In 1989, five years after he started his own service as a priest, The Rev. Tom Higgins watched the biopic about Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero. From that day on, Romero, who earned his reputation as "the voice of the voiceless" for running a church commission that investigated human rights abuses nationwide, served as Higgins' inspiration and one of his lifetime heroes.
Now Higgins has a new reason to watch Romero. The left-leaning Archbishop of San Salvador, who was killed while leading Mass in 1980, will Sunday become the first Catholic from El Salvador to be canonized, 38 years after his assassination by a gunman hired by right-wing death squads.
His "love for the poor is one of the reasons … to do missionary life and I got to work in a Hispanic parish," said Higgins, 64, who for 15 years has been the leading priest for Holy Innocents Parish in the Juniata-Hunting Park area, where 65 percent of the church is Hispanic. Four years ago, Higgins, originally of Delaware County, traveled to Romero's Church, Divina Providencia, the site of his assassination, as well as his grave site.
Friday at 7 p.m., the parish will screen Romero, followed by a bilingual discussion on the legacy and human rights symbol the Salvadoran priest represents for Central Americans and the religious community.
In Lindenwold, N.J., Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish is expecting 350 to 400 parishioners Sunday for its 11 a.m. Mass to celebrate the canonization and work of the man they called Monseñor. The church will prepare an altar to the archbishop with a subsequent potluck featuring Central America dishes.
According to U.S. Census data, about 2,000 Salvadorans live in Camden County, the fifth-largest Latino community after Puerto Ricans (47,000), Mexicans (13,000), Dominicans (8,000), and Cubans (2,300). In the Philadelphia area, there are 2,100 Salvadorans, the eighth-largest for that county.