Óscar Romero

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Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (August 15, 1917– March 24, 1980)[1] was a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador. He became the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador, succeeding Luis Chávez.

As archbishop, he witnessed ongoing violations of human rights and started a group which spoke out on behalf of the poor and victims of the Salvadoran civil war. In 1980, he was assassinated by a right-wing group headed by former major Roberto D'Aubuisson as he finished giving his homily. This provoked an international outcry for reform in El Salvador. After his assassination, Romero was succeeded by Monsignor Arturo Rivera.

In 1997, a cause for beatification and canonization into sainthood was opened for Romero, and Pope John Paul II bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God. The process continues.[2] He is considered by some the unofficial patron saint of the Americas and El Salvador and is often referred to as "San Romero" by Catholics in El Salvador. Outside of Catholicism, Romero is honored by other religious denominations of Christendom, including the Church of England through the Calendar in Common Worship. He is one of the ten 20th century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London.[3] In 2008, he was chosen as one of the 15 Champions of World Democracy by the Europe-based magazine A Different View.[4]


Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was born on August 15, 1917, to Santos Romero and Guadalupe de Jésus Galdámez in Ciudad Barrios.

Coat of Arms of bishop Óscar A. Romero

On May 11, 1919, at the age of one, Óscar was baptized into the Catholic Church by Fr. Cecilio Morales. Romero had seven brothers and sisters: Gustavo, Zaída, Rómulo, Mamerto, Arnoldo and Gaspar, and Aminta, who died at birth.[5][1]

He could often be found at one of the town's two churches during his free time. At age seven Romero came down with an unknown life threatening illness, from which he eventually recovered.

Romero entered public school, which only offered grades one through three. When finished with public school, Romero was privately tutored by Anita Iglesias until age twelve or thirteen. Throughout this time Óscar's father, Santos, had been training Romero in carpentry. Romero showed exceptional proficiency as an apprentice. Santos wanted to offer his son the skill of a trade, because in El Salvador studies seldom led to employment.


On April 4, 1942, Romero was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome. Romero remained in Italy to obtain a doctoral degree in theology which specialized in ascetical theology. In 1943 before finishing, he was summoned back home from Fascist Italy by the bishop at age 27. He traveled home with his good friend Father Valladares, who was also doing doctoral work in Rome. En route home they made stops in Spain and Cuba, being detained by Cuban police for having come from Benito Mussolini's Italy and placed in an internment camp. After several months in prison Valladares became sick and some priests of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer helped to have the two transferred to a hospital. From the hospital they were released from Cuban custody and allowed back home, where they sailed for Mexico and then back home to El Salvador.

Romero began working as a parish priest in Anamorós 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 the Virgin of the Peace. He was later appointed Rector of the inter-diocese seminary in San Salvador. In 1966, he began his public life when chosen to be the Secretary of the Episcopal 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.

In 1970 he was appointed auxiliary bishop to San Salvador Archbishop Luis Chávez, a move not welcomed by the more progressive members of the Priesthood in El Salvador. He took up his appointment as Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de María in December 1975.[6]


A bust of Óscar Romero

On February 23, 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. His appointment was met with surprise, dismay, and even incredulity. While this appointment was welcomed by the government, many priests were disappointed, especially those openly aligning with Marxism. The Marxist priests feared that his conservative reputation would negatively affect liberation theology's commitment to the poor.

On March 12, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend Rutilio Grande, who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor campesinos, 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'".[7] Romero urged Arturo Armando Molina's government to investigate, but they ignored his request. Furthermore, the censored press remained silent.[8]

Tension was noted by the closure of schools and the lack of Catholic priests invited to participate in government. In response to Fr. Rutilio's murder, Romero revealed a radicalism that had not been evident earlier. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. As a result, Romero began to be noticed internationally. In February 1980, he was given an honorary doctorate by the Catholic University of Leuven. On his visit to Europe to receive this honour, 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.[9]

In 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst a wave of human rights abuses by paramilitary right-wing groups and the government. Romero criticized the United States for giving military aid to the new government and wrote to President Jimmy Carter in February 1980, warning that increased US military aid would "undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights". [1] Carter, concerned that El Salvador would become "another Nicaragua" and thus less business-friendly, ignored Romero's pleas and continued military aid to the Salvadoran government.

