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Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (15 August 1917 – 24 March 1980) was a bishop of the Catholic Church in El Salvador, and declared a martyr by Pope Francis on 3 February 2015. He became the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. His spiritual life drew much from the spirituality of Opus Dei. In 1980, after attending an Opus Dei recollection, Romero was assassinated while offering Mass.
Catholics in El Salvador often refer to him as "San Romero". Even outside of Catholicism, Romero is honored by other Christian denominations, including the Church of England and Anglican Communion through the Calendar in Common Worship, as well as in at least one Lutheran liturgical calendar. Archbishop Romero is also one of the ten 20th-century martyrs depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London. In 2008, Europe-based magazine A Different View included Romero among its 15 Champions of World Democracy.
On 12 March 1977, Rutilio Grande, a progressive 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 Fr. Rutilio's murder, Romero revealed a radicalism 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 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, concerned that El Salvador would become "another Nicaragua", 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 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.
Archbishop Romero denounced the persecution of members of the Catholic Church who had worked on behalf of the poor: "In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs--they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands....But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people's defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor." (Óscar Romero, Speech at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium, Feb. 2, 1980).
By the time of his death, Archbishop Romero had built up an enormous following among Salvadorans. He did this largely through broadcasting his weekly sermons across El Salvador. In these sermons, he listed disappearances, tortures, murders and much more each Sunday. This was followed by an hour-long speech on radio the following day. On the importance of these broadcasts, one writer noted "The archbishop's Sunday sermon was the main source in El Salvador about what was happening. It was estimated to have the largest listenership of any programme in the country". Similarly, his diocesan weekly paper Orientación carried lists of cases of torture and repression every week.
Romero preached that "“The most profound social revolution is the serious, supernatural, interior reform of a Christian.” He also emphasized: "The liberation of Christ and of His Church is not reduced to the dimension of a purely temporal project. It does not reduce its objectives to an anthropocentric perspective: to a material well-being or to initiatives of a political or social, economic or cultural order, only. Much less can it be a liberation that supports or is supported by violence.”
Romero was a strong advocate of the spiritual charism of Opus Dei. He received weekly spiritual direction from a priest of Opus Dei. In 1975 he wrote in support of the cause of canonization of Opus Dei's founder, "Personally, I owe deep gratitude to the priests involved with the Work, to whom I have entrusted with much satisfaction the spiritual direction of my own life and that of other priests."
Romero spent the day of 24 March 1980 in a recollection organized by Opus Dei, a monthly gathering of priest friends led by Msgr. Fernando Sáenz Lacalle. On that day they reflected on the priesthood. That evening, Romero was fatally shot while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital called "La Divina Providencia", one day after 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. As soon as he finished his sermon, Romero proceeded to the middle of the altar and at that moment was shot.
In 2013, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated that the Vatican doctrinal office has been "given the greenlight" to pursue sainthood for Romero.
In 2014, Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, said that the canonization process is in its final stages.
On Friday, January 9, 2015, an online news story article by Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service (CNS) stated that on Thursday, January 8, 2015,: "A panel of theologians advising the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes voted unanimously to recognize the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as a martyr, according to the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference." It is a key step in his canonization process. Next, the Cardinals who are voting members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Roman Curia must vote to recommend to Pope Francis that Archbishop Romero be beatified. A miracle is not required for beatification candidates who the Pope decrees are martyrs to be beatified, as it would normally be otherwise. If he is beatified as a martyr, a miracle will then normally be needed for him to be canonized.
On Tuesday, February 3, 2015, Pope Francis received Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in a private audience, and authorized the Cardinal to promulgate (officially authorize) Archbishop Romero's decree of martyrdom, meaning it has gained the Congregation's voting members and the Pope's approval. This clears the way for the Pope to later set a date for his beatification.
Basis for canonization
The Congregation for Saints' Causes voted unanimously to recommend Pope Francis recognize Romero as a martyr. "He was killed at the altar. Through him, they wanted to strike the church that flowed from the Second Vatican Council." His assassination "was not caused by motives that were simply political, but by hatred for a faith that, imbued with charity, would not be silent in the face of the injustices that relentlessly and cruelly slaughtered the poor and their defenders."