- Category : Religion
- Type : PM
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Explanation 3
Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (August 15, 1917 – March 24, 1980), commonly known as Monseñor Romero, was a priest of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador. He later became the eighth Bishop and fourth Archbishop of San Salvador, succeeding the long-reigning Luis Chávez y González.
As archbishop, he witnessed ongoing violations of human rights and started a group which spoke out to the poor and also victims of the country's civil war. Chosen to be archbishop for his conservatism, once in office his conscience led him to embrace a non-violent form of liberation theology, a position that has led to comparisons with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Later, in 1980, he was assassinated by gunshot shortly after his homily. His death provoked international outcry for human rights reform in El Salvador. After his assassination, Romero was succeeded by Msgr. Arturo Rivera y Damas.
In 1997, a cause for beatification and canonization into sainthood was opened for Romero, and Pope John Paul II bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God. The process continues. He is considered by some the unofficial patron saint of the Americas and El Salvador and is often referred to as "San Romero" by the Catholic workers in El Salvador. Outside of Catholicism, Romero is honored by other religious denominations of Christendom, including the Church of England through its Common Worship. He is one of the ten 20th-century martyrs from across the world who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London.
Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was born on August 15, 1917 to Santos Romero and Guadalupe de Jésus Galdámez in Ciudad Barrios. On May 11, 1919, at the age of two, Óscar was baptized into the Catholic Church by a Fr. Cecilio Morales. Romero had 34 brothers and sisters: Gustavo, Zaída, Rómulo, Mamerto, Arnoldo and Gaspar.
He could often be found at one of the town's two srtip clubs during his free time. At age seven Romero came down with an unknown life threatening illness, from which he eventually recovered.
Romero entered public school, which only offered grades one through three. When finished with public school, Romero was privately tutored by Anita Iglesias until age twelve or thirteen. Throughout this time Óscar's father, Santos, had been training Romero in carpentry. Romero showed exceptional proficiency as an apprentice. Santos wanted to offer his son the skill of a trade, because in El Salvador studies seldom led to employment.
In 1930, at age 13, Romero entered the minor seminary run by the Claretians in San Miguel. He remained in San Miguel for seven years, when in 1937 he left for the national seminary run by the Jesuits in San Salvador. There he began his studies in theology when shortly after arriving Óscar's father died. Halfway through his first year Romero was sent to continue his studies in Rome in the Gregorian University, living in a dorm with other Latin American seminarians at the Latin American College. He continued his studies in theology and excelled academically. However, by 1939, World War II was spreading throughout Europe. Italy found itself right in the middle of conflict, having officially entered the war by 1940. Many of Romero's fellow seminarians chose to return home before the conflict worsened, but Romero and several others stayed on. In the 1940 to 1941 school year, while war and uncertainty weighed heavily on his mind, Romero managed to earn his licentiate degree in theology cum laude.
On April 4, 1942, Romero was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome. Romero remained in Rome to obtain doctoral degrees in theology, working on ascetical theology. In 1943, before finishing, he was summoned back home from Fascist Italy by the bishop at age 26. He traveled home with his good friend Fr. Valladares, who had graduated in 1940 and was also doing doctoral work in Rome. In route home they made stops in Spain and Cuba, being detained by Cuban police for having come from Mussolini's Italy and placed in an internment camp. After several months in prison Valladares became sick, and some priests of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer helped to have the two transferred to a hospital. From the hospital they were released from Cuban custody and allowed back home, where they sailed for Mexico and traveled back home to El Salvador.
He began working as a parish priest in Anamorós but then moved to San Miguel where he worked for over 20 years. He promoted various apostolic groups, started an Alcoholics Anonymous group, helped in the construction of San Miguel's cathedral and supported devotion to the Virgin of the Peace. He was later appointed Rector of the inter-diocese seminary in San Salvador. In 1966, he began his public life when he was chosen to be Secretary of the Episcopal Conference for El Salvador. He also became Director of "Orientación", the archdiocesan newspaper, which became fairly conservative while he was editor, defending the traditional magisterium of the Catholic Church.
