August 15, 2017 — Today marks the centennial of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated for speaking out on behalf of the poor and oppressed in El Salvador. Blessed Romero was shot and killed March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador, during the country's civil war.
Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, reflected on Blessed Romero’s legacy. “It’s amazing how he galvanized millions of people because he died for what he believed in.”
Blessed Romero called for an end to the violence and killing of civilians during El Salvador’s civil war, which lasted from 1979 until 1992. He drew inspiration from his close friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, who was assassinated for his own work seeking justice for the poor in El Salvador in 1977. At Fr. Grande’s funeral, Archbishop Romero said, “The liberation Fr. Grande preached was inspired by faith.”
When Fr. Grande was gunned down and Blessed Romero went to pray there, “he saw the church as the people, and he saw the suffering through new eyes. He really became the bishop of the people,” Fr. Kesicki explained. “When Blessed Romero stood up to oppressive forces out of love for his people, and he was gunned down for that, they saw him dying for them — he became their martyr.”
A mural of Blessed Oscar Romero and Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande in El Paisnal, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)
Preaching on March 23, 1980 — the day before he was murdered — Blessed Romero tackled the question of what ordinary soldiers should do when ordered to kill: “God’s law must prevail: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God … in the name of this suffering people, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression.”
Blessed Romero was born Aug. 15, 1917, and the centennial will be marked by a Mass at San Salvador's cathedral. Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzatti of Santiago, Pope Francis' special envoy to the celebration, is the main celebrant.
Blessed Oscar Romero inside a church in Chalatenango, El Salvador, in 1979. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)
Prior to the anniversary, a group of Salvadorans walked more than 90 miles in three days to mark the anniversary of his birth. The pilgrimage started in San Salvador on August 11 and ended in Ciudad Barrios, the eastern city where Blessed Romero was born. Many Catholic parishes around the U.S. — and the world — are also celebrating the centennial with Masses, novenas and other special events.
When Blessed Romero was beatified on May 23, 2015, in San Salvador, an estimated 250,000 people gathered for the Mass, and in a letter read to those gathered, Pope Francis described him as "a voice that continues to resonate."
Pope Francis looks at a portrait of Blessed Oscar Romero. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of Blessed Romero’s cause, said on August 12, “Keeping alive the memory of Romero is a noble task, and my great hope is that Pope Francis will soon canonize him a saint.” [Sources: Vatican Radio, CNS, Jesuits in Britain]