March 24: Oscar Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador, Archbishop of San Salvador, 1980

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdémez was born on August 15, 1917, in San Salvador. At the age of twelve, he was apprenticed to a carpenter, but was later able to attend seminary. His family’s economic circumstances forced him to withdraw to work in a gold mine. Ultimately he entered another seminary and was eventually sent to the Gregorian University in Rome to study theology. After his ordination to the priesthood, he returned to his native land, where he worked among the poor, served as an administrator for the Church, and started an Alcoholics Anonymous group in San Miguel.

When he was appointed a bishop, radicals distrusted his conservative sympathies. However, after his appointment as Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, a progressive Jesuit friend of his, Rutilio Grande, was assassinated, and Romero began protesting the government’s injustice to the poor and its policies of torture. He met with Pope John Paul II in 1980 and complained that the leaders of El Salvador engaged in terror and assassinations. He also pleaded with the American government to stop military aid to his country, but this request was ignored.

Romero was shot to death while celebrating Mass at a small chapel near his cathedral on March 24, 1980. The previous day, he preached a sermon calling on soldiers to disobey orders that violated human rights. He had said, “A bishop will die, but the Church of God which is the people will never perish.” The Roman Catholic Church declared him “a servant of God,” and he is honored as a martyr by many Christian denominations worldwide.

Almost nine months after Romero’s assassination, four Maryknoll nuns were also killed in the course of their duties by the El Salvadoran army. Nine Jesuit priests were similarly murdered in November of 1989. A statue of Romero stands at the door of Westminster Abbey as part of a commemoration of twentieth-century martyrs.


I     Almighty God, who didst call thy servant Óscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor, and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope: Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador, we may without fear or favor witness to thy Word who abideth, thy Word who is Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory now and for ever.  Amen.

II     Almighty God, you called your servant Óscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor, and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope: Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador, we may without fear or favor witness to your Word who abides, your Word who is Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory now and for ever.  Amen.


Isaiah 2:5-7

Revelation 7:13-17

John 12:23-32

Psalm 31: 15-24

Preface of a Saint (3)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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29 thoughts on “March 24: Oscar Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador, Archbishop of San Salvador, 1980

  1. A more accurate final sentence would be: “A statue of Romero stands in a niche on the west front of Westminster Abbey as part of a commemoration of twentieth-century martyrs.” The HWHM biographies of Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer might say the same thing, since they are likewise commemorated at the Abbey.

  2. I think the collect would be better if the word ‘even’ were omitted. There may be a case for leaving it in collects written in earlier centuries, but I can’t see any reason to use such an archaism in something written in our day.

  3. Philip, I agree about “even” in the collect. Perhaps leave it in Version I, but omit it in Version II?

  4. I am glad Oscar Romero is on our calendar now, but have a question about Jonathan Edwards. The Mission St. Clare Daily Office site which, as far as I know, follows the BCP calendar, has March 24th as an observance of Edwards. He is not so listed in the BCP, but I am wondering if he was added to the LFF calendar sometime post 1979. If so, and if he has been displaced from March 24th by Romero, where (if anywhere) has his commeroation gone in HWHM? Can anyone help me here?

    Though certainly not an Anglican (indeed, Edwards opposed much of the Anglican theology of his day) he is considered by many to be among the greatest of American theologians (indeed of American intellects in any field), a Christian of deep spirituality and mystical experience, and a faithful pastor. If he is not on our calendar, he should be. (full disclosure — I am a descendant of Edwards, but his place in American theological and spiritual life stands apart from that).

    • Jonathan Edwards is not commenorated in the Episcopal Church calendar. “Guidelines and Procedures for Continuning Alteration of the Calendar of the Episcopal Church” are found beginning on page 742 of the published HWHM. The Episcopal Church makes provision for local commenorations on pp.744-5. These can also be found online at:

    • Edwards would make an appropriate replacement for George Whitefield, having recognised the latter’s manipulative techniques and warned people against being taken in by them.

    • Jack: FYI: “Ravished by Beauty,” a new book, due in May, by Belden C. Lane, looks again at the works and wonders of Edwards (and of Calvin). The book, well argued, shatters cliches about both men as mere killjoys. As a descendent, you might like the descriptions of Edwards’ love for his wife Sarah.

      • @Martha — There is much about the Edwards’ marriage in the excellent biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden. I’ll look for the other book when it comes out.

