Last February 3, Pope Francis promulgated the Decree that recognizes the martyrdom in odium fidei of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdamez, the anniversary of whose murder, on March 24, 1980, is observed today.
The imminence of the Beatification of the Prelate, scheduled for May 23, and the social, economic and political context present in so many nations of our planet, render this man of God a human and Christian figure of great current interest.
So much could be said about Archbishop Romero, but his greatest peculiarity was that of immolating himself – first spiritually and then physically – for the good of his nation, defending the poor and the marginalized of his land.
At the time of Romero, in fact, persecution gripped the whole Salvadorian Church: only two years after he was elected Archbishop of San Salvador, several priests, catechists and faithful were killed. The Church was held to be the greatest enemy of the death squads, because she was aligned on the side of the rights of the poor.
During the funeral of a priest of his diocese, Romero spoke these words: “’Not all,’ says the Second Vatican Council, ‘will have the honor to give their blood physically, to be killed for the faith.’ However, God asks, of all those who believe in Him, a spirit of martyrdom, that is, we must all be willing to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honor.”
“Yes – added the Archbishop – we are willing, so that when our hour comes to render an account, we can say ‘Lord I was willing to give my life for you. And I have given it.’ Because to give one’s life does not only mean to be killed; to give one’s life, to have a spirit of martyrdom and to give in doing one’s duty, in silence, in prayer, in the honest fulfilment of one’s duty, is to give one’s life little by little, in the silence of daily life, as a mother gives it who, without fear, with the simplicity of maternal martyrdom, gives birth, nurses, makes her child grow and attends to him with affection.”
Every Sunday the people anxiously awaited his messages, spoken in the course of the celebrations in the Cathedral, and diffused throughout the country through radio. His interior vocation was to be the voice of the voiceless, defender of one stripped of his rights. The radio became the spring board of those words of life and faith spoken within the walls of the Mother Church of El Salvador, to reach integrally and authoritatively the hearts of the faithful, who saw in him a man of hope and of effective commitment to the Christian community and the civil society.
Oscar Romero was brutally murdered on the altar while officiating the Eucharistic sacrifice. The historical reconstructions reveal that he was aware of the imminence of his death. His apostolic courage and sense of pastoral fidelity drove him to stay close to the people, to be like the Good Shepherd who offered his life for his flock. The innate fears, anxieties and anguishes of the human condition were overcome by meditation on the Passion of Christ and the strength flowing from the celebration of the Eucharist.
These are words taken from the writings of the future Blessed, one month before his death: “I put under the loving providence of the Heart of Jesus my whole life and I accept with faith in Him my death, no matter how difficult it is. And I wish to give it an intention, as I would like to do, for the peace of my country and the flowering of our Church … because Christ’s Heart will be able to give it the end he wants. To be happy and confident, it is enough for me to know with certainty that my life and my death are in him, that despite my sins I have put my trust in him and I will not remain confounded, and others will continue with greater wisdom and holiness the works of the Church and of the Fatherland.”
Romero’s life is an example to imitate in our times. He was not afraid to speak out, denouncing openly the violations of human rights, the atrocious abuses and the progressive marginalization of his time. The Church is called also today to speak out clearly on all the situations of injustice of our time: the traffic of human beings, uncontrolled sale of arms, wars to seize natural resources, the spreading of the phenomenon of corruption, the ruthlessness of hidden powers of finance, the unscrupulous works of the multinationals.
Oscar Romero understood the importance of the media. The radio was his “little donkey” to carry on the waves of the ether a message of hope and truth, to reawaken consciences lulled by the desire for riches.
He was an eminent preacher and an exemplary witness of the validity of the Social Doctrine of the Church, reminding that to neglect the poor is not only disobedience to the evangelical precepts, but contributes to foster the birth and spread of ideologies.
The truest teaching of this great man of the Church was his willingness to offer his life for the good of the people. The sacrifice of his shed blood was the seed of the integral liberation of his people.