Óscar Romero was born August 15, 1917, to Santos Romero and Guadalupe de Jesús Galdámez in El Salvador. On May 11, 1919, he was baptized into the Catholic Church. He had five brothers and two sisters.
Romero entered the local public school, which had only grades one through three. When finished with public school, Romero was privately tutored by a teacher until he was thirteen. During this time Romero’s father trained him in carpentry. He was a good apprentice. His father him to have a trade skill. Academics rarely led to employment in El Salvador. However, Romero considered the idea of studying for the priesthood, which did not surprise those who knew him.
Romero entered the seminary in San Miguel when he was thirteen. He left the seminary for three months to return home when his mother became ill During this time he worked with two of his brothers in a gold mine. After graduation, he enrolled in the national seminary in San Salvador. He completed his studies at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he received his Theology degree in 1941 but had to wait a year to be ordained because he was younger than the required age. He was ordained in Rome on April 4, 1942 His family could not attend his ordination because of World War II. Romero remained in Italy to obtain a doctoral degree in Theology. In 1943, at the age of 26, before he had finished he was called home by his bishop. He traveled home with a good friend, Father Valladares, who was also doing doctoral work in Rome. On the route home, they made stops in Spain and Cuba, where they were detained by the Cuban police because they had come from Fascist Italy. They were placed in internment camps. After several months in prison, Valladares became sick and Redemptorist priests helped to have the two transferred to a hospital. From the hospital they were released from Cuban custody and sailed on to Mexico, then traveled overland to El Salvador.
Romero noted in his diary on February 4, 1943, that the Lord has inspired him in a great desire for holiness. How far a soul can ascend if it lets itself be possessed entirely by God.
Romero’s spiritual journey had some of these characteristics:
- love for the Church of Rome
- a tendency to make a very deep examination of conscience;
- an emphasis on sincere piety;
- mortification and penance through his duties;
- providing protection for his chastity;
- spiritual direction;
- eagerness for contemplative prayer and finding God in others;
- fidelity to the will of God;
- self-offering to Jesus Christ.
Romero was first assigned to serve as a parish priest in Anamorós, but then moved to San Miguel where he worked for over 20 years. He promoted various apostolic groups, started an Alcoholics Anonymous group, helped in the construction of San Miguel’s cathedral, and supported devotion to Our Lady of Peace. He was later appointed rector of the seminary in San Salvador. Emotionally and physically exhausted by his work in San Miguel, Romero took a retreat in January 1966 where he visited a priest for confession and a psychiatrist. He was diagnosed by the psychiatrist as having an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and by priests with scrupulosity.
In 1966, he was chosen to be Secretary of the Bishops Conference for El Salvador. He also became the director of the archdiocesan newspaper.
On April 25, 1970, Romero was appointed an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of San Salvador. He was consecrated on June 21. On October 15, 1974, he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de María, a poor, rural region. On February 3, 1977, Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. This appointment was welcomed by the government, but many priests were disappointed because many priests openly supported Marxist ideology. The progressive priests feared his reputation would hurt the poor.
On March 12, 1977, Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest and friend of Romero, had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor. Romero urged the government to investigate, but they ignored his request, and the press remained silent.,
Several schools closed and Catholic priests weren’t invited to participate in government. This caused Romero to speak out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture.
On October 15, 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power, which would eventually lead to the Salvadoran Civil War. Romero criticized the United States for giving military aid to the new government. He warned increased US military aid would create more injustice in El Salvador. On May 11, 1979, Romero met with Pope John Paul II and unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a Vatican condemnation of the Salvadoran military government. Instead, Pope John Paul II encouraged him to maintain church unity. Because of his humanitarian efforts, Romero began to be noticed internationally. In February 1980, he was given an honorary doctorate by the Catholic University of Louvain.
Romero denounced the persecution of members of the Catholic Church who had worked on behalf of the poor. In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, or killed. Some had been tortured and others expelled from the country. Nuns had also been persecuted. He felt the church has been attacked and persecuted for defending the poor. Romero gained an enormous following among Salvadorans with weekly radio broadcast sermons and his diocesan weekly paper carried lists of cases of torture and repression every week.
On March 24, 1980, Romero delivered a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights. He spent March 24, in a gathering of priest friends reflecting on the priesthood.That evening, Romero celebrated Mass at a small chapel at a hospital specializing in oncology and care for the terminally ill. Romero finished his sermon, stepped away from the lectern, and took a few steps to stand at the center of the altar.As Romero finished speaking, a red automobile came to a stop on the street in front of the chapel. A gunman stepped to the door of the chapel and fired shots. Romero was struck in the heart, and the vehicle sped off.He died at the Chapel of Hospital de la Divina Providencia in San Salvador.
Romero’s funeral Mass on March 30, 1980, in San Salvador, was attended by more than 250,000 mourners from all over the world. Viewing this attendance as a protest, the funeral was the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history. During the ceremony, smoke bombs exploded on the streets near the cathedral and there were rifle shots that came from surrounding buildings, including the National Palace. Many people were killed by gunfire and in the stampede of people running away from the explosions and gunfire. Sources say between 30 and 50 died.
Romero’s sainthood cause at the Vatican was opened in 1993. There was debate over whether he had been killed for his faith or for political reasons. In March 2005, the Vatican announced that Romero’s cause had cleared a theological audit by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later elected Pope Benedict XVI) and that beatification could follow within six months. Pope John Paul II died within weeks of those remarks. Pope Benedict instituted changes that slowed the sainthood process. Pope Francis was elected in March 2013. On August 18, 2014, Pope Francis unblocked that process. In January 2015, Romero was recognized as a martyr. Three miracles were submitted that could have led to Romero’s canonization. But each of these miracles was rejected after being investigated. More miracles were submitted and accepted. He was canonized a saint on October 14, 2018.