St. Oscar Romero

Today's saint is my first modern-era saint, Saint Oscar Romero. If you're interested in the life of Oscar Romero, I highly recommend the film Romero, which was created several years before Oscar Romero was even beatified.

Oscar Romero is a particularly special saint for me personally, because I learned about his life and sacrifice before I converted. With all the ancient saints' many miracles and unbelievable tales, it can sometimes be easy to forget that the saints were real people who lived in a time and a place. But Oscar Romero's martyrdom doesn't let us forget that. His death was the same decade in which I was born. His sacrifice for peace and equality paid off in 1992 when the Salvadoran Civil War ended by the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords.

Lifetime: August 15, 1917 to March 24, 1980
Region: El Salvador
Patronages: El Salvador; The Americas; Persecuted Christians
Iconograpy: Black cassock; Amaranth zucchetto and fascia; Glasses
Feast Day: March 24

Oscar Romero was a bishop, and then archbishop, in El Salvador during a time when the Salvadoran government, aided by the US military, was imprisoning and assassinating its own citizens for offering help to the poor and speaking out against the government.

Many of the Catholics in El Salvador at the time, especially those in power, chose to ignore the crimes that the government was committing. When he was elevated to archbishop, Oscar Romero was one of them. He had a reputation for silence in the face of the oppression, and trusting the government's official response over those of the poor or his fellow priests when an incident occurred.

But then, only a month after his appointment to archbishop, one of Romero's close friends was killed while helping poor farmers organize to demand rights. Romero, who up to that point had maintained a decent reputation with the government, asked his contacts in the government to investigate the murder. When they remained silent on the murder, he turned to the media. But the media had also been influenced by the government and wouldn't report on the execution.

That is when Romero realized that all the horrors he had heard about and disbelieved were true. If the government would assassinate a Jesuit priest just for trying to help the poor, why shouldn't the rest of the massacres and executions be true as well?

Despite the now clear threat to his life, Oscar Romero quickly changed tacks. He began preaching openly against the treatment of the poor and the social injustice throughout the country. He spoke out against assassination, torture, and terrorism in all circumstances. And he didn't do so just from the pulpit -- Romero began a radio program so that his message of peace and justice could reach even further.

After a coup caused even worse conditions for the people of El Salvador, Romero reached out to the US government, asking them to stop supplying the violent Salvadoran regime with weapons, training, and funding. When that led nowhere, he contacted Pope John Paul II for help.

El Salvador had been a predominantly Catholic country, and still was in name. Romero argued that the government's abuses were incompatible with Catholic teaching. He went even further to accuse the government of persecuting Catholics for practicing Jesus' messages to help the poor. He targeted his radio broadcasts to the faithful soldiers working for the regime, begging them to ignore orders that went against the teachings of scripture.

Through all of this, Romero knew his life was at risk. His friend had been assassinated for less, and he knew of more than 50 other priests, plus nuns and lay Christians, who had been silenced, tortured, or even martyred for speaking out about many of the same things he was now saying. But Romero accepted his inevitable death, saying:

I have often been threatened with death. I must tell you, as a Christian, I do not believe in a death without resurrection. If am killed, I shall arise again in the Salvadoran people...You may say, if they succeed in killing me, that I pardon and bless those who do it. Would , indeed, that they might be convinced that they will waste their time. A bishop will die, but God´s church, which is the people, will never perish.

Time would prove him correct.

Romero was killed by an assassin's bullet while celebrating Mass in a church-run hospital on March 24, 1980.

Over 250,000 people attended his funeral.

At his funeral, a massacre occurred and 30-50 people were killed and another 200 wounded.

Many people consider the assassination of Oscar Romero as the unofficial start of the Salvadoran Civil War. It waged for 12 years, with over 75,000 killed before Romero's prompting for peace would come to fruition.

Thus, the poor have shown the church the true way to go.
A church that does not join the poor
in order to speak out from the side of the poor
against the injustices committed against them
is not the true church of Jesus Christ.

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