Archbishop Romero’s Witness a ‘Slap in the Face’ to Self-Centered Society

The postulator for the martyr's cause said Archbishop Romero dedicated his ministry to defending the poorest and weakest.

Archbishop Oscar Romero meets with young people in El Salvador in this undated file photo.
Archbishop Oscar Romero meets with young people in El Salvador in this undated file photo. (photo: CNA/courtesy of Arzobispado de San Salvador/Oficina de la Causa de Canonizacion)

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s cause for beatification, said the martyr’s life was a chastisement of modern societies in which individuals focus on themselves.

“He was a bishop who dedicated his episcopal ministry, rather, his own life, to helping, relieving and defending those who are poorest and who are weakest, and [it’s] like a slap in the face to a contemporary society folded in on itself, each individual interested in his own well-being,” Archbishop Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told CNA Feb. 4.

Archbishop Paglia had just participated in a press briefing held the day after Pope Francis authorized the promulgation of decrees recognizing the martyrdom of the Salvadoran archbishop, who was assassinated in 1980 while saying Mass.

Oscar Romero y Galdamez was archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until March 24, 1980, when he was shot and killed. He was a vocal critic of the human-rights abuses of the repressive Salvadoran government, and he spoke out on behalf of the poor and the victims of the government.

No one has been prosecuted for his assassination, but government-sponsored militia are suspected.

“Romero’s witness of martyrdom starting from Latin America, through Pope Francis, can help the whole of America, the whole of Europe,” Archbishop Paglia said.

Archbishop Romero showed that “if you don’t go to the outskirts of the cities, our peripheries become places of violence and inevitable terrorism, because it’s only integration and agreement that can save us from a violence that would otherwise remain without medicine,” he said.

“Romero, welcoming martyrdom upon himself, emptied the violence of its venom. They wanted to shut him up, (but) he responded with love. Others have disappeared, [while] Romero continues to speak to all of us.”

Archbishop Paglia referred to his pectoral cross — a sign of his episcopal dignity — saying that, “for me, it means every day ‘Remember that, also, you have to give your life for others.’”

During the press briefing, Archbishop Paglia said it is “an extraordinary gift for all of the Church at the beginning of this millennium to see rise to the altar a pastor who gave his life for his people.”

“Gratitude is also due to Benedict XVI, who followed the cause from the very beginning and on Dec, 20, 2012 — just over a month before his resignation — decided to unblock the process to enable it to follow the regular itinerary,” he reflected.

He said the work of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had been “careful and attentive” and that the congregation’s commissions of cardinals and theologians had both unanimously confirmed his killing was done in hatred of the faith.

Archbishop Romero’s death, he said, “was not only politically motivated, but due also to hatred for a faith that, combined with charity, would not stay silent when faced with the injustices that implacably and cruelly afflicted the poor and their defenders.”

“The martyrdom of Romero has given meaning and strength to many Salvadoran families who lost relatives and friends during the civil war. His memory immediately became the memory of other victims, perhaps less illustrious, of the violence,” he added.

In the 20th century, El Salvador was marked by extreme economic inequality, with an increase in protests and rebellions in the 1970s, which were met with government repression through death squads and forced disappearances. A civil war between military-led governments and communist guerilla groups began in 1979 and was not concluded until 1992.

Before Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom, in the Archdiocese of San Salvador, 30 priests were lost to murder or expulsion, Archbishop Paglia said, adding that “the death squads killed scores of catechists from the base communities, and many faithful disappeared from these communities.”

“The Church was the main target of accusation and therefore the hardest hit. Romero resisted and accepted giving his life to defend his people,” he said.

The postulator of the cause said Archbishop Romero “believed in his role as a bishop” and “became the defender of the poor in the face of cruel repression.” He “considered himself responsible for the population, especially the poorest.”

“Therefore, he took upon himself the bloodshed, pain and violence, denouncing their causes in his charismatic Sunday preaching that was listened to on the radio by the entire nation. … He transformed himself into a defensor civitatis [defender of the city] following the tradition of the ancient Fathers of the Church, defending the persecuted clergy, protecting the poor and affirming human rights.”

According to Archbishop Paglia, Archbishop Romero “was not partisan, although, to some, he appeared that way; rather, he was a pastor who sought the common good of all, starting however with the poor. He never ceased to seek out the way for the pacification of the country.”

He concluded saying that Archbishop Romero was “a man of God, a man of prayer, of obedience and love for the people. There is something providential in the fact that Romero will be declared 'Blessed' by the first pope from South America, a pope who asks for a poor Church for the poor, which is what Romero lived for, to the point of shedding his blood.”