Oscar Romero, Beloved Bishop of the Poor, Will Finally Become A Saint

Oscar Romero, Beloved Bishop of the Poor, Will Finally Become A Saint

In a belated but righteous move, Pope Francis has decreed that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, an icon of the theological left assassinated in 1980 by a right-wing death squad, was killed "in hatred of the faith" and thus deserves beatification. The action ends decades of Vatican debate over the legacy of Romero, still loved by poor Salvadorans for insisting through a brutal civil war that peace is the "contribution of all to the good of all."

Known as the Bishop of the Poor, Romero is remembered as a gentle man who spoke out against poverty, repression, social injustice and human rights abuses. He remains the most famous victim of a savage U.S.-backed war in El Salvador from 1979 to 1992 in which the military-led government murdered over 75,000 left-wing guerrillas and civilians and disappeared many more. The U.S. funneled more than $4 billion in aid to the government, its military and its roving death squads during what the U.N. ultimately deemed a "genocidal" war.

An outspoken opponent of U.S. backing and supporter of a liberation theology that considered social and economic justice part of Jesus' teaching, Romero was shunned by El Salvador's bishops and denounced by the Vatican for refusing to attend government functions until the violence ended. After his death, the Vatican under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI long stalled on taking action on Romero’s sainthood, debating if his death came as a result of his faith or, God forbid, his politics. It took Pope Francis, finally, to make the call on "god's will,"  evidently determining Romero's faith and politics were intimately linked. Like-minded Salvadorans had already long ignored the cowardice of church officials, faithfully marking each anniversary of Romero's death with marches and speeches. “I do not believe in death without resurrection," Romero had said, "If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people."

Throughout the war's regime of terror, Romero broadcast radio homilies to the poor. Knowing he was in danger, he once preached, "If they don't let us speak (and) you are left a people without priests, each one of you must become God's microphone." In his last broadcast on Sunday March 23, 1980, he urged soldiers to lay down their arms: “Brothers, you are from the same people - you kill your fellow peasants…No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God…In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people, I implore you... stop the repression!” The next day, he was assassinated while celebrating Mass at a hospital chapel. Preaching the parable of the grain of wheat, he said, “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ will live like the grain of wheat that dies...The harvest comes because of the grain that dies... We know that every effort to improve society (is) an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”

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