In 1977, a quiet and traditional Catholic priest named Oscar Romero was consecrated Archbishop of San Salvador. The country of El Salvador was in turmoil at the time, with authorities committing government–sanctioned murders. Initially, the government authorities considered Romero to be a safe bet for archbishop, but their killings began to affect him deeply. He sympathized with the priests who were aligned with the poor people of the country, pastors who believed that “the church is where it always should have been: with the people, surrounded by wolves.”
The death of a country priest made Archbishop Romero even more radical. He began to support new worship services that were more relevant to the poor and the oppressed, and he called for the church to become the voice of those whose voices were being silenced. As he did this, he became more and more of a thorn in the government’s side.
On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was celebrating Mass from behind the altar of the Chapel of the Divine Providence in San Salvador. He was focusing on the very same bread of life that Jesus had talked about by the Sea of Galilee, and he was doing his best to follow Jesus in bringing good news to the poor. But as he raised the elements and said, “This is my body given for you; this is my blood shed for you,” a single shot was fired. Romero collapsed, his heart pierced by an assassin’s bullet.
Archbishop Romero was a Spirit–speaker. He allowed the Spirit to speak through him and to guide him in the ministry and mission of Jesus. “As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If I am murdered, I will arise again in the Salvadoran people.” Along with Jesus, he knew that “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”
After his death, Romero became an unofficial national hero in El Salvador and was later embraced by the country’s new government. El Salvador’s president formally apologized for the government’s role in Romero’s murder, and during his inaugural address, he asked that his administration be judged by the standards set by the archbishop.