Archbishop Romero and Three Missionaries Declared Martyrs

Archbishop Óscar Romero pictured just a few weeks before his death.
Archbishop Óscar Romero pictured just a few weeks before his death. (photo: Christopher Dickey)

After years of speculation and delays over concerns his elevation to the altars may be politicized, the Vatican announced today that Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador will be beatified.

Following a private audience this morning with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican said Pope Francis authorized the Congregation to promulgate a decree declaring that Archbishop Romero was “killed in hatred of the faith” on March 24, 1980.

The Vatican also announced today that three European missionaries killed by a Peruvian armed militia while serving the poor will also be beatified.

Born August 15, 1917, Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was an outspoken defender of the poor and the victims of repression, bringing him into conflict with the government in El Salvador and some within the Church.

His resistance would ultimately cost him his life and he was assassinated while celebrating Mass in a small chapel of a cancer hospital where he lived.

Journalist and author Christopher Dickey, then a correspondent for the Washington Post in El Salvador and now foreign editor for the Daily Beast, has long been keen to see Archbishop Romero made a saint after following him closely in El Salvador. He sent this tribute in response to today’s news:

“The one time I interviewed Msgr. Romero and the few other times I saw him, I was impressed by his humility—and his humor. In that, he reminds me very much of Pope Francis. But what was most impressive about Romero is that he knew—as we all knew—that he was about to be killed. He did not set out to make himself a martyr, far from it. But he would not be silenced in his defense of the Salvadoran poor, who were being slaughtered as the left and the guerrillas tried to organize them and the right wing military and moneyed elites tried to terrify them into passivity. These were times when bodies lay on country roads and in the city streets each morning like just so much refuse. Romero would not and could not accept this relentless repression. So he spoke out, and not just the day before he was killed, but again and again, gently, firmly, but without equivocation. The murder had to end.

You might think that it's in hindsight that "we all knew he was going to be killed." But, in fact, we in the press corps were organizing our lives around the moment. We didn't know precisely when it would be, but we knew it would be soon. I was engaged to be married, and told my fiancée and my in-laws-to-be that if Romero were killed we would have to postpone the ceremony. In the event, the assassin shot him two days later.

It is probably hard for people, today, so far away in time and so far away on the map, to understand just how much evil was loose in the land of El Salvador in 1980. But it was everywhere. And to see a man facing it down with humility, and humor, because of his tremendous faith in God—I don't know what more one could want from a saint.”

Dickey took some of the last photographs of Archbishop Romero which can be viewed here. For a full biography of Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, please go here.

Also today, the Vatican announced that Polish Order of Friars Minor Conventual Michal Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strazalkowski, along with Italian diocesan priest Father Alessandro Dordi, were killed "in hatred of the faith" in Peru on 9 and 25 August 1991.

Fathers Michał and Zbigniew were murdered by Shining Path guerillas in Pariacoto, Peru. They were aged 31 and 33.

Ordained a priest on May 23, 1987, Father Michał left for Peru as a missionary in 1989. A man of deep faith, he was described as “simple and prayerful, evangelical and generous.” He also had a great love for the Blessed Virgin, and was especially loved by children and young people mainly on account of his great gift for music.

Father Zbigniew was ordained priest in 1986, at the age of 28. For two years he worked as vice-rector of the Conventual seminary in Legnica before traveling to Peru to work as a missionary. He was killed alongside Friar Miguel in Pariacoto.

Father Zbigniew had “a gift for organization and was very responsible,” say those who knew him. He loved nature and his desire to serve others flowed from his deep faith and his desire to follow the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

More on their lives can be found here.

Father Alessandro, from Bergamo in northern Italy, was also murdered by Shining Path guerillas, two weeks after the deaths of Fathers Michał and Zbigniew, when they ambushed his jeep. Having heard of the deaths of the two Franciscans, he was aware his life was in danger, telling a priest friend in a letter that future murders were a “clear threat” and that the terrorists were targeting the Church.

In a message released today, Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo said Father Alessandro’s “generosity brought him closer to the poor in Italy, Switzerland and finally Peru”.

After devoting himself “entirely to the evangelical mission to be close to the people entrusted to him,” Bishop Beschi said, “he gave the supreme witness: that of blood, dying a martyr.”