Romero, Oscar Arnulfo (1917–1980), Clergyman and Martyr

views updated

Romero, Oscar Arnulfo
(1917–1980), clergyman and martyr.

Roman Catholic archbishop of El Salvador, liberation theologian, and martyr, Oscar Arnulfo Romero was born in the rural village of Ciudad Barrios on August 15, 1917. He attended a Claretian school and then later the Jesuit-sponsored National Seminary in San Salvador, El Salvador. In 1937 he traveled to Italy and spent the next six years attending the Gregorian Seminary in Rome. Ordained to the priesthood in 1942, he later served as general secretary of the Central American Bishops' Conference. He became a bishop in 1967 and was appointed archbishop of El Salvador in 1977.

Quiet and reserved by nature, at first Romero did little to speak out against human rights violations. In fact, as bishop he was an outspoken critic of liberation theology, which he claimed was a "rationalistic, revolutionary, and hate-filled" theology. A major turning point took place in 1977 after a priest named Rutilio Grande and a young boy were gunned down by a right-wing death squad for speaking out against the oppressive regime. Romero called this his moment of truth, his "Saul on the road to Damascus" conversion. After reading the work of liberation theologians and critically reflecting on the sociopolitical situation in El Salvador, Romero began to speak out against the violence, corruption, and suffering of peasant workers. This brought him into direct conflict with the ruling elite and the government, who often sanctioned or turned a deaf ear to these problems. His commitment to the poor led him to stop the construction of the cathedral in San Salvador to use the church's resources for the poor and for pastoral work. He encouraged the spread of Christian Base Communities (CBCs) and defended the rights of peasants to organize unions and political organizations. This prompted many government officials and bishops to accuse him of practicing partisan politics. He responded by stating that although politics and faith are connected, they are not the same and should not be confused. Political programs could not take the place of genuine faith, Romero stated. As the mass killings of peasants continued between 1978 and 1980, however, Romero became more outspoken in his defense of the poor. He called on the government and the military to put an end to the death squads. In reaction to his growing popularity among the masses in El Salvador, his opponents had him assassinated while saying Mass on March 24, 1980. His martyrdom has made him a role model for liberation theologians, Latino activists, and social justice advocates in the United States and around the world. His immense popularity in the United States has led to the production of three biographies and one movie about his life and ministry.

See alsoLiberation Theology; Pastoral Counseling; Roman Catholicism.


Keogh, Dermot. Romero: El Salvador'sMartyr. 1981.

Romero, Oscar. A Martyr's Message: SixHomiliesby Arch-bishop Oscar Romero. 1981.

Sobrino, Jon. Archbishop Romero: Memories andReflections, translated by Robert R. Barr. 1990.

Gastón Espinosa

About this article

Romero, Oscar Arnulfo (1917–1980), Clergyman and Martyr

Updated About content Print Article