Archbishop Oscar Romero–Protector of the Poor Throughout history, there have been many inspirational people who have stood up against unfairness and for those whose voices weren’t being heard. Not only have they risked their lives trying to make a difference but also some have even lost their lives in the process. One person in particular was Oscar Romero who was a protector of the poor and stood up against the injustices of the government and military. His efforts left a lasting impression, even more than three decades after his tragic death. Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez was born in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador on August 15, 1917.
He was the second born out of seven children to Guadalupe de Jesus Galdamez and Santos Romero. Since his parents were Catholic, Romero was baptized at the age of two. At the age of seven, he became severely ill. Fortunately, he was able to regain back his health (Struckmeyer, 2007). Romero and his family lived in a small home that lacked electricity and running water. When he was a teenager, his parents apprenticed him to become a carpenter since they could not afford to pay for his education. Although he was a great craftsman, he felt that his calling was to join the Roman Catholic priesthood.
Through this seminary, he was able to finish off his studies in Rome where he received a Licentiate in Theology from the Gregorian University (“Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Bishop for the New Millennium”, 2012). It was in 1942, twelve years after he entered the seminary, Romero was ordained priest. “Romero spent his first two and a half decades of his ministerial career as a parish priest and diocesan secretary in San Miguel” (“Archbishop Oscar Romero. “, 2004). Although Romero would’ve liked to continue his studies and pursue a doctorate, in 1944 he had to make his way back to El Salvador.
There had been a shortage of priests and were in need of his assistance. It was also during this time that he began “preaching and speaking on the local radio”. Romero knew there were people who didn’t feel welcome in the church. These people didn’t feel worthy of attending church with those who were of higher status than they were. As a solution, Romero was able to have his Sunday sermons on certain radio stations for those who felt unwelcomed in the church (“Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Bishop for the New Millennium”, 2012; Brockman, 1984). This wasn’t a common thing for a priest to be doing during this time.
Romero was living in a country in which people were scared to report on all the atrocities being caused by the military. However, he refused to be silenced. “Through his homilies, radio broadcasts and reports in the archdiocesan newspaper, every week Romero detailed the tortures, murders and disappearances, making sure that the truth would not be the first casualty of war” (Cooper & James, 2015). Romero was very committed to holding “the journalistic ideals of truth: balance and fairness. He reported and condemned the violence on both sides in his reports and homilies” (bid).
This made Romero an even more remarkable person. Not only did he fight for all those people who were victims of violence and injustice, but he also made sure that everyone knew all the sides to one story—in other words, the truth. Even when he became a target and was constantly being threatened, he didn’t back down. It wasn’t until 1970 that Romero became an auxiliary bishop of San Salvador. He assisted Archbishop Luis Chavez, and although he did everything he was told to do, he wasn’t comfortable with some of the programs that were established there.
In 1974, he became a bishop of an area that included his hometown in which he grew up (“Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Bishop for the New Millennium”, 2012). During his time as a bishop, he had to deal with many unfortunate cases. Some lower class workers saw armed revolution as the only way to survive. Others however, turned to the Church for ways to transform their society without the use of violence. Unfortunately, to the military, these activists were seen as a threat and they were ordered to kill them. These activists were simply teachers, nuns, and priests.
Soon after, they went around town killing and raping people. Not only that by they collected cash rewards on every person they killed (Ibid). Romero knew that something had to be done to address the injustices that were happening. He condemned such acts. However, this didn’t solve anything. As a form of retaliation against Romero, on June 1975, five campesinos were killed. He immediately went to comfort the families but he also wrote a letter to the commander of the military in which he condemned the people responsible for the killings. However, the military commander simply sent him an indirect threat.
The threats were just the first of many he would receive throughout the next few years (“Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Bishop for the New Millennium”, 2012). He continued to learn about the lives of the poor and find ways to accommodate their needs. Until the mid-1960s, the Catholic Church bishops kept very traditional relationships with the military; at this time, it was a fairly good relationship. However, the church began to separate from its traditional ways and began to have a more intimate relationship with the campesinos and their communities.
At this time, the Salvadorian elite wanted the Vatican to name the new archbishop that would take the place of the retiring one. Their hopes were that this new archbishop would resort back to the traditional ways of the church (Shortell, 2001). These elites were “14 families who controlled the economy and made big donations to the church (Vallely, 2015). When Romero became archbishop in 1977, “he seemed very unlikely to become the sort of defender of the poor that he did become” (Brockman, 1984). During this time however, El Salvador was being run by military dictatorships.
