Archbishop Oscar A. Romero

Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero (1917 -1980), was a prominent Roman Catholic priest in El Salvador during the 1960s and 1970s. After witnessing numerous atrocities attributed to the El Salvadoran government, Romero began to publicly denounce the corruption, exploitation of the poor and acts of state sponsored violence being committed by the military regime. 

Romero used the moral authority of his status as Archbishop to speak out for government reform and soon came to be known as the “Voice of the Voiceless.” The Archbishop opposed U.S. military support for the Junta government and called for troops to disobey orders to fire on innocent civilians. Despite tremendous International public support, the Archbishop’s perceived use of his religious position as a platform to advocate political reform drew harsh criticism from the Catholic Church, the El Salvadorian government, and U.S. foreign policy interests.

Romero understood the increasing risk of openly opposing the established power structure. On March 12, 1977, the Archbishop’s long-time friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, was assasinated by the El Salvadorian Death Squads in response to his calls for reform. At the funeral Mass, Romero acknowledged: “We must all be willing to die for our faith even if the Lord does not grant us this honor.” [1]. Romero boldly declared his willingness to accept martyrdom if his blood might contribute to the solution of the nation’s problems. “As a Christian,” he asserted, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.” [2]. Archbishop Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass at the chapel of the cancer hospital where he resided.

In 1986, the Rothko Chapel, an institution committed to advancing human rights and interfaith understanding, commemorated the martyrdom of the Archbishop of San Salvador by establishing the Oscar Romero Award in recognition of the unsung, heroic efforts of activists or organizations in the area of human rights.

In 1991, the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador was established to investigate allegations of severe human rights violations which had occurred since 1980, in accordance with the Mexico Agreements of April 27, 1991. In its report of March 15, 1993, the Commission documented the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, was organized and carried out by pro-government forces, known as the death squads, including two graduates of the School of the Americas.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 24th as the “International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims” in honor of Archbishop Romero’s efforts in the defense of human rights.

On February 3, 2015, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing the assassination of Archbishop Romero as an act of Christian martyrdom. The decree clears the way for the beatification of Archbishop Romero.


[1]. Catholic News Service. (2015). Pope recognizes martyrdom of Archbishop Romero. (Accessed 07/22/2015).

[2]. United Nations. (2015). Biography of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero (Accessed 07/22/2015).

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