Saint Óscar Romero

Romero: love for Christ cannot be separated from love for one's brothers

40 years have passed since the martyrdom of Saint Óscar Romero, who faced great and violent challenges in Latin America. His favourite psalm: "In the shelter of the Most High (...) You will not fear the terror of the night. My God, in whom I trust".
Julián de la Morena

A bullet ended Archbishop Óscar Romero’s life on March 24, 1980, whilst, during the offertory, he was about to raise the chalice. Today, it is striking to see, after forty years, his robe pierced by the bullet and the blood stains which remain preserved upon the site of that brutal murder.

Archbishop Romero had to live through a time of great upheaval in his country, in the Cold War climate that was ravaging the world. His conservative spirit did not prevent him from courageously denouncing the injustice and the institutional violence that El Salvador suffered during his years of episcopal ministry.

He often raised his voice to defend the Church and the peasants in a country where human rights were not respected and people were murdered with impunity, particularly following the death - in 1977 - of Fr. Rutilio Grande, who is soon to be beatified. The figures are chilling: from November 1979, more than 600 people were murdered every month; death squads, the police and military, killed, beheaded, massacred. 70 thousand people died during the civil war, which lasted 12 years and devastated the country. 80% of them were civilians.

Much of the violence in El Salvador was committed by government institutions (even though the guerrilla warfare was fierce). Particularly striking and challenging was Fr. Romero’s famous address to the forces of law and order, asking them not to shoot people: "I order you, I beg you, in the name of God, do not fire upon the people".

Over the years, his figure has become controversial: for many he was a mass agitator, a revolutionary; for others, he was a naive bishop in a conflict zone, instrumentalized by Marxism.

The robe that Archbishop Romero wore at the moment of martyrdom

Saint Óscar Romero is one of the most famous martyrs of the 20th century. John Paul II had already considered him as one of the new martyrs, during his celebration of the Jubilee at the Colosseum in Rome, on May 7, 2000. His beatification and canonization have revealed the figure of a pastor who, thanks to his deep faith, defended his people.

Romero was a man of deep faith who spoke of Jesus as the "Christian joy of my life". He chose "sentir con la Iglesia" as his episcopal motto, taking it from Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Romero showed special loyalty to the Popes he met, from Pius XI to John Paul II. A loyalty that made him say: "The greatest glory for a pastor is to live in communion with the Pope". In his diary he also wrote: "What a paradox... the more my adherence to Rome grows, the more I identify with my new diocese and my homeland".

But forty years after his death, in a different context like the present one, and in which many young people have never heard of him, how does the testimony of this martyr challenge us?

Pope Francis summarized it in the letter he sent out on the day of his beatification: “The voice of the newly Blessed continues to resonate today to remind us that the Church, a convocation of brothers around their Lord, is the family of God, in which there should be no division. Faith in Jesus Christ, when correctly understood and its final consequences accepted, generates communities that build peace and solidarity. This is what the Church in El Salvador is called to today, in America and in the whole world: to be rich in mercy and to become a leaven of reconciliation for society.”

Through these words of the Pope, there is a compass that allows us not to reduce the testimony of Archbishop Romero and the many Christians in El Salvador - it speaks of 500 more martyrs: it is evidence that love for Christ cannot be separated from love for one's brothers and sisters.

The canonization of this martyr, on October 14, 2018, has, in a certain sense, purified the reduced interpretations that were circulating about him. By showing the true face of the Saint, the Latin American Church has acquired a witness from which to learn to face the challenges of violence and injustice that still plague the continent, especially during this time of confusion and chaos in Latin America. And to draw upon the faith that emerges from the words of his favourite psalm, 90: "In the shelter of the Most High (...) You will not fear the terror of the night. My God, in whom I trust".

Saint Paul VI, canonized the same day as Saint Óscar Romero, wrote that "it is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song”. Thus, Archbishop Romero's testimony can be a source of hope for a new springtime of faith in the New World.