BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF THE MARTYR MONSIGNOR OSCAR ARNULFO ROMERO Y GALDAMEZ
BY ARCHBISHOP VINCENZO PAGLIA, POSTULATOR OF THE CAUSE
SAN SALVADOR, 23 MAY 2015
Oscar Arnulfo Romero was born in Ciudad Barrios in 1917. After attending the Minor Seminary in San Miguel, and the Major one, San Jose, he completed his training at the Pio Latinoamericano in Rome. Here he deepened his sense of the priesthood as a service to the Church and the poor. On December 24, 1941, for example, after encountering some poor near St. Peter’s Square in Rome, he wrote: “The poor are the incarnation of Christ. Through their tattered clothing, their dark gazes, their festering sores, the laughter of the mentally ill, the charitable soul discovers and venerates Christ.”
In Rome, he would encounter the universal dimension of the Church. The Pope became for him an essential point of reference, starting with Pius XI whom he loved to define as “imperial” because of the firm treatment he dealt to the powerful Nazi, fascist and communist dictatorships. And he conceived the beginning his priestly ministry as a service to the diocesan Church: “I want to be a Host for my diocese,” Romero wrote the day of his priestly ordination on April 4, 1942. The Lord literally reserved this fate for him by his death at the altar while starting the offertory. That day he was the Host offered to the Lord on the altar.
Returning to El Salvador, from 1944 to 1967, he exercised his priestly ministry in the city of San Miguel. That year, he was transferred to the capital, San Salvador, to be secretary of the Salvadoran bishops’ conference. Three years later, on November 21, 1970 he was consecrated bishop, taking the motto “sentire cum Ecclesia”, “To Feel with the Church “as if charting the way ahead. Then he was appointed bishop of Santiago de Maria, demonstrating his pastoral sensitivity, he went to preach among the people. He wrote “the bishop is not only the prophet but also the creator of a prophetic community and the prophet has to read the footsteps of the Lord in history. So we have to see with our feet on the ground and our heart in Heaven.” On February 3, 1977, feast of St. Oscar, Romero was called to guide the Archdiocese of San Salvador, the same day on which thirty-eight years later, Pope Francis signed the decree for his beatification as a martyr of the Church of God. [Applause.]
The last three years of life Romero spent as Archbishop of San Salvador are the most precious treasure he left us. They were the culmination of his life, even more resembling that of Jesus in his three years of public life. These were years of passionate preaching that ended up in the altar with his heart torn by a bullet as Jesus ended up on the cross with his heart torn by a spear. With Romero, Jesus walked again among his people. [Applause.]
Romero began his ministry as archbishop just as a new wave of repression lashed the people and the Church lived a real persecution. Romero felt unprepared for this task but the Lord came to his aid. On the night of March 12, 1977, he kept watch all night over the body of his friend, Father Rutilio Grande, whom Romero valued highly, brutally killed [Applause] along with two peasants, Nelson and Manuel. He felt he had to take his place, even at the cost of dying. And repeatedly said, “That night I received from heaven the gift of a particular fortitude.” Romero actually became the strong pastor he had not been before. Like the Good Shepherd of the Gospel, Romero took up the defense of his people. It was what the Second Vatican Council and the whole Episcopate of Latin America called for when they indicated the preferential option for the poor as the way of the Church of the Council. Romero often tapped the texts of the Council, Medellin, and Puebla. This from Puebla: “by the very fact that they are poor, God takes their defense and loves them.”
Romero, faithful to this magisterium, chose his people, he felt the smell of his flock and the people felt the smell of her pastor and listened to him. This link allowed Romero to say “with this people is not hard to be a good shepherd.” [Applause.] And Romero became for his beloved country and for the whole Church an exemplary pastor who defended the poor, a defensor pauperum, said the ancient church fathers. As archbishop of the capital, Romero felt a new public responsibility, and he lived it with a passion and determination to do everything in the most serious way possible. Facing a multiplication of injustice and murder, the annunciation of the Gospel became also a denunciation of what was happening in the country. He was accused of playing politics but Romero clarified “what I seek to do is not play politics, but if I need to shed light on the politics of my country it is because I am a pastor, it stems from the Gospel, which is a light that must illuminate the paths of the country and give its contribution as Church.” [Applause.]
The strong bond that Romero had with the Holy See and the popes is evidenced in many texts and speeches throughout his life. As Archbishop of San Salvador, he especially revered Paul VI and his encyclicals, which he cited often. He barely had time to meet John Paul II. After his second and last meeting with this pope, on January 30, 1980, Romero pronounced himself about it in preaching the following Sunday in El Salvador and he said, “Brethren, the greatest glory of a pastor is to live in communion with the pope. For me it is the secret of all the truth and effectiveness of my preaching—to be in communion with the pope.”
Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 after many other priests, and hundreds of catechists were killed. Romero was wounded in the heart while celebrating Mass. At the end of the Liturgy of the Word, as if wanting to interrupt his preaching forever, but his voice spread throughout the world and the sensus fidelium has honored his martyrdom with a widespread, beautiful popular devotion [Applause] expressed in the prayer, in remembrance of grace, in the veneration of his tomb, in visits to his small room in the Hospitalito. In those dark years of civil war, the memory of the sacrifice of Romero provided sense and encouragement to many Salvadoran families who lost loved ones in the fratricidal conflict. Today, as he is raised to the altars as Blessed and Martyr, in the face of so much violence which still bloodies our world, Romero keeps talking to us and asking our conversion with the popular expression he held dear: “God first” (“God willing”). Yes, God above all.
With this celebration we conclude the interrupted Mass the day of his martyrdom and the interrupted Mass the day of his funeral [Applause.] And from heaven Romero blesses this extraordinary country, blesses all of Latin America, blesses the Church and accompanies with his prayers and protects Pope Francis, whom we feel close to us at this moment. [Applause.]