"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

Blessed Oscar Romero – March 24

Born: August 15, 1917 in Ciudad Barrios in the San Miguel department of El Salvador.

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Martyrdom of Oscar Romero while holding up the chalice during the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Martyred for the Faith: March 24, 1980 (at the age of 62) San Salvador, El Salvador.

Beatified: May 23, 2015 by Pope Francis

Feast Day: March 24

Patronage: Christian communicators, El Salvador, The Americas, Archdiocese of San Salvador, Persecuted Christians

The day after Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot while celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the chapel of the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St. Therese, many people inside and outside of the Church – including Latin American prelates and Vatican officials – argued that the Archbishop hadn’t been killed for his faith in Christ, but for political reasons. Pope Francis commented how he had heard many of these objections throughout the years.  Here is how our Holy Father has asked the faithful to remember the martyrdom of Blessed Oscar Romero:

“It’s nice to also remember him like this: a man who continues his martyrdom. [Romero is] a man who, after having given his life, [was] continuously whipped by incomprehension and calumnies. How many times those who have given their lives continue being struck with the hardest stone there is: The tongue!” Pope Francis

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Romero’s Journey to Martyrdom

As it happens in many families where God’s Call to follow his Son by means of the priesthood is born within the heart of a young man, Oscar Romero’s parents initially had other plans for their son while growing up.  Given the financial stresses of the times, his father wanted his son to learn the trade of carpentry so that he could always have a means to provide for himself. But then it happened. At the age of 13, Oscar expressed his desire to become a priest! 

Óscar Arnolfo Romero y Galdámez was ordained to the priesthood in 1942. He was a conservative, somewhat reserved man – not someone you would have expected to challenge the status quo. He served for many years as a parish priest and diocesan secretary in San Miguel before being appointed auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1970.[1] Fr. John Spain, a Maryknoll priest in El Salvador, first met Romero in 1971. “ BN-GU111_POPE02_P_20150203182928‘He was mild-mannered and somewhat shy,’ Spain recalled. ‘He was maybe 5-foot-7 and had a slight build. I thought of him as a small man with a huge presence.’ Romero was so unassuming that when a British reporter for the BBC came to interview Romero … the reporter walked right past his interview subject without realizing it. ‘He was sitting quietly by himself in the corner of a room, dressed as a priest, without his bishop’s cross,’ Spain said. ‘He was not one to draw attention to himself. But if you heard him preach in the cathedral on Sunday, he was transformed. People would stand and applaud and he was a larger-than-life presence in those moments.’ ”[2]

In 1977, Romero was appointed as Archbishop of San Salvador. History reveals that it was precisely because he was someone who never challenged the status quo or caused any waves that he was given this responsibility. As life would have it, shortly after his installation, “one of his rural pastors and a close friend, Jesuit Fr. Rutillio Grande, was murdered by government soldiers for supporting the poor campesinos trying to organize for land reform and better wages. Romero emerged from the crisis as a devoted pastor and champion of the people. Six priests and scores of pastoral workers, catechists and faithful church members were killed in the months ahead. When asked by a reporter what he did as archbishop, Romero answered, “I pick up bodies.”

He immersed himself in the plight of the victims and their families. He became the voice of the voiceless, using his Sunday homilies, broadcast by radio throughout the country and the region, to tell their stories archbishop-oscar-romeroand to demand that the government account for the hundreds of people arrested, tortured and disappeared as tensions worsened toward civil war.” [3]

Romero knew that he was risking his life by speaking out, but he refused to be silenced. “I have frequently been threatened with death,” he said. “I must say that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death but in the resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”[4]

Political Times of the Day

Archbishop Romero lived during a time when the Revolutionary Government Junta began to exercise their power amidst an atmosphere fraught with human rights issues. Anyone who would dare speak on the subjects of social injustice, poverty, assassinations, and torture happening in El Salvador was destined for trouble. What we stand to learn from Blessed Romero is that we don’t choose the times in which we live, but we do choose how we respond to all the issues surrounding us that threaten the dignity of the human person in accordance with what has been revealed to us in Christ and Church teachings.