  5. Romero
    Regarding the title, write-up, and collect (I haven’t looked at the readings) I find them significant and appropriate. I don’t have content suggestions, but I do have my usual, predictable, (probably annoying, by now) comment on the lack of any “so that” clause in the collect. There’s no “so that” clause in the collect. (Ah, I feel better now.) I’ll forego repeating why I think it’s important for the church to respond in a collect with a “so that” clause which it can be part of, rather than simply asking God for more spiritual favors with a topically worded petition.
    The ending of the write-up, however, gave me pause, in light of the title for the commemoration, and a minor point about the title also caught my attention. First, the title: “…Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador, Archbishop of San Salvador…” It just strikes me as awkward that “Archbishop” follows “Martyrs” rather than following “Romero.” The Martyrs were not Archbishop. I don’t suppose it would be possible to put “Archbishop…” following his name, and follow it with “Martyrs…” That’s just minor.
    Three things intertwine at the close of the write-up, the greatest of which is the extremely miniscule portion about the martyrs thrown in as last minute comment: “Almost nine months after Romero’s assassination, four Maryknoll nuns were also killed in the course of their duties by the El Salvadoran army. Nine Jesuit priests were similarly murdered in November of 1989.” So much for the martyrs’ section. It hardly seems to do them justice with such perfunctory, dismissive coverage. On top of that it jumps without transition back to Romero, with the very next sentence being, “A statue of Romero stands at the door of Westminster Abbey as part of a commemoration of twentieth-century martyrs.” Shouldn’t there at least be a “tra-la” between the sentences? How do we say “Anyway” or “Whatever” in Episcopal? It doesn’t seem right. If nothing more can be said, maybe the commemoration should just focus on Romero. If that’s the best we can do, it seems preferable not to say anything about these nuns and priests, or just say something vague and general such as, “among the many vicious and deadly attacks on church leaders and workers….etc.” The present way of “getting them in,” and then immediately moving away, back to what was being talked about all through the write-up, reminds me of Dylan Thomas’ line, “I made a snowman, and my brother knocked it down, and I knocked my brother down, and then we had tea.” There’s no honor in this treatment. There’s no real acknowledgement of them as people, even as a group – much less as individuals (and I realize the latter would be impractical in this format). They just shouldn’t be dismissively handled, in any event.
    Not nearly so significant, a comment about a sentence just before the last paragraph begins. “The Roman Catholic Church declared him “a servant of God,” and he is honored as a martyr by many Christian denominations worldwide.” Isn’t that like saying, “All the teams in the basketball league averaged 94 points a game, and the Syracuse Orange averaged 94 points a game” ? I am glad Romero (notice the martyrs are ignored) is honored as a martyr by many Christian denominations worldwide. That is properly included. I would guess that’s not too different from spelling out the part about “servant of God.” Why repeat what’s already covered in the same sentence, redundantly, repetitiously, and over and over again, in an ongoing and continuing manner? How much more better-er does that make it? I’d eliminate the singling out of Rome as if it were somehow worth special mention above and beyond — or not included among — the branches of the Christian Church worldwide. Rome has as much right to be included in the collective generalization as any.

    • Mr Rodriguez has made an important contribution in noting the errors in the numbers and generalizations about the “4 Maryknoll nuns” and “9 Jesuits” who were killed. I can’t help but feel his observation underlines my sense of having given these martyrs pitifully insufficient attention. Not only is precious little ink devoted to them in the commemoration, but three lay persons (one a cook, one her teen-aged daughter, a lay missioner) and an Ursuline nun were completely overlooked, and the total number inflated by one. If this doesn’t say “SERIOUS RE-WRITE” I don’t know what would! Please don’t just change the math, and please don’t allow the bishop to overshadow the others. They all count! They’re all God’s people equally!

  6. Suzanne, I’m wondering what is meant by “significant commemoration of a particular person at local and regional levels before a person is included in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church as a whole” and how that applies to Jonathan Edwards. –Can anyone clarify this? Or why the provision for ecumenical breadth couldn’t apply here? Interesting that the Poor Clares include him, which I think is an Anglican group, although Edwards was not Anglican. –I agree with Phil that he’d be good to include on some date, although not necessarily as a replacement for Whitefield, who started out as an Anglican in the Wesley tradition. And not as a replacement for Romero. Yes, he had faults. But he did much good, also. –Both Edwards and Whitefield are significant figures in what was called “the Great Awakening.”

    • Celinda, I cannot answer your question. I will note that Michael Hartney wrote about the Diocese of Alabama’s commemoration of Jonathan M. Daniels. [See Agust 14.] I do not know if this pilgrimage for Daniels started before his name was added to the commemorations in 1991. Perhaps someone from the Commission can.

      • The inclusion of Jonathan Daniels in the Calendar was one of the most moving moments of the General Convention of 1991 in Phoenix. He was even then well remembered by his Diocese (my own of New Hampshire) and the Church.

        Others have had local commemorations and are now included. An example is Deacon (aka Deaconess) Harriet Bedell of Southwest Florida.

