The Vision of Oscar Romero: A Brief Biography [Part 2]

oscar-romero-iconOscar Romero was born on August 15, 1917, in the remote town of Ciudad Barrios. His father worked as a postmaster and telegraph operator, while farming cocoa and coffee on a small piece of personal property. His family’s life in Ciudad Barrios was modest; they did not live in abject poverty but neither did they have much to spare. While his father wanted him to learn a trade and had him apprenticed as a carpenter, Romero, at age thirteen, told the vicar general of his diocese of his desire to attend seminary and become a priest. He left to attend minor seminary that same year in the city of San Miguel until he went to study theology at the Jesuits’ national seminary in San Salvador at age twenty.[1]

After his father’s death in 1937, Romero left El Salvador to complete his theology degree at the Gregorian University in Rome. He was described by his classmates as a very pious, observant man, who was wholly dedicated to his training as a priest. He received his degree in 1941 at age 24 and was ordained as a priest a few months later. In 1944, he was called by his bishop to return to El Salvador and serve as a parish priest in the city of San Miguel. Those he served described him as a caring, hard-working, and devout pastor who befriended the rich and the poor. While he was charitable to the poor, many criticized him for ignoring the structural issues giving rise to poverty and oppression.[2]

In his twenty years of pastoral ministry in San Miguel, Romero became well-known for his uncompromising attitudes and his traditional ways. While he was very aware of the changes to church’s teaching from the Second Vatican Council, he did not seem willing to accept the fullness of renewal these teachings implied. In 1967, he was called to be the Secretary-General of the Salvadoran Bishops’ Conference and began preparing documentation for the upcoming Conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellin. However, Romero did not approve of all the changes he was seeing in the church, especially not those that would come as a result of the Medellin conference. He continued to advance in the church hierarchy and was named auxiliary bishop in 1970 with notable disapproval by many who saw him as too bound to the past and out of step with the new direction of the church set forth in Medellin.

Romero began publicly expressing his disapproval of this new direction when tensions within the country increased considerably in 1969-1970; he blamed the teaching of the Jesuits for causing many of these tensions. He continued his ascent of the church hierarchy in 1974 when he was named bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de Maria. He interpreted this new appointment as a vindication of the stand he was making against the church reforms. While his actions as bishop revealed a cautious, conservative approach to pastoral ministry, he still showed compassion to the poor and some concern for justice; he even wrote a letter denouncing the poor treatment of farmworkers in his diocese. This concern for justice, especially for the campesinos, would continue to grow as Romero came face to face with the harsh realities of their lives through his pastoral ministry.[3]

When the archbishop of El Salvador was preparing to step down, the clergy were in favor of Arturo River y Damas as his successor, while Rome, the oligarchy, the government and the military preferred Romero. Ultimately, Romero was chosen as the new archbishop and installed in February of 1977, even though he had already begun a change of heart towards the vision of the church defined by the Medellin conference and the Second Vatican Council. Priests in rural parishes who were already practicing this new vision were being persecuted by the government.[4] The murder of one of these priests, Rutilio Grande, who was Romero’s close friend, came as a clear call from God to take up the cause of justice which he accomplished through “three years of prophetic denunciation of the oppression of the poor and the persecution of the church.”[5] Romero’s life ended tragically when he was assassinated by the military on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Eucharist at the hospital where he lived. Gustavo Gutierrez, the well-known liberation theologian, expressed the immensity of Romero’s death by saying “his death divides the recent history of the Latin American church into a before and after.”[6]

[1] Scott Wright, Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009), 6-11.

[2] Wright, 12-17.

[3] Wright, 23-35.

[4] Wright, 42-45.

[5] James R. Brockman, S. J., “The Spiritual Journey of Oscar Romero,” Spirituality Today 42, no. 4 (Winter 1990): 312.

[6] Gustavo Gutierrez, Carta a las Iglesias, no. 206 in Wright, 3.


One comment on “The Vision of Oscar Romero: A Brief Biography [Part 2]

  1. Duane Arnold says:

    From your site, I thought you might enjoy seeing a music video that we just produced on Oscar Romero.  It is part of a new CD release. The singer is a deacon, Michael Glen Bell, and the film maker is Owen Thomas. The Project is the subject of a wonderful article in Canada’s Catholic Register

    Go to to view the video. Feel free to use it on your site, review the album or video, or blog about The Project.  If you do, let us know so we can put a link on ours. If you are interested in a story on The Project, please get back to us. We are located in Indianapolis. You can follow us on Twitter @martyrsproject. 

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