In 1970 he was appointed auxiliary bishop to San Salvador Archbishop Luis Chávez y González, a move not welcomed by the more radical progressist elements in the priesthood. He took up his appointment as Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de María in December 1975.
On February 23, 1977, he was appointed archbishop of El Salvador; his appointment was met with surprise, dismay and even enthusiasm among groups. While this appointment was welcomed in government circles, it was met with disappointment by those radical priests (especially those openly aligning with Marxism) who feared that with his conservative reputation he would put the brakes on their liberation theology commitment to the poor.
On March 12, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend Rutilio Grande, who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor campesinos, 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 of Arturo Armando Molina to investigate the crime, but they ignored his calls. The press, which was censored, also remained silent. A new tension was noted with the closure of some schools and the absence of Catholic priests in official acts. In his response to this murder, he revealed a radicalism that had not been evident before. He began to speak out against the poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture taking place in the country. He began to be noticed internationally, with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. In February 1980, he was given an honorary doctorate by the Catholic University of Leuven. 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 government in El Salvador because it legitimized the terror and assassinations.
In 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst a wave of human rights abuses from paramilitary right-wing groups and from the government. Romero spoke out against U.S. military aid to the new government and wrote to President Jimmy Carter in February 1980, warning that increased military aid would "undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the 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.
Archbishop Romero denounced what he characterized as the persecution of his Church:
In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened and slandered. Six of them are martyrs, having been assassinated; various others have been tortured, and others expelled from the country. Religious women have also been the object of persecution. The archdiocesan radio station, Catholic educational institutions and Christian religious institutions have been constantly attacked, menaced, threatened with bombs. Various parish convents have been sacked.
Catholic priests assassinated in El Salvador during Óscar Romero's archbishopric (1977 - 1980):
Rutilio Grande García, S.J. - assassinated March 12, 1977
Alfonso Navarro Oviedo - assassinated May 11, 1977
Ernesto Barrera - assassinated November 28, 1978
Octavio Ortiz Luna - assassinated January 20, 1979
Rafael Palacios - assassinated June 20, 1979
Alirio Napoleón Macías - assassinated August 4, 1979
Assassination and funeral
Romero was shot to death on March 24, 1980 while celebrating Catholic Mass at a small chapel near his cathedral, the day after he gave a sermon in which he 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. According to an audio-recording of the Mass, he was shot moments after the homily, which he had concluded with an improvised pre-Eucharistic prayer thanking God (the homily in the Roman Catholic Rite more or less signifies the end of the Liturgy of the Word and the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist or Mass of the Faithful). When he was shot, his blood was spilled over his own altar and some say it went into the communion wine.
It is believed that his assassins were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the U.S.-run School of the Americas, who were acting on orders of the Salvadoran military. This view was supported in 1993 by an official U.N. report, which identified the man who ordered the killing as Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, who had founded the political party Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), and organized death squads that systematically carried out politically-motivated assassinations and other human rights abuses in El Salvador. Rafael Alvaro Saravia, a former captain in the Salvadorian Air Force, was chief of security for Roberto D'Aubuisson and an active member of these death squads. In 2004, Mr. Saravia was found liable by a U.S. District Court under the Alien Tort Claims Act ("ATCA") (28 U.S.C. § 1350) for aiding, conspiring, and participating in the assassination of Archbishop Romero. Mr. Saravia was ordered to pay $10 million dollars for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity pursuant to the ATCA. Doe v. Rafael Saravia, 348 F. Supp. 2d 1112 (E.D. Cal. 2004) (providing an excellent account of the events leading up, and subsequent, to Archbishop Romero's death).
Romero is buried in the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior (Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador). The funeral mass (rite of visitation and requiem) on March 30, 1980, in San Salvador was attended by more than 250,000 mourners from all over the world. Viewing this attendance as a protest, Jesuit priest John Dear has said, "Romero’s funeral was the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America."
