Celebrating the life of Saint Oscar Romero
23 May 2022
CAFOD celebrates the life of its former partner, Saint Oscar Romero, who continues to inspire our work over 40 years on from his death.
Who was Oscar Romero?
- Beatified on 23 May 2015
- Centenary of his birth marked on 15 August 2017
- On 7 March 2018 Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to him, clearing the way for Romero to be canonised
- Officially recognised as a saint in a ceremony on 14 October 2018
Oscar Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until he was assassinated in 1980. He was initially regarded as a conservative choice as archbishop, but he became increasingly outspoken about human rights violations in El Salvador – particularly after the murder of his close friend Father Rutilio Grande in March 1977.
During his three years as archbishop, Romero repeatedly denounced violence and spoke out on behalf of the victims of the civil war. In a time of heavy press censorship, his weekly radio broadcasts were often the only way people could find out the truth about the atrocities that were happening in their country. He defended the right of the poor to demand political change, a stance which made him a troublesome adversary for the country's rulers.
A month before he was assassinated, Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter urging the US to stop backing the Salvadoran government and supplying it with arms and military advisers. And on the day before his assassination, he urged soldiers and police not to follow orders to kill civilians, and stop the repression:
"The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters," he preached. "When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God's words, 'Thou shalt not kill’. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression!”
Archbishop Romero was shot dead on 24 March 1980, aged 62, while celebrating Mass. In the ensuing decade, some 70,000 Salvadorans were killed in the civil war.
Why is he an important figure to commemorate?
Archbishop Romero was one of the most remarkable figures of the 20th century, who deserves to be commemorated alongside the likes of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi as a peacemaker who sacrificed his life standing up to injustice. The world today desperately needs more figures like Romero – leaders with the courage, faith and love to stand up for the poor against injustice.
Romero is, in particular, an inspirational figure to hundreds of millions of Catholics around the world. He didn’t simply talk about the need to love your neighbour, but courageously named the injustices that plagued his country. He reminded us that Christ is found in people living in poverty, and that we cannot ignore the suffering of our brothers and sisters in need.
We can all celebrate Romero’s legacy by following his example: by challenging injustice wherever we see it and by refusing to stay silent about the issues that keep people in poverty. For example, the climate crisis is the single biggest threat to reducing poverty in the world today, which is why we campaign on the issue.
Why has Romero been made a saint?
In February 2015, Pope Francis announced that Romero died as a martyr. The Pope’s proclamation followed a vote by theologians at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints in January that Romero was killed in “hatred of the faith”.
Oscar Romero was then beatified in El Salvador on 23 May 2015, becoming Blessed Oscar Romero. In a papal letter, Pope Francis described Romero as one who "constructed peace with the force of love".
On 7 March 2018, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had approved a miracle attributed to Romero’s intercession, meaning he could be canonised (the final stage in being recognised officially as a saint).
His canonisation took place in Rome on 14 October 2018.
All Catholics can now venerate this remarkable saint who had a vision of a world of peace and justice, where the poor are no longer excluded, but instead fully participate in a Church of the poor and for the poor.
What is Romero’s link to CAFOD?
In the 1970s, CAFOD supported Romero’s famous radio broadcasts, which – at a time when the press was heavily censored – were often the only means by which people in El Salvador knew the truth about the atrocities occurring in their country. When Romero’s radio station was blown up, CAFOD provided funding to rebuild it. CAFOD also helped to fund the support given by the Church to thousands of people who had fled their homes because of the violence.
After Romero was martyred, CAFOD staff successfully petitioned Lambeth Council to rename the Brixton street where their office was located ‘Romero Close’. And when CAFOD moved to a new office in 2009, it was named ‘Romero House’.
CAFOD staff, partners and supporters have been at the forefront of the campaign to have Romero canonised, and continue to be inspired by his work. Around the world CAFOD works with Church leaders and other partners who speak out against the injustices in their countries.
What is the situation in El Salvador today?
From 1980 to 1992, El Salvador suffered a violent civil war, in which about 70,000 people were killed. Inequality between the rich and the poor was one of the root causes of the war. Most Salvadorans lived in extreme poverty while a small number of families controlled much of the wealth and political power.
Today, El Salvador is a more democratic country, and it is likely that Romero would be pleased to see some of what is happening there. In 2013, one socially-minded government peacefully succeeded another, and they are consciously trying to implement policies that Romero would approve of: fiscal reform, free school uniforms and books for children, funding for cooperatives, more social programmes.
However, El Salvador remains a country in the grip of inequality, and there remain serious problems related to gang violence and organised crime along with the ongoing threat of earthquakes, devastating floods and hurricanes.
CAFOD continues to work in El Salvador, helping farmers to improve their crops, assisting communities in reducing the risk of disasters, building peace in violence-stricken communities, defending human rights and trying to create a more just society.