Few people in El Salvador have been more committed to helping the poor than Archbishop Oscar Romero. This Saturday, Pope Francis will beatify Romero in what is expected to be one of the largest ceremonies in El Salvador's history.
Salvadorans' love for Romero is well-earned. During his time as Archbishop, El Salvador was entering into a time of civil war and extreme violence. He served, often alone, as a voice for the voiceless, defending the rights of the poor.
The "fourteen families" of the aristocracy (the effective rulers of El Salvador) had given orders to the military to shoot union organizers and human rights activists, in particular, teachers, nuns, and priests. Civilians were being killed by death squads with impunity. In 1977, his friend and fellow priest, Fr. Rutilio Grande, was killed on his way to church, and Romero was greatly affected. He could no longer remain silent about the injustices he witnessed.
Romero became a man of justice not just in word, but also in action. He organized an archdiocesan commission to document human rights abuses in El Salvador. He then presented these reports to the Pope. He also wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter, urging him to stop the supply of military aid to the Salvadoran government, but his request was not granted. Not even his fellow bishops stood with Romero. All but one refused his requests for solidarity. However, he continued anyway, reporting on conditions during his radio broadcasts and preaching to the church about her duty to take a stand against oppression.
Despite numerous death threats, he continued to preach, and he knew that he would likely be killed. Not long before he was assassinated, 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, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us."
It seems providential that even as Romero is being beatified, we have been invited to honor him at The Romero Community, building homes for families in severe poverty. For ten years, the community fought to receive the rights to their land, and their persistence has finally paid off. The President himself presented land titles to residents of the community last week in a ceremony full of grateful tears and smiles. Romero's legacy remains with the people of El Salvador, with the poor, and we are humbled and blessed to be a part of this redemptive story.
If you'd like to join us in El Salvador or donate to help build homes for The Romero Community, we'd love to have you become a partner with us in this project. Just get in touch with us, or donate online.
Sources and further reading:
- The University of Notre Dame's website on Romero
- Romero, a film about the life and work of Archbishop Romero
- "Slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero to be beatified May 23," an article in the National Catholic Reporter.