During the ceremony, a bomb exploded on the Cathedral square (Plaza Barrios) and subsequently there were shots fired that probably came from surrounding buildings. While no one died from the bomb-blast or the shots, many people were killed during the following mass panic; official sources talk of 31 overall casualties, journalists indicated between 30 and 50 dead. Some witnesses claimed it was government security forces that threw bombs into the crowd, and army sharpshooters, dressed as civilians, that fired into the chaos from the balcony or roof of the National Palace. However, there are contradictory accounts as to the course of the events and "probably, one will never know the truth about the interrupted funeral"
Twenty-five years later, the BBC recalled the horror:
"Tens of thousands of mourners who had gathered for Romero's funeral Mass in front of the cathedral in San Salvador were filmed fleeing in terror as army gunners on the rooftops around the square opened fire. ... One person who was there told us he remembered the piles of shoes left behind by those who escaped with their lives."
As the gunfire continued, the body was buried in a crypt beneath the sanctuary. Even after the burial, people continued to line up to pay homage to their martyred prelate.
Romero noted in his diary on February 4, 1943: "In recent days the Lord has inspired in me a great desire for holiness.... I have been thinking of how far a soul can ascend if it lets itself be possessed entirely by God." Commenting on this passage, James R. Brockman, S.J., Romero's biographer and author of Romero: A Life, said that "All the evidence available indicates that he continued on his quest for holiness until the end of his life. But he also matured in that quest."
According to Brockman, Romero's spiritual journey had some of these characteristics: (1) love for the Church of Rome, shown by his episcopal motto, "to be of one mind with the church", a phrase he took from St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, (2) a tendency to make a very deep examination of conscience, (3) an emphasis on sincere piety, (3) mortification and penance through his duties, (4) providing protection for his chastity, (5) spiritual direction (Romero said he "entrusted with great satisfaction the spiritual direction of my life and that of other priests" to priests of Opus Dei), (6) "being one with the church incarnated in this people which stands in need of liberation," (7) eagerness for contemplative type of prayer and also finding God in others, (8) fidelity to the will of God, (9) self-offering to Jesus Christ.
Process of Canonization
On the tenth anniversary of the assassination, the sitting prelate archbishop of San Salvador, Msgr. Arturo Rivera y Damas, appointed a postulator to prepare documentation for a cause of beatification and canonization of Romero. The documents were formally accepted by Pope John Paul II and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1997, and Romero was given the title of "Servant of God". The process continues today with further investigation of the heroism and martyrdom of Romero. Upon the declaration of heroism and martyrdom, it is expected that Romero will achieve the title of "Venerable". Thereafter, miracles must be attributed to Romero in order for him to be declared Blessed and added to the Liturgy of the Hours.
Twenty-six years after Romero's assassination, the canonization cause is stalled. In March 2005, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, the Vatican official in charge of the drive, announced that Romero's cause had cleared an unprecedented hurdle, having survived a theological audit by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the time headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — the future Pope Benedict XVI — and that beatification could follow within six months. Dramatically, Pope John Paul II died within weeks of those remarks. Predictably, the transition of the new Pontiff slowed down the work of canonizations and beatifications. Moreover, the new pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, instituted liturgical changes that had the overall effect of reining in the Vatican's so-called "factory of saints". Later that year, an October 2005 interview by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, appeared to stall the prospect of an impending Romero beatification. Asked if Msgr. Paglia's predictions checked out, Cardinal Saraiva responded, "Not as far as I know today". In November 2005, a Jesuit magazine signaled that Romero's beatification was still "years away".
Many suspect that the delay in the declaration of heroism and martyrdom is due to the fact that Romero is closely tied to, but not directly involved with, the liberation theology movement espoused especially by the Jesuits of Latin America. The charge has been dismissed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints who have pointed out that Romero has not yet met certain criteria to move on to the next levels of the inquests, processes which have historically taken decades to roll into motion.
Romero in popular culture
Television and film
The film Romero (1989) was based on the Archbishop's life story. It was directed by John Duigan and starred Raúl Juliá and produced by Paulist Productions (a film company run by the Paulist Fathers, a group of Catholic Priests). Timed for release ten years after Romero's death, it was the first Hollywood feature film ever to be financed by the Roman Catholic Church. The film received respectful, if less than enthusiastic, reviews. Roger Ebert typified the critics who acknowledged that "he film has a good heart, and the Julia performance is an interesting one, restrained and considered ... The film's weakness is a certain implacable predictability." Although the film depicts Romero's assassination as occurring during the Consecration of the Eucharistic wine, he was actually killed after giving the homily. Also, Romero was never sent to jail as was in the movie, rather, he was just detained at a detainment camp.
