Feast of St. Oscar Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador (March 24)   7 comments


Above:  The Scene Immediately After the Assassination of Archbishop Romero

Image in the Public Domain



Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador


I have frequently been threatened with death.  I must say that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death but in the resurrection.  If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.

Martyrdom is a great gift from God that I do not believe I have earned.  But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life then may my blood be the seed of liberty, and a sign of the hope that will soon become a reality….A bishop will die, but the church of God–the people–will never die.

–Archbishop Romero, quoted in All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York:  NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 133


This feast exists in various denominations.  From Roman Catholic websites I know of the beatification of Romero on May 23, 2015, and of the fact of decades of official suspicion that he was a Marxist.  And, based on my library, I know the following statements to be accurate:

  1. The Episcopal Church observes the feast of “Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, 1980,  and the Martyrs of El Salvador.”
  2. The Church of England keeps the feast of “Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, Martyr, 1980.”
  3. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada observe the feast of “Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Bishop of El Salvador, 1980.”

Furthermore, Robert Ellsberg, author of All Saints (1979), places Romero’s feast on March 24, the same date of the saint’s feast on the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Church of England calendars.

Addendum (09/09/2018):  Pope Francis will canonize Romero on October 14, 2018.


Archbishop Oscar Romero became a martyr for challenging the repressive government of El Salvador which had death squads that targeted civilians.  The U.S. Government, for reasons of Cold War politics, provided military aid to this regime during the Carter and Reagan Administrations.  The Cold War provided cover for a multitude of murders, apparently.

Romero, born at Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador, on August 15, 1917, became an apprentice to a carpenter at the age of 13 years.  The following year our saint discerned a vocation to the priesthood; he began to prepare for it.  Romero studied in El Salvador at in Rome.  Our saint, ordained a priest on April 4, 1942, became a parish priest in his homeland.  He also served as the diocesan secretary at San Miguel.

The episcopate summoned.  On April 25, 1970, Romero became the Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador.  He left that post on October 15, 1974, to become the Bishop of Santiago de Maria.  There he began to liberalize.  Romero had been suspicious of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) and of the call (from 1968) of Archbishop Helder Camara for the Church to advocate for social justice for the poor and the oppressed, not to identify with those who oppress them.  Despite Romero’s gradual shift to the left (in progress), he remained relatively conservative when he became the Archbishop of San Salvador on February 3, 1977.

Romero’s move to the left accelerated soon after he became archbishop.  On March 12, 1977, government gunmen assassinated Father Rutilio Grande, a priest committed to social justice for campesinos.  The following Sunday the archbishop suspended Masses in the capital city and demanded the punishment of the guilty.  Romero became a vocal opponent of the regime, which killed civilians as a matter of policy; he was the “Voice of the Voiceless.”  The junta that seized power in 1979 did not cease the repression.  Early in 1980 our saint wrote President Jimmy Carter and requested that the U.S. Government halt military aid to the government of El Salvador.  This did not endear the archbishop to the Salvadoran regime, of course.

On Sunday, March 23, 1980, in a homily, Romero effectively signed his death warrant.  He said in part:

I would like to appeal in a special way to the men of the army, and in particular to the troops of the National Guard, the Police, and the garrisons.  Brothers, you belong to our own people.  You kill your own brother peasants; and in the face of an order to kill that is given by a man, the law of God should prevail that says:  Do not kill!  No soldier is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God.  No one has to comply with an immoral law.  It is time ow that you recover your conscience and obey its dictates rather than the command of sin.  The Church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of the dignity of the human person, cannot remain silent before so much abomination.

We want the government to seriously consider that reforms mean nothing when they come bathed in so much blood.  Therefore, in the name of God, and in the name of the longsuffering people, whose laments rise to heaven everyday more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God:  stop the repression!

–Translated by Nena Terrell and Sally Hanlon; quoted in Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday, editors, Cloud of Witnesses (2005), pages 278-279

The following day, Monday, March 24, 1980, Romero preached his final homily at a hospital chapel in San Salvador.  He said in part:

“God’s reign is already present on earth in mystery.  When the Lord comes, it will be brought to perfection.”

That is the hope that inspires Christians.  We know that every effort to better society, especially when so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.

–Translated by James R. Brockman, S.J. and quoted in The Violence of Love:  The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero (San Francisco, CA:  Harper & Row, 1988), page 242

A government gunman assassinated Romero after the completed that homily.

Civil War began later that year and continued until 1992.  The government of El Salvador (the one receiving military aid from the United States Government) killed more than 75,000 civilians as a matter of policy.  Among those murdered by death squads were Roman Catholic priests, members of Roman Catholic orders, and lay people associated with them.


Take up thy cross, the Saviour said,

If thou wouldst my disciple be;

Deny thyself, the world forsake,

And humbly follow after me.


Take up thy cross; let not its weight

Fill thy weak spirit with alarm;

My strength shall bear thy spirit up,

And brace thine heart and nerve thine arm.


Take up thy cross, nor heed the shame,

Nor let thy foolish heart rebel;

The Lord for thee the cross endured,

To save thy soul from death and hell.


Take up thy cross then in his strength;

And calmly every danger brave;

‘Twill guide thee to a better home,

And lead to victory o’er the grave.


Take up thy cross and follow him,

Nor think till death to lay it down;

For only he who bears the cross

May hope to wear the glorious crown.

Charles William Everest (1814-1877), 1833, altered


Oscar Romero took up his cross and followed Christ.





Almighty God, you called your servant Oscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor,

and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope:

Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador,

we may without fear or favor witness to your Word who abides, your Word who is Life,

even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,

be praise and glory now and for ever.  Amen.

–Isaiah 2:5-7

Psalm 31:15-24

Revelation 7:13-17

John 12:23-32

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 287


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