Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez was born on August 15, 1917 in the mountain village of Ciudad Barrios near the Honduras border to the east. He was the second of seven children born to devoted Catholic parents who scraped and worked for all they could to provide for the family. At 12 he set out on a career as a carpenter in the footsteps of Saint Joseph but felt there was more and, a year later, young Oscar felt the calling to the priesthood and entered the seminary at San Miguel and then San Salvador before relocating in Rome to finish his theological studies at the Lateran University. He was ordained in 1942 by Pope Pius XII at St. Peter's Basilica with World War II raging all around. The dangers of war prevented any of his family from attending his ordination. In fact, Father Romero was not able to return to his beloved El Salvador until 1944 where he was assigned as a parish priest in San Salvador. In the fifties he was appointed to the faculty of the minor seminary in San Salvador followed by his promotion to Rector of the same institution. He did such a great job there and showed such a propensity for being an efficient and energetic administrator that his Archbishop promoted him to Rector of the Major Seminary in San Salvador. In 1966 he was appointed Secretary of the El Salvador Episcopal Conference and four years later Pope Paul VI named him a bishop, assigning him as Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador under the aging Archbishop there. In 1974 he was transfered to his own see, becoming the Bishop of Santiago de Maria which covered the area of San Miguel and his birthplace. He became legendary throughout El Salvador for his sermons which were inspirational and dynamic and effected numerous conversions. His homilies became the rage and were broadcast throughout San Miguel on five radio stations. In 1977 the Holy Father elevated him to Archbishop, assigning him to replace the retired Archbishop of San Salvador. Though his tenure as head of El Salvador's largest see would only last three years, his legacy would last forever.
The Republic of El Salvador has always been poor and, consequently a victim of great social injustice aimed at specifically the peasant economy. Much of the land was owned by land barons, many not from El Salvador, who had no consideration for the people who worked the land and they used all methods of intimidation to suppress and repress the people, including bribing a corrupt government. Archbishop Romero had grown up in this atmosphere in Ciudad Barrios. Through his guidance and inspiration, first while he was bishop of San Miguel, many of the peasants began forming Catholic groups into Basic Communities to study the gospel and be guided by a priest as well as a leader elected from the group in an attempt to help others understand their rights and hopefully overcome their plight. Soon they spread like rapidfire across El Salvador. This alarmed the land barons and crooked government leaders who began a smear campaign against the Church, tabbing priests and bishops as the villains who were only stirring up trouble and threatening the people with greater trouble if they persisted with these groups. After all, these poor uneducated people had to be put in their place! They couldn't have the freedom of speech or it would undermine the despotic ways of the government and the rich landowners. Romero saw through this facade and spoke out even stronger. The government retaliated by sending in military troops to stop any kind of uprising. Violence broke out and many innocent people were killed.
One outspoken crusader for the cause Father Rutilio Grande was singled out because he posed the greatest danger and he was denounced. When Archbishop Romero came to his defense stating, "The government should not consider a priest who takes a stand for social justice, as a politician, or a subversive element, when he is fulfilling his mission in the politics of common good." From that time on Romero became a target and the Archbishop also realized his days were numbered when in March 1977 Fr. Grande and two others were brutally murdered by a paramilitary death squad to send a message to the people and the Archbishop who they brought in to see the mutilated body of Fr. Grande. They threatened the Archbishop with, "That's what happens if one meddles." Rather than retreating and being intimidated, Archbishop Romero intensified his efforts. He spoke out even stronger against the improprieties and injustices, holding up the Gospel as the ideal and human dignity as the cause for all El Salvadorans to rally around.
To unite the people Archbishop Romero sent a decree to all his priests in his Diocese and other dioceses not to celebrate Mass on the following Sunday. Instead he would conduct Holy Mass at the great cathedral in San Salvador, inviting all the faithful to come and worship together in a tremendous show of solidarity against the government. The result was an astounding turnout where the faithful overflowed into the town square, further exasperating government officials. Archbishop Romero told the thousands gathered, "We suffer with those who have disappeared, those who have had to flee their homes, and those who have been tortured." He asked for and received from the people detailed accounts of government and land owner abuses which he published. He had definitely become Public Enemy Number One to the corrupt, immoral political and economic leaders of El Salvador.
