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Who Was Oscar Romero? Martyr and Prophetic Instrument of Justice and Peace

posted Feb 3, 2015, 12:00 PM by Vidal Martinez
By Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

In light of the announcement today that Pope Francis approved the promulgation of the martyrdom of Servant of God, Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdamez (El Salvador, 1917-1980), archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, killed in hatred of the faith on March 24, 1980, I offer the following brief biography of this great witness of the Gospel.

Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez was born in 1917 in the town of Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador near the border with Honduras. Leaving school at twelve he began an apprenticeship as a carpenter, showing promise as a craftsman, but soon thought about ordination, although his family were not keen. He trained at San Miguel and San Salvador, before completing his theological studies in Rome. Because of the war in Europe there was no member of his family at his ordination in 1942. Returning to San Salvador in 1944, he served as a country priest before taking charge of two seminaries. In 1966 he became secretary to the El Salvador Episcopal Conference - a post he held for 23 years. He earned a reputation as an energetic administrator and his inspirational sermons were broadcast across the city of San Miguel by five radio stations.

Oscar became bishop in 1970, serving first as assistant to the aged Archbishop of San Salvador and from 1974 as Bishop of Santiago de Maria. Within three years he was Archbishop of San Salvador. At that time there was growing unrest in the country, as many became more aware of the great social injustices of the peasant economy. His pulpit became a font of truth when the government censored news. He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed. He walked among the people and listened, "I am a shepherd," he said, "who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world."

Killed by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass on March 24, 1980, his last words in the sermon just minutes before his death reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. "Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies… We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us". He is buried in the cathedral of San Salvador where he had preached justice. People from many nations come to his tomb to find strength in their struggle.