The murdering of campesinos happened often that it no longer got the attention it once did. More people were continuing to be killed. One such instance was during a protest against a rigged presidential election. People were killed when police began shooting at the protestors. Many other unfortunate events followed. More people were killed, beaten, and even abducted. Although Romero was timid and introverted by personality, many historians say he was chosen because he was seen as conservative and unlikely to be critical of the government.
Since Archbishop Chavez was a defender of human rights, the government was relieved that Romero would be taking over since he was thought to be more conservative than Chavez was (Valdes, Delcid, & Castillo, 2015; “Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Bishop for the New Soon after, he wrote letters to the government demanding that the murders of Fr. Grande and Fr. Alfonso be investigated. However, the government only offered him their condolences and nothing more than that was done about the investigation Romero had requested.
This angered him and led him to notify the president that “representatives of the archdiocese would no longer appear with government leaders at public ceremonies” (“Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Bishop for the New Millennium”, 2012). That was just the beginning, however. He also decided that mass would be canceled the following Sunday throughout the country. The only church that would offer mass would be the Cathedral and that anyone would be welcome to that mass. This brought a crowd of over 100,000 people, all united for a common objective.
Although it was looked down upon by the government and some parts of the church, the impact it created was far greater than the consequences it would bring (Ibid). He also “He closed all Catholic schools for three days of mourning and of reflection on the nation’s situation” (Romero 10). Another event that was seen as controversial occurred on July of 1977. As another protest against the government, Romero “boycotted the President’s inauguration on July 1st, 1977”.
This event was important because it would be “the first time a Salvadoran Head of State was denied the official sanction and blessing of the Catholic Church. By doing this, Romero suggested that he too, thought the election was tampered with (Dickson, 2005). In May of 1979, the Cathedral was attacked while the national media was present. This put El Salvador further into the spotlight. Its reputation was on the line ever since the murder of the priests and all the other people who were murdered. This event reflected poorly on the government. (Shortell, 2001). While his letters to the government were not responded to, Romero then proceeded to write letters to the president of the United States who at the time was Jimmy Carter.
At the time, he was sending military help to El Salvador. Romero wanted all help to be stopped since the military was abusing their power and murdering people. Unfortunately, President Carter didn’t respond back. It wasn’t until four U. S churchwomen w assassinated and nearly 1000 people that President Carter finally suspended aid to El Salvador. However, he resumed aid in 1980 (“Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Bishop for the New Millennium”, 2012; Cooper & Hodge, 2015). He didn’t stop there however. In 1979, Romero went to Rome to speak to the Pope.
He presented the pope with “seven detailed reports of institutionalized murder, torture, and kidnapping throughout El Salvador” (“Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Bishop for the New Millennium”, 2012). The purpose of this was for the Pope to see all the injustices that were being done in El Salvador Romero was constantly under the spotlight by the media who didn’t pport him or his decisions. In addition, there were people within the church who also didn’t support him. These people included several bishops.
These bishops felt that Romero was responsible for all the problems being caused in El Salvador. While this greatly saddened him, the love and support he got from his followers helped get through it (Romero 10-11). Despite all he did to try to end all the injustices, many people continued to be murdered. This included a few more priests. He continued giving his sermons and speaking about what was going on in El Salvador. During one of his talks on the radio, he spoke out to soldiers and policemen who were felt they were bove everyone else and therefore murdering innocent people (Kellogg). During mass the following evening in 1980, Romero was assassinated. He had “foreseen the danger of his assassination” long before 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” (“Archbishop Oscar Romero. “, 2004).
His murders were never found. Some say that his assassination had to do with the “right-wing death squads” (Valdes, Delcid, & Castillo, 2015). Regardless of the reasons, thousands of people came ogether to say their last goodbyes outside the cathedral in El Salvador. Since his death, he has won a Nobel Peace Prize, had two movies made about him, and has been beatified. He is that much closer to becoming a saint. Oscar Romero had the courage to stand up against what he believed in regardless of what others were saying about him. While he had many who opposed his views, he had many others who stood by his side. For that reason, he will remain close to the hearts of those who witnessed all his hard work. He will always be remembered as a protector of the poor.