Oscar Romero: a voice for poor communities
Saint Oscar Romero was a CAFOD partner who spoke up for poor communities in El Salvador during a period of terrible violence.
Here we celebrate his extraordinary life and legacy.
Oscar Arnulfo Romero was born into a family of ten on 15 August in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. His father was in charge of the local telegraph office. Sometimes the young Romero helped his father to deliver telegrams. Oscar learned to be a carpenter, making tables, chairs and doors.
When he was 14 years old, Oscar wanted to be a priest so he went to study at junior seminary. When his mother was ill and they needed money for medicine, Oscar left the seminary for three months and worked in the gold mine in Potosí. He earned about 4p a day.
Oscar went to Rome to study and stayed there during World War II. His father and brother died while he was in Rome.
Romero was ordained a priest and returned to El Salvador. He became famous for his sermons. He also did a lot of parish work like visiting prisons, organising catechism classes and working with others in the Church to provide help and food for the poor.
Bishop Oscar Romero
Romero was made a bishop on 21 June.
Violence increased in El Salvador by the mid 1970s, as the government and army began killing poor people who stood up for their rights. When the army killed three people in the village of Tres Calles in Romero’s diocese, he comforted the families and wrote to the President to protest about the murders.
Archbishop of San Salvador
Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Some rich people were happy because they thought he would stop priests from helping the poor to stand up for their basic rights. But a few weeks later, his friend Fr Rutilio Grande was shot and killed, along with two companions. The following Sunday, Romero allowed only one Mass in the whole diocese - at the Cathedral - where he spoke out against the murders.
As the violence in El Salvador continued, Romero continued to speak out. Every Sunday his sermon was broadcast by radio. The whole country listened. Romero’s life was often threatened. Romero was a CAFOD partner and when his radio station was bombed, CAFOD rebuilt it.
In his sermon on 23 March, Romero ordered the army to stop killing people: “In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I beg you, I implore you, I order you, in the name of God, stop the repression!” The next day, a shot killed Romero as he said Mass. A UN report later found that Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, had ordered Romero’s death. Thousands came to the funeral. The army fired into the crowd. 30 people died and hundreds were injured. The civil war in El Salvador continued until 1992.
On 15 March, the new president of El Salvador announced that his government would be inspired by Romero and the "option for the poor" (choosing to put the most vulnerable people first).
Saint Oscar Romero
Pope Francis announced that Oscar Romero was a martyr, and he was beatified in El Salvador on 23 May. Pope Francis sent a letter, which was read out during the beatification ceremony, saying all those who hold Archbishop Romero "as a friend in faith, who invoke him in as protector and intercessor, who admire him, should find in him strength and energy to build the kingdom of God".
2017 marked the centenary of the birth of Saint Oscar Romero. A number of special events took place throughout the year, across the world, in his honour.
Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to Oscar Romero, meaning he could be canonised. His canonisation took place on 14 October 2018 in Rome.
Here at CAFOD we are hugely proud that Romero, our friend and partner, has been made a saint. He continues to inspire our work today.
Saint Oscar Romero, pray for us.
Romero History Film
A short film recounting the life and death of CAFOD partner, Saint Oscar Romero, the Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador who famously spoke out in defence of the poor and was martyred in 1980