Giving Up One’s Life for the Freedom of Others

Oscar Romero was born in 1917 in El Salvador. He was one of 7 children. His local school only had 3 grades, so he was tutored until he was 13. While he was in school, his father taught him to be a carpenter. Oscar, however, wanted to become a priest. Oscar started his preparation for the priesthood when he was 13. He was ordained in Rome when he was 25.

When he returned to El Salvador, he served normal priestly duties. He gained notice by the church hierarchy and was named a bishop in San Salvador. He was a comfortable choice to the church, government, and the wealthy. That ended when his close friend in the priesthood was murdered by a government-sponsored death squad. His offense was helping peasants organize as a collective.

When Bishop Oscar became insistent that government investigate his friend’s death, he started to abstain from all ceremonial functions. The church became the target of the government because of its work with the poor. Priests were murdered among 75,000 El Salvadorians. Another 300,000 people went missing. Bishop Romero did not flee. Instead, he stepped up his pressure for social justice. His weekly sermons were broadcast on the radio and had a vast listening audience. However, his pleas to the U.S. government and United Nations were not successful.

When the ruling government became alarmed at Bishop Romero’s influence, they hired an assassin to kill him. His funeral was attended by 50,000 people. Those in attendance were attacked by government forces using sharpshooters, smoke bombs, and car bombs. This triggered a 12-year civil war.

In 1997, the Roman Catholic Church began the process of Bishop Romero’s beatification. The process took 18 years before it was finalized. A crowd of 250,000 attended the beatification service in San Salvador. Other churches recognized him as well. He is one of the ten 20th Century martyrs depicted in Westminster Abbey in London.

Many hidden heroes give all they have to what they believe. But few give of their life. Bishop Romero was a hidden hero guided by his conscience. He is a symbol for all freedom-loving people that tyrants will never overcome the desire of people for freedom.

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            “The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” – Soren Kierkegaard (Philosopher)

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