“A milquetoast kind of guy” is not the usual description of a saint, but in the case of Blessed Óscar Romero of El Salvador, it was his starting point as a Catholic priest in El Salvador. He was appointed bishop in 1974 and three years later became the Archbishop of San Salvador — a choice made with the assumption that he would lay low and cause no trouble. But when he was shot while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980, it was revenge for his challenges to the government during the country’s 12-year civil war that had just begun between leftist guerrillas and the dictatorial, U.S.-armed government.
There was violence on both sides. Many priests were killed, and some had even taken up arms against Romero’s warnings not to. The archbishop was outspoken and preached peace, often to the chagrin of both sides. He made a point of serving everyone regardless of ethnic class or income, but it was his condemnation against injustices and brutality of the right-wing military regime that marked him for death. It’s easy to love the poor, but when given a title and treated as an elite, it takes selfless courage to defend them.
In a homily the day before his assassination, Romero called for soldiers to end the violence. “In the name of this suffering people, whose cries rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I order you, in the name of God, stop the repression,” he said.
Some had accused Blessed Romero of championing liberation theology — a Marxist spin on Catholic social teaching — and aligning himself with armed leftist guerillas. Liberation theology was a term coined by Dominican friar and theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published statements in 1984 and 1986 that praised liberation theology’s fight against socioeconomic injustice but condemned its politicization of the Church, contradiction of its teachings and use of Marxist philosophy and terrorist violence.
Romero was opposed to liberation theology. At one point, even those on the left called him a traitor for his opposition to political violence. In reality, Romero pleaded for the conversion of all hearts through the Gospel, not through violence.
When Romero was beatified in San Salvador on May 23, 2015, it drew an estimated 250,000 people and is believed to be the largest religious gathering ever held in Central America. The miracle approved for his canonization this past March 6 was the healing of a 35-year-old Salvadoran woman named Celia. In 2015 her husband prayed for the intercession of Blessed Óscar Romero when all seemed hopeless.
Cecilia, gave birth in August 2015 and was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening condition that affects some pregnant women and damages the liver. Her husband was told by a doctor there was nothing left to do, and she would die, so the husband should pray.
When the husband opened a Bible given to him by his grandmother, there was a card with Blessed Romero’s image in it, so he prayed for Romero’s intercession. Cecilia had slipped into a coma but awoke on Sept. 10 and made a full recovery.
Blessed Romero will be canonized Oct. 14 along with six others, including Bl. Pope Paul VI, the pope who promulgated Humanae Vitae. The Mass will air live on EWTN TV and radio in English, Spanish and German at 3:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 14. Encores in English will air at noon ET and in Spanish at 4 p.m. ET. Programming in all languages will also stream live on EWTN’s website and Facebook pages.
In honor of the canonization, the film Romero has been remastered by Paulist Productions and Vision Video. My husband and I watched it, and both highly recommend it.
The movie chronicles Romero’s remarkable transformation of an apolitical, complacent priest into a committed leader whose weapon was the truth. For those who don’t know much about this terrible period in El Salvador, it’s an eye-opener. It’s also an inspiration to see the courage Romero had to speak uncomfortable truths to defend his people and to know that he is now an intercessor for us all.