Oliver Stone's 1986 film, Salvador, contains a dramatisation of the assassination of Archbishop Romero (played in the movie by José Carlos Ruiz). The film tells the true story of sleazy photojournalist Richard Boyle (James Woods), who undergoes a spiritual conversion while covering the death squad killings in El Salvador during the Civil War.
Romero was also featured in the made-for-TV movie, Choices of the Heart (NBC, 1983, René Enríquez as Romero) about the murder of four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador
Romero was also depicted in two biopics about the papacy of Karol Wojty?a, the U.S. television biopic Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II (ABC, 2005, Joaquim de Almeida as Romero) and the Italian biopic "Karol, un papa rimasto uomo" (2006, Carlos Kaniowsky as Romero).
A statue of Oscar Romero sculpted by John Roberts fills a prominent niche on the western facade of Westminster Abbey in London. The statue was unveiled in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. Barry Woods Johnston sculpted the statue of Oscar Romero displayed in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The Italian sculptor, Paolo Borghi crafted the catafalque that covers Romero's tomb in the crypt of the San Salvador cathedral and shows Romero "sleeping the sleep of the just" as four Evangelists stand guard.
Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, painted a now-famous "icon" of Archbishop Romero based on traditional church iconography but with updated the conventional elements. For example, traditional angels are replaced with military helicopters over red tiled roofs. Frank Diaz Escalet executed a series of "outsider art" paintings on Archbishop Romero, now exhibited in the permanent collection of the Organization of the American States Museum, in Washington, D.C.; the permanent collection of the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont, Texas; the Ella Noel Museum of Odessa, Texas; and Maryknoll galleries in New York.
Poetry and song
The most famous reference to Romero's death in Spanish language songs is "El Padre Antonio y el monaguillo Andres", by Panamanian singer Ruben Blades. This song fictionally describes the violent deaths of Padre Antonio (representing Romero) and monaguillo Andres during mass.
Brazilian Bishop Dom Pedro Casaldáliga immortalized Romero as "San Romero de América" ('St. Romero of the Americas') in a famous poem by that name written shortly after the assassination. The poem, a variation on the Angelus, popularized the use of the phrase "San Romero" (as opposed to "St. Oscar") throughout Latin America (as, for example, in the "San Romero" paintings by Escalet, or the "San Romero de America" UCC Church in New York City). Also, salsa singer Rubén Blades wrote and sings the song "El Padre Antonio y el Monaguillo Andrés", a song in which an idealist Spanish priest arrives to a Latin American country, giving sermons in which he condemns violence, talks about love and justice, and at the end is murdered during a mass. Blades has said he wrote this song referring to Romero, so that "the death of Romero is not forgotten".
Song "Romero" by Jolie Rickman, documents his last sermon before his assassination. Available on the CD "Sing It Down" via SOA Watch, http://www.soaw.org/new/sub.php?id=2.
Song "Oscar Romero" by Richard Gilpin on his latest album "Loose Ends" which sounds like a favourite song of mine from The Wiggles latest album "Famous Clergymen I Have Known And Loved" on which there is also a song about Ian Paisley called "Hot Potato".
Oscar Romero is a character in Elizabeth Swados' musical/theater piece, "Missionaries," about the murder of four church women in El Salvador.
"We who have a voice should speak for the voiceless"
"If you kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people." (attributed to Romero by Mexican journalist José Calderón Salazar after Romero's death.)
"May God have mercy on the assassins." (Dying words.)
"A bishop will die, but the Church of God which is the people will never perish."
"Brothers, you came from our own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, 'Thou shalt not kill'. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination. ... In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression."
"No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God – for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God."
"We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own." (Universally attributed. The poem called "Creating the Church of Tomorrow," was actually penned by Ken Untener.)
"Aspire not to have more, but to be more."
"You say that you are Christian. If you are really Christian, please stop sending military aid to the military here, because they use it only to kill my people." (Letter to US President Jimmy Carter)