Saint of the Day – 24 March – Blessed Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (1917–1980) Martyr (soon to be Canonised) Bishop, Martyr, Apostle of the Poor and suppressed, Social Justice campaigner, Preacher, radio broadcaster – born on 15 August 1917 in Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador – martyred by being shot by a government-affiliated death squad on the morning of 24 March 1980 in the chapel of La Divina Providencia Hospital in San Salvador, El Salvador while celebrating Mass. Bl Oscar was Beatified on 23 May 2015 by Pope Francis. Recognition celebrated at Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo, San Salvador, El Salvador, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Causes of the Saints, chief celebrant. On 6 March 2018, Pope Francis promulgated a decree of a miracle obtained through the intercession of Blessed Oscar, making way for his Canonisation later this year. Patronages – Christian communicators, El Salvador, The Americas, Archdiocese of San Salvador, Persecuted Christians, Caritas International (co-patron).
Oscar Romero was born into a large family on 15 August 1917 in El Salvador.
Although they had more money than many of their neighbours, Oscar’s family had
neither electricity nor running water in their small home and the children slept on the
floor. Oscar’s parents could not afford to send him to school after the age of twelve, so he went to work as an apprentice carpenter. He quickly showed great skills but Oscar was already determined to become a priest. He entered the seminary at the age of
fourteen and was ordained a priest when he was 25 in 1942.
Recognising the power of radio to reach the people, he convinced five radio stations
to broadcast his Sunday sermons to peasant farmers who believed they were
unwelcome in the churches.
In 1970, he became Auxiliary Bishop in San Salvador. In 1974 he became Bishop of Santiago de Maria. At this time, Oscar Romero was described as a conservative, not wanting to break from tradition. He supported the hierarchy who encouraged conformity. He was uncomfortable with social action that challenged political leaders.
Growing awareness during his two years as Bishop of Santiago de Maria, Romero was horrified to find that children were dying because their parents could not pay for simple medicines. He began using the resources of the diocese and his own personal resources to help the poor but he knew that simple charity was not enough. He wrote in his diary that people who are poor should not just receive handouts from the Church or the government but participate in changing their lives for the future.
In 1977, Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador, the capital city. The situation in El Salvador was becoming worse and he couldn’t remain silent any longer. The military were killing the Salvadorian people – especially those demanding justice such as teachers, nuns and priests – including Romero’s good friend, Fr Rutilio Grande.
Thousands of people began to go missing. Romero demanded that the President of El Salvador thoroughly investigate the killings but he failed to do so.
Voice of the voiceless
In his actions and words, Oscar demanded a peace that could only be found by ensuring people had access to basic needs and their rights upheld. He raised awareness globally about the people in his country who had been killed or “disappeared”. When he visited the Vatican in 1979, Oscar Romero presented the Pope with seven detailed reports of murder, torture, and kidnapping throughout El Salvador. In 1979, the number of people being killed rose to more than 3000 per month. Oscar Romero had nothing left to offer his people except faith and hope. He continued to use the radio broadcast of his Sunday sermons to tell people what was happening throughout the country, to talk about the role of the Church and to offer his listeners hope that they would not suffer and die in vain.
On March 23, 1980, after reporting the previous week’s deaths and disappearances, Oscar Romero began to speak directly to soldiers and policemen: “I beg you, I implore you, I order you… in the name of God, stop the repression!” The following evening, while saying Mass in the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot by a paid assassin.
Only moments before his death, Romero spoke these prophetic words: “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ will live like the grain of wheat that dies… The harvest comes because of the grain that dies.” Like many great leaders who have fought for truth, Oscar Romero was killed and became a martyr but his voice could not be silenced. He is a symbol of hope in a country that has suffered poverty, injustice and violence.
To date, no one has ever been prosecuted for the assassination, or confessed to it. The gunman has not been identified.
Romero was buried in the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador (Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador). The Funeral Mass on 30 March 1980 in San Salvador was attended by more than 250,000 mourners from all over the world. Viewing this attendance as a protest, Jesuit priest John Dear has said, “Romero’s funeral was the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America.”
At the funeral, Cardinal Ernesto Corripio y Ahumada, speaking as the personal delegate of St Pope John Paul II, eulogised Romero as a “beloved, peacemaking man of God,” and stated that “his blood will give fruit to brotherhood, love and peace.”
Massacre at Romero’s funeral
During the ceremony, smoke bombs exploded on the streets near the cathedral and subsequently there were rifle shots that came from surrounding buildings, including the National Palace. Many people were killed by gunfire and in the stampede of people running away from the explosions and gunfire; official sources reported 31 overall casualties, while journalists recorded that between 30 and 50 died. Some witnesses claimed it was government security forces that threw bombs into the crowd and army sharpshooters, dressed as civilians, that fired into the chaos from the balcony or roof of the National Palace. However, there are contradictory accounts as to the course of the events and “probably, one will never know the truth about the interrupted funeral.”
As the gunfire continued, Romero’s body was buried in a crypt beneath the sanctuary. Even after the burial, people continued to line up to pay homage to their martyred prelate.
Bl Oscar Romero noted in his diary on 4 February 1943: “In recent days the Lord has inspired in me a great desire for holiness. I have been thinking of how far a soul can ascend if it lets itself be possessed entirely by God.” Commenting on this passage, James R Brockman, S.J., Romero’s biographer and author of Romero: A Life, said that “All the evidence available indicates that he continued on his quest for holiness until the end of his life. But he also matured in that quest.”
According to Brockman, Romero’s spiritual journey had some of these characteristics:
- love for the Church of Rome, shown by his episcopal motto, “to be of one mind with the Church,” a phrase he took from St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises;
- a tendency to make a very deep examination of conscience;
- an emphasis on sincere piety;
- mortification and penance through his duties;
- providing protection for his chastity;
- spiritual direction;
- “being one with the Church incarnated in this people which stands in need of liberation”;
eagerness for contemplative prayer and finding God in others;
- fidelity to the will of God;
- self-offering to Jesus Christ.
- Romero was a strong advocate of the spiritual charism of Opus Dei. He received weekly spiritual direction from a priest of the Opus Dei movement. In 1975 he wrote in support of the cause of Canonisation of Opus Dei’s founder, St Josemaria Escrivá (1902-1975), “Personally, I owe deep gratitude to the priests involved with the Work, to whom I have entrusted with much satisfaction the spiritual direction of my own life and that of other priests.”
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