  7. Forgot to add–Jack Zamboni, how nice to have a descendant of Edwards on this blog. –Note, for anyone interested: a history textbook the school where I taught mentioned Edwards, as do many American Literature textbooks, but only in the context of his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” No reference to all the books he wrote on God’s love, the work he and his sons-in-law did with Native Americans, etc. Anyway, I called the author of the book. He had gotten his PhD in Edwards at Yale in 1973. He wanted to know what work I’d suggest as an addition, and I couldn’t tell him, because I’d really only read ABOUT Edwards (in a very sympathetic biography called _Marriage to a Difficult Man_). Embarrassing. And he said he had to be careful not to imply that Edwards was an Arminian; he was a Calvinist, did not believe that everyone will be saved. But in the next edition of the textbook he did include comments about Edwards on the love of God.

    • To Celinda — Thanks for the props re my distant ancestor. I’ve recently finished the excellent biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden, which I highly recommend for a full, sympathetic, but not acritical treatment of Edwards’ life and thought. Marsden does an excellent job of placing Edwards within his historical context politically, socially as well as theologically. It was getting to know Edwards through this work as much as anything that prompted my initial comment when I saw his commemoration on the Mission St. Clare office site. He probably wouldn’t be thrilled with his Arminian Epsicopal priest descendant, but I’d still like to see him on our calendar. However, I’m not about to start a local observance of him as a path to that goal. That he is on the Mission St. Clare site is probably of much more value than anything I could do.

  8. I realize that this is not a proposed commemoration and therefore it requires more to change the commemoration from Oscar Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador to just Oscar Romero, Archbishop and Martyr. There is sufficient room on the printed page of HWHM to add another paragraph and go beyond the two sentences about the nuns and priests who were also murdered in El Salvador. I do not know exactly when the “50-year rule” was added to the “Guidelines and Procedure for the Continuing Alteration of the Calendar of the Episcopal Church.” But I would point out that it has been only 31 years or less that these persons were killed for their faith and their work. Clearly the martyrdom of these persons was thought sufficient for their addition to the calendar without regard to time lapsed.

    Then there has been the periodic debate that has come up as to what criteria are to be used for post-Reformation Roman Catholics if they are to be included in the Episcopal Church calendar. There certainly seems to be little consensus among those writing on this blog.

    One has to remember that in the context of El Salvador of the 1970s the Archbishop was a revolutionary whose words and actions undermined the status quo. His concern for civil and human rights, and the advocacy of justice for the poor and insistence on truth in the public domain were considered subversive. The Archbishop preached against social injustice. He is not a spokesman for the “obedience to kings and rulers is a Christian virtue” mode of thought. [For traditional Anglican thought I would refer you to the 1547 Book of Homilies, Homily X- An exhortation to obedience. Both the first and second Book of Homilies are mentioned in the 1801 Articles of Religion. See pp.874-4 BCP. (I am shockingly suggesting that some folks actually to read the back of the BCP. :-)] The commemoration of Archbishop Romero brings to the forefront the old tension between the need for obedience and the need to be prophetic against the vice and evils of human government which is almost always corrupt. The tension is played out in the biographies of many of the persons commemorated without any real attempt to resolve the conflict.

      • Mr. Gonzales had found a factual error in the write up. The men murdered on Nov. 16, 1989, were six Jesuits who lived in a residence at the University of Central America in San Salvador. Also shot and killed were the community’s cook and her daughter.
        Those killed in the attack were:
        1. Rev. Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., 59
        2. Rev. Ignacio Martin-Baro, S.J., 50
        3. Rev. Segundo Montes, S.J., 56
        4. Rev. Amando Lopez, S.J., 53
        5. Rev. Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, S.J., 71
        6. Rev. Juan Ramon Moreno, S.J., 56
        7. Julia Elba Ramos, 42, a cook
        8. Cecilia Ramos, 15, Julia’s daughter

    • To Mr. Rodriguez, I apolgize for getting your name wrong. No excuse! Just taking too many anti-histamines with all the spring time pollen. For those of us who lived through the El Salvadorian civil war but for whom the facts maybe a bit hazy, it is good to have someone pick up the factual errors. It is not good to keep perpetuating wrong information. It does makes us laughable.

  9. For the 8 victims of 11-1989:

    Another error would be: “four Maryknoll nuns were also killed in the course of their duties by the El Salvadoran army”

    It was actually 3 nuns and 1 lay missionary. Only two of the nuns were Maryknoll. I think it is very important to point out that lay were martyred equally with clergy.

    Jean Donovan – lay missioner
    Dorothy Kazel – Ursuline NOT Maryknoll nun
    Maura Clarke – Maryknoll nun
    Ita Ford – Maryknoll nun

    Here is an article from the Maryknoll sisters that details the vocations of the four women.


  10. I suggest that the subtitle simply be “Martyrs”. The RC church has not yet acted to declare him a martyr or to beatify him, let alone canonize, this man, but that should not inhibit us.

    I am not an expert on Hispanic nomenclature, but I understood that the mother’s name was added without the “y” (and).

    Line 1, third paragraph: add “hospital” after “small”.

    Line 4, fourth paragraph: add “in London” after “Abbey”.

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