Oscar Romero: Bishop of the Poor

As Bishop of the Poor, Oscar Romero is an appropriate model for all of us. By standing up firmly as a witness for truth, and against injustice and oppression of all kinds, he has additional significance for us as gay men, lesbians and transgendered in the Church.

If you want peace, work for justice.


Oscar Romero worked for justice, in the face of open opposition from his fellow Salvadorean bishops.  He was on the side of history, they were not. He understood that the obligation we have is to follow the Gospel, before we follow the rules of the Curial cabal. Where faithfulnesss to God and loyalty to a state are in conflict, the Church has always taught that loyalty to God must come first. Where faithfulness to the Gospels and loyalty to the bishops conflict, Romero showed that the truth of the Gospels is primary.

Romero also knew that in the struggle for justice, it was not enough to wait for handouts from the state. The poor needed to take control of their own lives. As we in turn, struggle for justice in the church, it is not enough for us to wait patiently for a new pope, or for a change of heart within the curia. we too must elarn the lesson from El Salvador:  we must do it for ourselves.


This reflection on the martyrdom  of Archbishop Romero is taken from US Catholic:

In 1980, in the midst of a U.S. funded war the UN Truth Commission called genocidal, the soon-to-be-assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero promised history that life, not death, would have the last word. “I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”

On each anniversary of his death, the people will march through the streets carrying that promise printed on thousands of banners. Mothers will make pupusas (thick tortillas with beans) at 5 a.m., pack them, and prepare the children for a two-to-four hour ride or walk to the city to remember the gentle man they called Monseñor.

Oscar Romero gave his last homily on March 24. Moments before a sharpshooter felled him, reflecting on scripture, he said, “One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.” The homily, however, that sealed his fate took place the day before when he took the terrifying step of publicly confronting the military.

Romero begged for international intervention. He was alone. The people were alone. In 1980 the war claimed the lives of 3,000 per month, with cadavers clogging the streams, and tortured bodies thrown in garbage dumps and the streets of the capital weekly. With one exception, all the Salvadoran bishops turned their backs on him, going so far as to send a secret document to Rome reporting him, accusing him of being “politicized” and of seeking popularity.

Unlike them, Romero had refused to ever attend a government function until the repression of the people was stopped. He kept that promise winning him the enmity of the government and military, and an astonishing love of the poor majority.

Romero was a surprise in history. The poor never expected him to take their side and the elites of church and state felt betrayed. He was a compromise candidate elected to head the bishop’s episcopacy by conservative fellow bishops. He was predictable, an orthodox, pious bookworm who was known to criticize the progressive liberation theology clergy so aligned with the impoverished farmers seeking land reform. But an event would take place within three weeks of his election that would transform the ascetic and timid Romero.

The new archbishop’s first priest, Rutilio Grande, was ambushed and killed along with two parishioners. Grande was a target because he defended the peasant’s rights to organize farm cooperatives. He said that the dogs of the big landowners ate better food than the campesino children whose fathers worked their fields.

The night Romero drove out of the capitol to Paisnal to view Grande’s body and the old man and seven year old who were killed with him, marked his change. In a packed country church Romero encountered the silent endurance of peasants who were facing rising terror. Their eyes asked the question only he could answer: Will you stand with us as Rutilio did? Romero’s “yes” was in deeds. The peasants had asked for a good shepherd and that night they received one.

Romero already understood the church is more than the hierarchy, Rome, theologians or clerics—more than an institution—but that night he experienced the people as church. “God needs the people themselves,” he said, “to save the world . . . The world of the poor teaches us that liberation will arrive only when the poor are not simply on the receiving end of hand-outs from governments or from the churches, but when they themselves are the masters and protagonists of their own struggle for liberation.”

This reflection is taken from Ekklesia ,

On 24 March 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by the government of El Salvador. At the time, the country was ruled by a brutally repressive regime which cared little for the poor and human rights.

At first a conservative, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador became aware of the suffering around him, and was drawn into attempts to improve the situation of the frightened and dispossessed.

Sometimes, in faith circles, it is assumed that spirituality and political involvement are in tension and that paying too much attention to earthly matters, except on explicitly religious issues, distracts the church from its main business.

Certainly, embracing the agenda of a particular party or movement or taking up a ‘good cause’ with such enthusiasm that personal matters are neglected is unhelpful. But this was not Romero’s experience.

To quote from some of his sermons in the month that he died:

There can be no true liberation

until people are freed from sin.

All the liberationist groups that spring up in our land

should bear this in mind.

The first liberation to be proposed by a political group

that truly wants the people’s liberation

must be to free oneself from sin.

While one is a slave of sin –

of selfishness, violence, cruelty, and hatred –

one is not fitted for the people’s liberation.

(2 March 1980)

The God we put our hope in for our liberations is the God of Israel, the God who today receives the celebration of the first Passover….

Adam leaves Paradise as a man without land. It is the effect of sin. Now, with God’s forgiveness, Israel returned to the land. They ate ears of grain from their own land, the fruits of their land. God gave his blessing in the sign of the land.

The land contains much that is of God. That is why it groans when the unjust monopolise it and leave no land for others. Land reform is a theological necessity. A country’s land cannot stay in a few hands. It must be given to all, and all must share in God’s blessings on the land.

(16 March 1980)

God in Christ dwells near at hand to us.

Christ has given us a guideline:

“I was hungry and you gave me to eat.”

Where someone is hungry, there is Christ near at hand.

“I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.”

When someone comes to your house to ask for water,

it is Christ, if you look with faith.

In the sick person longing for a visit Christ tells you,

“I was sick and you came to visit me.”

Or in prison.

How many today are ashamed to testify for the innocent!

What terror has been sown among our people

that friends betray friends whom they see in trouble!

If we could see that Christ is the needy one,

the torture victim,

the prisoner,

the murder victim,

and in each human figure

so shamefully thrown by our roadsides

could see Christ himself cast aside,

we would pick him up like a medal of gold

to be kissed lovingly.

(16 March, 1980)

To some, his violent death at the age of 62 might have seemed just a tragedy, but he was acutely aware not only of the pain and sorrow around him, but also of joy and hope in Christ.

Easter is itself now the cry of victory.

No one can quench the life that Christ has resurrected.

Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred

raised against him and against his church can prevail.

He is the victorious one!

Just as he will thrive in an unending Easter,

so we must accompany him in a Lent and a Holy Week

of cross, sacrifice, and martyrdom.

As he said, blessed are they who are not scandalised

by his cross.

(23 March 1980)

(Quotations from The Violence of Love, compiled and translated by James R. Brockman, SJ. Copyright 2007 by Plough Publishing House. )


Also See NCR:  Sainthood For Romero? Not Yet


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