Sainthood Comes For Archbishop Oscar Romero, Assassinated ‘Voice For The Voiceless’

Archbishop Óscar Romero stands outside the chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia in San Salvador on Nov. 20, 1979. CREDIT: Alex Bowie/Getty Images
Archbishop Óscar Romero stands outside the chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia in San Salvador on Nov. 20, 1979. CREDIT: Alex Bowie/Getty Images

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In March 1980, Patricia Morales Tijerino and her sister had just left a wedding in a little chapel in El Salvador’s capital and were on their way to the reception.

“And then I spotted him,” Morales Tijerino recalls. “He was in his white cassock.”

Óscar Arnulfo Romero, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador, was standing alone in a garden outside the church.

“We were his admirers and his followers and we had never met him before,” Morales Tijerino, now 55, says. “So we approached him, right? We’re two teenagers, just to say ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ And he was very soft-spoken. He said, ‘Preocupado,’ which means worried. ‘Preocupado.’ 

Two days later, Romero was dead, gunned down by members of a right-wing death squad.

A Messenger Of Hope

On Sunday, Oct. 13, 38 years after his assassination, Romero will be canonized as a Catholic saint. Known to his followers as Monseñor (Monsignor), Romero was a champion of human rights at a time when El Salvador was on the brink of civil war. His tireless fight for civil rights ranks him among figures like Martin Luther King Jr. His devout following filled San Salvador’s towering cathedral each Mass.

Two days later, Romero was dead, gunned down by members of a right-wing death squad.

This Sunday, 38 years after his assassination, Romero will be canonized as a Catholic saint. Known to his followers as Monseñor (Monsignor), Romero was a champion of human rights at a time when El Salvador was on the brink of civil war. His tireless fight for civil rights ranks him among figures like Martin Luther King Jr. His devout following filled San Salvador’s towering cathedral each Mass.

At that time, “Hope was like water in the desert,” Duran says. “It was scary to live in those days.”

People crowd into San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral to listen to a sermon by Romero on Sunday, May 27, 1979. CREDIT: P.W. Hamilton/AP

People crowd into San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral to listen to a sermon by Romero on Sunday, May 27, 1979. CREDIT: P.W. Hamilton/AP

In the late 1970s, civil war loomed. Decades of government oppression sparked massive protests. Peasant workers united in the countryside, demanding basic rights. Popular opposition groups and teachers’ unions called for wealth distribution, while leftist guerrillas took up arms against the military and government elites.

In rural Catholic churches, some priests and nuns supported the peaceful cause on behalf of the poor. But they were up against El Salvador’s corrupt oligarchy. The country’s so-called “Fourteen Families,” who controlled most of the land and wealth, accused the priests and peasants of a communist uprising.

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