Catholic Company / Magazine

El Salvador Has a New Blessed: Oscar Romero

May 20, 2015 by

Monsignor Oscar Romero is Beatified 35 years After His Martyrdom

Bienaventurados los que tienen sed de justicia - Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

I don't remember when was the last time that I saw happy news about El Salvador. The country is infamous for its high rate of homicides -most of them committed by maras (street gangs). Finally, the smallest country in Central America has something extraordinary to be proud of: the beatification of Salvadoran Monsignor Romero on May 23, 2015.

I lived my childhood in El Salvador during the civil war that took place in the 80's; fortunately, my family was not directly affected by the violence, and I barely understood the terror that was happening in my country.

As I grew older, I realized about what happened in that moment of Salvadoran history, sad enough to make anyone cry: children were stolen from families and recruited to fight, or left as orphans as a result of the mass killings. Nuns and priests were assassinated, among them Oscar Romero. There was a massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter on the campus of a prestigious university. Even some mourners at Romero’s funeral were killed at the interior of the Metropolitan Cathedral. In total, this conflict killed 75,000 people.

This year Pope Francis signed the decree recognizing Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, as a martyr. Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 at the altar while celebrating Mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital.

This tragic event happened early in the country’s 12-year civil war between government forces and leftist guerrillas.

The Martyrdom of Oscar Romero

Many different factors led to the Civil War in El Salvador, such as the extreme socioeconomic inequality and the repressive military rule.

Romero was an outspoken advocate for the poor and for social justice. He repeatedly received death threats by both left wing and right wing extremists who thought he was a sell-out to the other side. But the straw that broke the camel's back might be his homily at a Mass he celebrated on March 23, 1980, one day before he was killed by a sniper. In Romero's now-famous homily, he urged soldiers to follow their consciences and disregard their orders to kill fellow Salvadorans:

Brothers, you are all killing your fellow countrymen. No soldier has to obey an order to kill," he said. "It is time to regain your conscience. In the name of God and in the name of the suffering people I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression."

Locals said that those who were against Monsignor Romero celebrated his death with a toast and fireworks. These celebrations were coming from the Colonia Escalón, one of the high-class neighborhood in the city.

Ecclesiastical authorities determined the hatred of faith was the motive for his death, but as a Salvadoran, I will add that the hatred of social justice was also an important factor. He was also despised by the wealthy, hard-line right, who felt threatened by his advocacy on behalf of the poor because Monsignor often denounced the actions of the government through his sermons.

The former national guard officer, who gave the order to kill Romero, died of cancer in 1992... Ironically, one of the promoters of Romero's legacy is the sister of the man who planned the assassination . Those responsible for Romero's death were never brought to trial. And despite the fact that there were many who blocked his case for beatification, justice has now been served through this recognition by the Church.

St John Paul II prays before the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador Cathedral in 1983.

El Salvador has a beatified Martyr, and if there are Beatitudes of Jesus that perfectly define Oscar Romero, they will be:

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

(Photo: courtesy Center Monsignor Romero of the UCA)

For Salvadoran businessman and Msgr. Romero's admirer, Rodrigo Guerra y Guerra,"The beatification of Monsignor Romero is a much-needed balsam for the long-suffering Salvadoran people, and even some members of the local right-wing party, who celebrated his death in the past, now they are openly recognizing their outrageous mistake of 35 years ago." In addition to the official ceremony for his beatification, Romero's followers have said that they will celebrate with firecrackers on this Saturday night.

Wishing peace and joy for the people and the Church in El Salvador and far beyond its borders!

And, in Blessed Romero's words, "Each one be a light in the world". . . He definitely was.