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Education Minister, Mr. David Eggen with the offspring of Bill-10: Gender Identity Guidelines for schools in Alberta

Our struggle here in Canada is not the same struggle as that which religious leaders had to deal with in El Salvador, but they are just as real and just as damaging to people within our nation. Ours is a time when governments are actively crushing the stability of the common good in exchange for catering to the needs of minorities, stripping away parents’ rights over the formation of their children’s sexual orientations, forming teams of so called ‘medical professionals’ that will travel great distances to execute people at a whim. Sadly, few are they who have the courage to stand for Truth at this time… Church leaders and Christians throughout our land would do well to ponder the life and death example of Archbishop Romero who took our Blessed Lord’s words to heart: “I have spoken these things to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

As Blessed Oscar put it: “A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that?” 

Standing For Truth

When Archbishop Romero did stand in the Truth, his recompense was that of being accused by critics both inside and outside of the Church of being a political activist. “Romero’s final days mirrored Lent and the approach to Holy Week. His last homily, delivered the week before Palm Sunday, the day of his funeral, was on the Gospel from John 12:24-26: ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone. But if it dies it produces much fruit.’ Moments later, in full vestments, standing at the altar in a small hospital chapel, he was shot and killed by a sniper. The meaning of the Mass was graphically revealed, and the Word of God he had just preached ‘came true in our hearing’ (Luke 4:21).” [5]

“The archbishop had been shot dead by a single .22 bullet to his heart – just one day after he had made an impassioned plea to the military to put an end to the violence. Death squads had been targeting Salvadoran priests in the weeks preceding his murder, plastering the words, “Be a Patriot – Kill a Priest,” on walls throughout the country. “Brothers,” Romero had pleaded, “you are all killing your fellow countrymen. No 03132015p19phsoldier has to obey an order to kill. It is time to regain your conscience. In the name of God and in the name of the suffering people I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression.” [6]

Beatification

On February 3rd of 2015, Pope Francis formally declared that Archbishop Romero was assassinated as a martyr for the Catholic faith. This cleared the way for his beatification, which took place in San Salvador on May 23, 2015.[7]

Some of us might think that martyrdom is something to be feared. But this was not the case with Archbishop Romero. He wrote, “Martyrdom is a great gift from God that I do not believe I have earned. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life then may my blood be the seed of liberty, and a sign of the hope that will soon become a reality… A bishop will die, but the church of God – the people – will never die.”[8]

Blessed Oscar Romero – pray for us and for our Nation!

– Fr. Jerome Lavigne

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Footnotes:

[1] Sharon van der Sloot, “Remembering Oscar Romero,” available from https://swordsoftruth.com/2015/04/23/remembering-oscar-romero/ ; Internet; accessed 4 March 2016.

[2] Paul Grondahl, “A Maryknoll priest recounts Oscar Romero’s path to sainthood,” CRUX [Catholic News Service]; available from http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/03/24/a-maryknoll-priest-recounts-oscar-romeros-path-to-sainthood/; Internet; accessed 17 April 2015.

[3] Pat Marrin, “Oscar Romero, Saint for Our Times,” available from http://liberationtheology.org/oscar-romero-saint-for-our-times/ ; Internet; accessed 4 March 2016.

[4] Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero,” United Nations: International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

[5] Pat Marrin, “Oscar Romero, Saint for Our Times,” available from http://liberationtheology.org/oscar-romero-saint-for-our-times/ ; Internet; accessed 4 March 2016.

[6] Sharon van der Sloot, “Remembering Oscar Romero,” available from https://swordsoftruth.com/2015/04/23/remembering-oscar-romero/ ; Internet; accessed 4 March 2016.

[7] Cf. Joshua J. McElwee, “Slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero to be beatified May 23,” National Catholic Reporter (March 11, 2015); available from http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/report-oscar-romero-be-beatified-may-23; Internet; accessed 17 April 2015.

[8] Robert Ellsberg, “Oscar Arnulfo Romero: Archbishop and Martyr of San Salvador,” Gratefulness.org; available from http://www.gratefulness.org/giftpeople/romero.htm; Internet; accessed 17 April 2015.