In 1979 he traveled to Rome where he met with Pope John Paul II and he shared with the Holy Father the plight of his people, presenting him with a huge dossier documenting the atrocities. The Pope was sympathetic, having experienced similar problems in his own nativeland of Poland and promised Romero he would make a point to visit El Salvador but didn't know when. That would come in 1983, three years after Romero had been murdered and at a time when the people were in a frenzy, civil war breaking out all over this tiny Central American country.
Romero returned to El Salvador after his meeting with the Vicar of Christ, renewed and buoyed by the idea that the Pope would come to his country. This peace advocate shared the news with all and strengthened by this backing, became even more outspoken representing the people as the champion of human rights. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. He became the conscience of El Salvador and it wasn't long before his message was reaching around the world. Romero felt that the more he could get the word out to the world, help would come from other countries and that would motivate the present government to back off and acquiesce to the people's voice. He truly felt the more the world knew of the atrocities in El Salvador the less likely the government would embarass themselves by trying to assassinate him. He guessed wrong. For in 1979 a military coup replaced the crooked President Romero (no relation to the Archbishop) and, like Castro replacing Battista, it went from bad to worse. A Military-civilian junta took over and rebellion began with the left-wing Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN), a group Archbishop Romero strongly opposed as well because of their use of violence and their intent of really just taking over the spoils.
Civil war broke out in full scale and thousands were killed as Archbishop Romero realized his days were numbered. On March 23, 1980 he made an impassioned plea to the men in the militia, entreating on their compassion and moral duty, "Brothers, you came from our own people. Your are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, 'Thou shalt not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The Church cannot remain silent before such an abomination...In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to Heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression." Those in charge of the military realized the impact of his words. He had to be silenced.
The following day they plotted his travel to the Hospital de la Divina where he was to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the patients there, many poor who had been tortured or starved by the military. Setting up in the chapel there was an air of anticipation from all in attendance. Some pleaded with the Archbishop to go into hiding for they were sure the military was trying to snuff him out. But Archbishop Romero assured them, "While it is clear that our Church and I have been the victim of persecution during these last three years, it is even more important to observe the reason for the persecution...The persecution comes about because of the Church's defense of the poor, for assuming the destiny of the poor. I wouldn't be following Christ's directive if I ran." He began the Mass and during his homily he reiterated the necessity to fight the good fight, "Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grains of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies...We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us."
He continued with the Mass and during Holy Communion four military men, heavily armed, forcefully entered the Chapel and fired two rounds into the helpless Archbishop. He died immediately on the steps of the Altar. The faithful shrieked and were in shock. Archbishop Romero's body and blood was splattered all over mixing with the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ. He had been received into Heaven through martydom, a martydom he knew would come, just not when. When it did come, he was ready and his final prayer was that his people would also be ready as well as strong enough to carry on the standard of justice.
Now nineteen years after his death things aren't much better in Central America. Another bishop who also was a champion of human rights Bishop Juan Gerardi was brutally murdered in April of 1998 in Guatemala City, Guatamala and his murderers are still at large though all suspect the military which has fallen over itself and embarassed itself to the world in trying to cover up the dastardly deed by pointing the finger at an innocent priest who lived in the Bishop's residence. In Columbia mass kidnappings have occurred recently, over 100 snatched during Holy Mass by rebel guerrillas who have been excommunicated and another bishop held for ransom.
Add to this the terrible earthquakes that have visited the regions of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Colombia and havoc still rules. The involvement of the United States Government with the Sandinistas in the eighties didn't help and the people, more confused than ever, have also been victims of left-wing priests who advocate violence and liberation theology which is directly opposed to what Rome preaches. While the Holy Father has been cheered in most places he visits, when he toured Central America in 1983 and 1990 he was met with much opposition and taunts by left-wingers and evangelicals opposed to the Church. The people of El Salvador were upset with the Pope's selection of a bishop who did not share the idea of liberation theology and, because of their ignorance, were not only fodder for the military but disobedient priests and leaders who strayed from Church teaching.
