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Archbishop Oscar Romero

 

Óscar Arnulfo Romero was born on August 15, 1917.  He was a prominent Roman Catholic priest in El Salvador and became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. After witnessing numerous violations of human rights, he began to speak out on behalf of the victims, leading to conflicts, both with the government of El Salvador and within the Catholic Church. The U.S. military supported the government of El Salvador, and it was while he was calling for soldiers to disobey orders to fire on innocent civilians, that Archbishop Romero was shot dead.  He was celebrating Mass in the chapel of the hospital where he lived and it is believed that his assassins were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the School of the Americas.

His father apprenticed him to a carpenter when he was 13, but the young Romero felt a vocation for the Catholic priesthood and was ordained in 1942.  Romero spent the first two and half decades of his ministerial career as a parish priest and diocesan secretary in San Miguel. In 1970 he became auxiliary bishop of San Salvador until 1974, when the Vatican named him to the diocese of Santiago de María, a poor, rural region encompassing his hometown. In 1977 he returned to the capital to succeed as archbishop.

  Romero's rise in the Catholic hierarchy coincided with a period of radical change in the Church in Latin America. Oscar Romero's reputation was as a conservative and so it was some surprise that Romero emerged, almost immediately, as an outspoken opponent of injustice and defender of the poor.

By Romero's own account, he owed his change of attitude to his brief tenure as bishop of Santiago de María, where he witnessed first-hand the suffering of El Salvador's poor. Increasing government violence against the socially committed undermined his trust in the authorities and led him to fear that the Church was under attack. The assassination in1977 of his friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, brought a denunciation from Romero and he suspended masses the following Sunday, demanding the punishment of the responsible parties.

As Romero spoke out more and more over the following months, and crowds gathered to hear him preach, in the cathedral or over the archdiocesan radio station. Romero had been a pioneer of broadcast evangelism in El Salvador, and he now turned the medium to great effect as he denounced the violence of El Salvador's civil war with it’s deep-rooted abuse and injustice. In a country whose rulers regarded dissent as subversion, Romero used the moral authority of his position as archbishop to speak out on behalf of those who could not do so for themselves. He soon came to be known as the "Voice of the Voiceless."

A coup d'état overthrew the Salvadoran government on October 15, 1979 and Romero expressed cautious support for the reformist junta which replaced it. He soon became disenchanted, however, as the persecution of the poor and the Church continued. In February 1980 he addressed an open letter to U.S. President Jimmy Carter in which he called upon the United States to discontinue military aid to the regime  

Romero's campaign for human rights in ElSalvador won him many national and international admirers as well as a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. It also won him enemies, however. On March 24, 1980, an assassin fired from the door of the chapel where Romero was celebrating mass and shot him dead. The archbishop had foreseen the danger of assassination and had spoken of it often, declaring his willingness to accept martyrdom if his blood might contribute to the solution of the nation's problems. "As a Christian," he remarked on one such occasion, "I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”