Church Persecution

Archbishop Romero denounced what he characterized as the persecution of his Church:

In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened and slandered. Six of them are martyrs, having been assassinated; various others have been tortured, and others expelled from the country. Religious women have also been the object of persecution. The archdiocesan radio station, Catholic educational institutions and Christian religious institutions have been constantly attacked, menaced, threatened with bombs. Various parish convents have been sacked.[10]

Oscar Romero

Catholic priests assassinated in El Salvador during Óscar Romero's archbishopric (1977 - 1980):

Assassination and funeral

Romero was killed by a shot to the heart on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital called "La Divina Providencia", one day after a sermon where 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. According to an audio-recording of the Mass, he was shot while holding up the Eucharist. When he was shot, his blood spilled over the altar.

It is believed that the assassins were members of a death squad. This view was supported in 1993 by an official U.N. report, which identified the man who ordered the killing as former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson.[11] He had also planned to overthrow the government in a coup. Later he founded the political party Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), and organized death squads that systematically carried out politically-motivated assassinations and other human rights abuses in El Salvador. Álvaro Rafael Saravia, a former captain in the Salvadoran Air Force, was chief of security for Roberto D'Aubuisson and an active member of these death squads. In 2003, a U.S. human rights organization, the Center for Justice and Accountability, filed a civil action against Saravia. In 2004, he was found liable by a US District Court under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) (28 U.S.C. § 1350) for aiding, conspiring, and participating in the assassination of Archbishop Romero. Saravia was ordered to pay $10 million dollars for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity pursuant to the ATCA. Doe v. Rafael Saravia, 348 F. Supp. 2d 1112 (E.D. Cal. 2004) (providing an excellent account of the events leading up, and subsequent, to Archbishop Romero's death).

Romero is buried in the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador (Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador). The funeral mass (rite of visitation and requiem) 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."

During the ceremony, a bomb exploded on the Cathedral square (Plaza Gerardo Barrios) and subsequently there were shots fired that probably came from surrounding buildings. Many people were killed during the following mass panic; official sources talk of 31 overall casualties, journalists indicated between 30 and 50 dead.[11] 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."[11]

Twenty-five years later, the BBC recalled the horror:

"Tens of thousands of mourners who had gathered for Romero's funeral Mass in front of the cathedral in San Salvador were filmed fleeing in terror as army gunners on the rooftops around the square opened fire.... One person who was there told us he remembered the piles of shoes left behind by those who escaped with their lives."

As the gunfire continued, the 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.[12][13][14][1][15]


Spiritual life

Romero noted in his diary on February 4, 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." [16]

According to Brockman, Romero's spiritual journey had some of these characteristics:

  1. 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,
  2. a tendency to make a very deep examination of conscience,
  3. an emphasis on sincere piety,
  4. mortification and penance through his duties,
  5. providing protection for his chastity,
  6. spiritual direction (Romero said he "entrusted with great satisfaction the spiritual direction of my life and that of other priests" to priests of Opus Dei),
  7. "being one with the church incarnated in this people which stands in need of liberation,"
  8. eagerness for contemplative type of prayer and also finding God in others,
  9. fidelity to the will of God,
  10. self-offering to Jesus Christ.

Process of canonization

On the tenth anniversary of the assassination, the sitting prelate archbishop of San Salvador, Msgr. Arturo Rivera, appointed a postulator to prepare documentation for a cause of beatification and canonization of Romero. The documents were formally accepted by Pope John Paul II and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1997, and Romero was given the title of "Servant of God". The process continues today with further investigation of the heroism and martyrdom of Romero. Upon the declaration of heroism and martyrdom, it is expected that Romero will achieve the title of "Venerable". If the decree finds that Romero was a martyr, there would be no further obstacles to his beatification. A declaration of only heroic virtue, however, would require that a miracle must be attributed to Romero in order for him to be declared Blessed.[17]

Twenty-six years after Romero's assassination, the canonization cause is stalled. In March 2005, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, the Vatican official in charge of the drive, announced that Romero's cause had cleared an unprecedented hurdle, having survived a theological audit by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the time headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later proclaimed Pope Benedict XVI) and that beatification could follow within six months.[18]Pope John Paul II died within weeks of those remarks. Predictably, the transition of the new Pontiff slowed down the work of canonizations and beatifications. Pope Benedict XVI additionally instituted liturgical changes that had the overall effect of reining in the Vatican's so-called "factory of saints."[19] Later that year, an October 2005 interview by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, appeared to stall the prospect of an impending Romero beatification. Asked if Msgr. Paglia's predictions checked out, Cardinal Saraiva responded, "Not as far as I know today."[20] In November 2005, a Jesuit magazine signaled that Romero's beatification was still "years away."[21]

