Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (August 15, 1917 – March 24, 1980) was first assigned to serve as a parish priest in Anamorós, El Salvador, but then moved to San Miguel where he worked for over 20 years. He promoted various apostolic groups, started an Alcoholics Anonymous group, helped in the construction of San Miguel’s cathedral and supported devotion to Our Lady of Peace. In 1966, he was chosen to be Secretary of the Bishops Conference for El Salvador. He also became the director of the archdiocesan newspaper Orientación, which became fairly conservative while he was editor, defending the traditional Magisterium of the Catholic Church
Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador on February 23, 1977. While this appointment was welcomed by the government, many priests were disappointed, especially those openly aligning with Marxism. The progressive priests feared that his conservative reputation would negatively affect liberation theology’s commitment to the poor.
On March 12, 1977, Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest and personal friend of Romero who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor, was assassinated. His death had a profound impact on Romero, who later stated, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path'”. Romero urged the government to investigate, but they ignored his request. Furthermore, the censored press remained silent.
Tension was noted by the closure of schools and the lack of Catholic priests invited to participate in government. In response to Grande’s murder, Romero revealed an activism that had not been evident earlier, speaking out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture.
In 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst a wave of human rights abuses by paramilitary right-wing groups and the government in an escalation of violence that would become the Salvadoran Civil War. Romero criticized the United States for giving military aid to the new government and wrote to President Jimmy Carter in February of 1980, warning that increased US military aid would “undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the political repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights.” Carter ignored Romero’s pleas and continued military aid to the Salvadoran government.
As a result of his humanitarian efforts, Romero began to be noticed internationally. In February of 1980, he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Louvain. On his visit to Europe to receive this honor, he met Pope John Paul II and expressed his concerns at what was happening in his country. Romero argued that it was problematic to support the Salvadoran government because it legitimized terror and assassinations.
On March 23, 1980, Romero delivered a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights.
Romero spent March 24th in a recollection organized by Opus Dei, a monthly gathering of priest friends led by Msgr. Fernando Lacalle. On that day they reflected on the priesthood. That evening, Romero celebrated Mass at a small chapel at Hospital de la Divina Providencia, a church-run hospital specializing in oncology and care for the terminally ill. Romero finished his sermon, stepped away the lectern, and took a few steps to stand at the center of the altar. As Romero finished speaking, a red automobile came to a stop on the street in front of the chapel. The gunman emerged from the vehicle, stepped to the door of the chapel, and fired one (possibly two) shots at Romero. Romero was struck in the heart, and the vehicle sped off.
In 1997, Pope John Paul II bestowed upon Romero the title of Servant of God, and a cause for beatification and canonization was opened for him. The cause stalled, but was reopened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. He was declared a martyr by Pope Francis on February 3, 2015, paving the way for his beatification, which took place on May 23, 2015.
Romero was buried in the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador. The Funeral Mass on March 30, 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 Pope John Paul II, eulogized Romero as a “beloved, peacemaking man of God”, and stated that “his blood will give fruit to brotherhood, love and peace.”
To learn more of Óscar Romero struggles as Archbishop watch this free YouTube video.