Archbishop Romero would never have stood for that kind of division for he advocated peace and unity for the sake of human dignity and the Sanctity of Life. His efforts were always for Christ and, like his Savior, he was willing to sacrifice himself for others by his words a few days before his death: "It is my hope that my blood will be the seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality." We can only pray his words will ring true.
No wonder Our Lady constantly harps on praying with and from the heart! She has been doing this since her first apparition to Saint James in Zaragoza, Spain quite possibly when she was in her "fifties" or "sixties." Since that time she has been appearing all over the earth. For a young girl born near Bethsaida, she has been quite the world traveler! There is likely no country in the world she has not visited over the past two millenniums and her message is always the same: Pray from the heart and come home to her Divine Son. And yet, for nearly 2000 years we still haven't gotten it right. Either we argue amongst ourselves preferring our own wills over what she asks - to adhere to the Divine Will, or we argue over Mary's role - Protestant vs. Catholics - and the sad, sad fact is that over these 20 centuries more people have died over the "cause" of religion than any other cause. That's not what God wants, that's not what the Blessed Mother wants, and, in truth, that's not what mankind wants. Yet all faiths have gone into battle from the early Romans to the Crusaders to the Papal State armies to the wars during the Protestant Reformation to the French Revolution to present time where peace is non-existent in so many regions of the world today. Mary is not the "Queen of warriors" but rather the "Queen of Peace" and that peace cannot be achieved without prayer from the heart, without totally submitting our will to God's will. Virgin most faithful, pray for us.
Our dear Holy Father Pope John Paul II has been criticized and misunderstood by many for his recent announcement of a universal penitential pardon for Ash Wednesday next year for all Catholics. Some cardinals feel it will weaken the Church and cause the world to think that Holy Mother Church is admitting she was wrong and the syllogism would then be that the others were right - the Saracens, the Protestants, the Huguenots, etc. That is the farthest thing from the truth for the Pope is not afraid of the scrutiny of history. He realizes the Church has made mistakes in the past; after all those in the hierarchy are only human. But he also remembers Christ's words to seek forgiveness and ask pardon. Even Protestants know that from the Our Father. "...forgive us our tresspasses, as we also forgive our tresspassers" (Matthew 6: 12). The Holy Father is confident that when the wheat is separated from the chaff, the Church will be absolved by a world that points its finger at the one institution that still stands for moral values and virtue, the dignity of man and Sanctity of Life. The key word is "cleansing" and that is what the Pope seeks, to fulfill Christ's command that we forgive and ask forgiveness in order to be worthy of Him. That is the virtue of humility which Jesus asks. That is Mercy. If we expect God to have mercy on us, we must have mercy on others. Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. A good example is Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, Nobel Laureate prelate from East Timor whose people have greatly been persecuted and martyred and his own residence attacked over the weekend. His response is to forgive. Virgin Most Prudent, pray for us.
Mercy is the watchword of John Paul II's pontificate. Recall his forgiveness of his attempted assassin in May of 1981 - on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. This Pope is totally consecrated to Our Lady - Totus Tuus and he carries her immaculate banner to the world...a world at war. Today there is turmoil throughout the world as we stand on the brink of an even greater world prophesied in Scripture and by Our Lady to so many visionaries over the years. There is no continent where there is peace save for Antartica and even there natural disasters are present. Africa is in shambles as Moslems and Christians are engaged in bitter fighting from Sudan to Rwanda to numerous provinces there with thousands perishing. Asia is reeling from persecution in East Timor, China, India, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan not to mention the rest of Southeast Asia. Australia continues to be embroiled in fierce name-calling between factions as the gay-rights and abortion advocates infiltrate the culture down-under as the bishops fight to preserve the truth while they themselves bicker with each other. Europe is crumbling in moral decay. The Holy Father has warned so many countries of this - from the guerrilla tactics in Northern Ireland between militant Protestants and Catholics, to the disregard for the culture of life in Scandinavian countries and Germany to the disregard for the faith and concession to modernism in France and Italy. In fact, possibly the only country still strong is Portugal which Our Lady also foretold at Fatima, but even there abortion is trying to take hold as the culture of death spreads like a deadly cancer over the entire globe. Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
In the "new world" things aren't much better, in fact possibly worse. In South and Latin America there is so much fighting in practically every country that no one knows if there will be a coup the next minute. Governments that have come to power this way are fighting with the Catholic bishops over abuses and practices as Catholics weigh the delicate balance between caring for our fellow man and liberal theology as thousands die from senseless massacre and even more from starvation. Bishops and priests are being murdered and paramilitary governments are involved in ridiculous cover-ups. Two examples are human rights champions Bishop Juan Gerardi of Colombia and El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero who is featured today in the countdown of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY. In North America Mexico is in dire straits and Canada is treading the economic waters as the Canadian dollar loses its value in a very unstable market while the bishops of Canada reveal an even more liberal bent than their neighbors to the south. Comforter of the Afflicted, pray for us.