Many suspect that the delay in the declaration of heroism and martyrdom is due to the fact that Romero is closely tied to, but not directly involved with, the liberation theology movement espoused especially by the Jesuits of Latin America. The charge has been dismissed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints who have pointed out that Romero has not yet met certain criteria to move on to the next levels of the inquests, processes which have historically taken decades to roll into motion.

Romero in popular culture

Television and film

  • The film Romero (1989) was based on the Archbishop's life story. It was directed by John Duigan and starred Raúl Juliá and produced by Paulist Productions (a film company run by the Paulist Fathers, an order of Catholic priests). Timed for release ten years after Romero's death, it was the first Hollywood feature film ever to be financed by the Roman Catholic Church. The film received respectful, if less than enthusiastic, reviews. Roger Ebert typified the critics who acknowledged that "The film has a good heart, and the Julia performance is an interesting one, restrained and considered.... The film's weakness is a certain implacable predictability."[22]Romero was never sent to jail as was in the movie, but was held at a detainment camp.[citation needed]
  • Oliver Stone's 1986 film, Salvador, contains a dramatisation of the assassination of Archbishop Romero (played in the movie by José Carlos Ruiz). The film tells the story of photojournalist Richard Boyle (James Woods), who undergoes a spiritual conversion while covering the death squad killings in El Salvador during the Civil War.
  • Romero was also featured in the made-for-TV movie Choices of the Heart (NBC, 1983, René Enríquez as Romero) about the murder of four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador

Visual arts

From the Gallery of 20th century martyrs at Westminster Abbey- Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Revd. Martin Luther King, Archbishop Óscar Romero and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • A statue of Óscar Romero sculpted by John Roberts fills a prominent niche on the western facade of Westminster Abbey in London. The statue was unveiled in the presence of Queen Elizabeth in 1998. Barry Woods Johnston sculpted the statue of Óscar Romero displayed in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The Italian sculptor, Paolo Borghi crafted the catafalque that covers Romero's tomb in the crypt of the San Salvador cathedral and shows Romero "sleeping the sleep of the just" as four Evangelists stand guard.
  • Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, painted a now-famous "icon" of Archbishop Romero based on traditional church iconography but with updated the conventional elements. For example, traditional angels are replaced with military helicopters over red tiled roofs. Frank Diaz Escalet executed a series of "outsider art" paintings on Archbishop Romero, now exhibited in the permanent collection of the Organization of American States Museum, in Washington, D.C.; the permanent collection of the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont, Texas; the Ella Noel Museum of Odessa, Texas; and Maryknoll galleries in New York.

Poetry and song

  • The most famous reference to Romero's death in Spanish-language songs is "El Padre Antonio y el monaguillo Andrés" ("Father Anthony and Acolyte Andrew"), written and sung by Panamanian Rubén Blades. This song describes the arrival in a Latin American country of an idealistic Spanish priest (a fictional representation of Archbishop Romero), his sermons condemning violence there, his talks about love and justice, and, finally, the murders of the priest and acolyte during a mass. Blades has said he wrote this song so that "the death of Romero is not forgotten."[citation needed]
  • Mentioned in the song "Same Thing" by the Flobots, asking "who let 'em assasinate Oscar Romero".
  • In 1981, Brazilian classical composer Jorge Antunes wrote a choral-symphonic work entitled "Elegia Violeta para Monsenhor Romero" ("Violet Elegy for Monsignor Romero") using texts from Che Guevara, Vassili Vassilikos, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Psalms, and Archbishop Romero himself as lyrics. The work finishes with the children's choir repeating, each time more strongly, "¡No se mata la justicia!" ("Justice cannot be killed!": the very words in which Archbishop Romero replied to a Brazilian reporter's question whether the archbishop were afraid he'd be killed because of his defense of the poor and his protest against the murders of priests) – until their voices are muted by seemingly panicked, sincopated instrumental sounds.
  • Brazilian Bishop Dom Pedro Casaldáliga immortalized Romero as "San Romero de América" ("Saint Romero of the Americas") in a famous poem by that name written shortly after the archbishop's assassination. The poem, a variation on the Angelus, popularized the use of the phrase "San Romero" (instead of "Saint Oscar") throughout Latin America (and, for example, in Escalet's "San Romero" paintings or in the "San Romero de América" UCC Church in New York City).
  • Jolie Rickman's song "Romero" documents the archbishop's last sermon before his assassination.
  • Welsh singer-songwriter Dafydd Iwan wrote about Romero's assassination in the song "Oscar Romero".[23]
  • Richard Gilpin wrote the song "Oscar Romero." It appeared in his album "Loose Ends."
  • "Oscar Romero" is a character in Elizabeth Swados's musical-theater "Missionaries", which concerns the murder of four churchwomen in El Salvador.
  • "Eulogy For Oscar Romero" is an instrumental piece composed and performed by Jean-Luc Ponty.
  • "The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions," the third track on Billy Bragg's 1990 album The Internationale, features the lyrics "If you thought the army was here protecting people like yourself/I've some news for you, we're here to defend wealth/Away with nuns and bishops (ROMERO!) The Good Lord will help those that help themselves/I've some news for you, we're here to defend wealth," the name Romero being shouted by additional vocalists.


