Oscar Romero Named Martyr by Church

On Feb. 3, the Vatican labeled Romero’s death officially as “in odium fidei” (in hatred of faith) 35 years after he was murdered.
(Courtesy of Tim Johnson via TNS)

Tim Johnson

On Feb. 3, the Vatican labeled Romero’s death officially as “in odium fidei” (in hatred of faith) 35 years after he was murdered. (Courtesy of Tim Johnson via TNS)


Archbishop Oscar Romero’s legacy remains relevant 35 years after his death not just in El Salvador, but wherever there is perceived injustice, and a step towards the official recognition of this legacy just occurred this past weekend. On Feb. 3, the Vatican declared that Romero died “in odium fidei” (in hatred of faith), meaning that he is a martyr and he will be beatified.

Archbishop Oscar Romero’s face has become a symbol of the struggle for peace and equality among Roman Catholics in the Americas. At a time in El Salvador’s history when the phrase “be a patriot, kill a priest” was commonly graffitied by supporters of the nation’s right-wing authoritarian government, Romero continued to use his position in the Church to speak out for the poor and marginalized. On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was silenced by a government-sponsored assassin while celebrating Mass. The state never investigated his death.

“This is long overdue,” Fr. Gil Martinez, parish priest of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, said. “He preached the Gospel, that’s what he did.” Martinez knew Archbishop Romero personally, having met him and spent time with him during a trip to El Salvador in 1979. As a 20-year-old student, Martinez traveled with the Archbishop and a group from University of California (UC) Berkeley around the capital city of San Salvador.  He remembers that there were “soldiers with machine guns” all over the city. Martinez will be celebrating a special Mass in Romero’s memory at 6:00 p.m. on March 24; the Mass will be followed by a screening of the movie “Romero” about the Archbishop’s life and work. 

Due to his widespread popularity, many have expressed concern as to why it took the Vatican this long to declare Archbishop Romero a martyr. After he was shot in the church, he fell forward onto the altar, and then backwards to the foot of the crucifix. Some would argue, his image clearly portrays a man who died due to his faith. After a long investigation into the nature of his life and death, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints received permission from Pope Francis to promulgate the decree that recognizes Oscar Romero as a martyr.

Although Romero is not a saint, he has often been treated like one. Romero’s story, name and image are already familiar to many Catholics, prompting BBC journalist John McManus to call him a saint already – “in practice, if not in name.” An example of devotion to Archbishop Romero comes from a place closely connected to Fordham: the Romero Center in Camden, N.J. Inspired by the works and words of its namesake, the Romero Center provides an opportunity for young people to work with the marginalized of Camden at soup kitchens, nursery homes and rehabilitation centers, among other places. Fordham students have the opportunity to participate in the Romero Center’s work through GO! Camden. 

Organizations like the Romero Center prove Oscar Romero’s death was not the end of his mission. Those who work for justice in his memory continue his legacy, and the Vatican’s affirmation of his martyrdom is a meaningful recognition of that legacy.