.

St. Romero was the archbishop of San Salvador when he was assassinated March 24, 1980, during the Salvadoran civil war, by an unknown sniper while celebrating Mass in the chapel of La Divina Providencia Cancer Hospital in San Salvador.

A report by the United Nations' Truth Commission, which investigated human rights violations during the Salvadoran war (1980-1992), found that former Army major and founder of the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) party, Roberto D'Aubuisson, gave the order to assassinate Archbishop Romero.