  1. ^ a b c "Romero biography". Kellogg Institute, Notre Dame University. http://kellogg.nd.edu/romero/pdfs/Biography.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  2. ^ (Spanish) "Proceso de Canonización Monseñor Romero". http://romeroes.com/canonizacion/canonizacion.html. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  3. ^ "Westminster Abbey: Oscar Romero". http://www.westminster-abbey.org/history-research/monuments-gravestones/people/13679. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  4. ^ A Different View, Issue 19, January 2008.
  5. ^ Details about Aminta
  6. ^ "Romero biography through Internet Archive". Archdiocese of San Salvador canonization site. http://web.archive.org/web/20070328233855/http://www.romeroes.com/biografia/ingles.htm. Retrieved on 2008-11-20. 
  7. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=jJc83fZHD8EC&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=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&source=bl&ots=wivXV-dsEV&sig=jwlOUrIr_mxu-RCLJL5NFa7O2I8&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result
  8. ^ http://www.infed.org/thinkers/oscar_romero.htm
  9. ^ http://www.infed.org/thinkers/oscar_romero.htm
  10. ^ Speech at Lovaine University, Belgium, (Feb. 2, 1980).
  11. ^ a b c Morozzo p. 351-2, 354, 364
  12. ^ "Chronology". Chronology of the Salvadoran Civil War, Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame. http://kellogg.nd.edu/romero/PDF%27s/Chronology.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  13. ^ "BBC NEWS". http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/file_on_4/4376733.stm. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  14. ^ John Dear. "Oscar Romero, Presente!". http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0324-21.htm. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  15. ^ Christopher Dickey. "40 Killed in San Salvador: 40 Killed at Rites For Slain Prelate; Bombs, Bullets Disrupt Archbishop's Funeral". Washington Post Foreign Service. A1. http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/romero-wp-3-31-80.html. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  16. ^ James Brockman, S.J.. "James R. Brockman, S.J.: The Spiritual Journey of Oscar Romero". Spirituality Today. http://www.spiritualitytoday.org/spir2day/904242brock.html. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  17. ^ "The Making of a Saint: A Interview with Msgr. Robert Sarno". Lay Witness. Nov/Dec 2004. https://www.cuf.org/Laywitness/Online_view.asp?lwID=55. 
  18. ^ "Catholic World News : Beatification cause advanced for Archbishop Romero". http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=35989. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  19. ^ "Will the Pope ever make fewer saints?". http://time-proxy.yaga.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,1059021,00.html. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  20. ^ "30Days - Blessed among their people, Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins". http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=9359. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. ].
  21. ^ "CNS STORY: Magazine says Archbishop Romero was killed for actions of faith". http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0506300.htm. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  22. ^ Romero by Roger Ebert 2008-04-14
  23. ^ James, E. Wyn (2005), "Painting the World Green: Dafydd Iwan and the Welsh Protest Ballad", Folk Music Journal 8 (5): 594-618, http://www.cf.ac.uk/insrv/libraries/scolar/digital/welshballads/painting.html 


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