Ah, yes, the United States - the country dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, the land more blessed with material possessions than any other in the history of mankind. What about America? While there are no formal military wars within our boundaries the war for life has been going on for over thirty years on the front lines of the abortuaries; faiths have fueded longer; and the most revered position in the country - that of President, has been made into a mockery because of the commander-in-chief's total denial of God's will in favor of his own selfish wants. Mother of Good Counsel, pray for us.
As we have mentioned so many times on these pages, the moral fiber of America is spreading so thin that it will unravel soon unless we return to her Divine Son and heed all Our Lady asks. But there must be unity for this to happen and even as we prepare to welcome the countless souls back into the Church, there is still too much in-fighting amongst ourselves; not only between the conservative and liberal elements of the Church but within the Marian movement itself. How can we heed the messages if we are not willing to listen to them? Too many hold the messengers up for scrutiny without truly hearing what Mary is saying. We judge too quickly and pay more attention to the messenger than the message. The majority of messages this century have been the same and yet so few truly hear and even fewer heed what Our Lady asks. And so there is misery throughout the globe. No wonder the Blessed Virgin weeps so. With all the efforts she has put out one would hope for better results. One would think Mary is more deserving of a better birthday present than this sad, sorry mess the world is in. But Mary is not dismayed and, as the Mother of Mercy and Refuge of Sinners she perseveres. Vessel of Honor, pray for us.
Liturgically her birthday is the beginning of a week that includes the feast of The Holy Cross, formerly the Triumph of the Cross, and then the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. We begin joyously and lead up to two feasts that connotate much sacrifice and suffering, but without which we would not have the graces we have been afforded by God today. Without the Cross and Mary's fiat think where we would be! It's not a nice thought and it's not a nice thought to think of the countless souls who could lose out if we do not intensify our prayers and evangelization efforts immediately. We must be ready for the onslaught. Mother of Sorrows, pray for us. The only way for that to happen is by beginning at home - in our own hearts by living all Our Lady imparts - living her messages for those messages are exactly what her Divine Son gave to His Church and have been handed down from the Apostles, who we cover today in our GIFT OF FAITH series, to our present Bishops who need to realize their legacy and act accordingly in curtailing the dissident elements and liberal ideas permeating parishes today. They need to rethink their policies and return to a more orthodox mode in accord with Rome. It begins with each one of us in prayer for prayer can move mountains. Maybe that's why Mary has chosen so many mountain vicinities for her apparitions over the years. Gate of Heaven, Queen of Prophets, pray for us.
Our readiness, our willingness to submit totally to God's will in order to be part of God's "volunteer faculty" in teaching others as the Holy Father has requested is the best present we can give our Blessed Mother tomorrow for her birthday. What mom wouldn't love that? Especially one who is more experienced than anyone else in history. After all Blessed Mary, by historical estimates, was born thirteen years before her Divine Son, which makes her well over 2000 years old and as young as ever! With her fiat to the Blessed Trinity as the Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Queen of Angels and All Saints can also add to her list of titles Mother of the Third Millennium, pray for us!