Local Catholics react to martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero

By Christine M. Williams, Anchor Correspondent

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Local Catholics originally from El Salvador celebrated the news that Vatican theologians declared Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr on January 7. They said his steadfast dedication to the poor and outspoken opposition to government tyranny, which lead to his assassination in 1980, show that he was a dedicated Servant of God who was killed for the faith. He was shot through the heart while celebrating Mass.

Berta Carranza, parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. James Parish in New Bedford, said that Romero spoke up for the voiceless: “He was a very good guy who really, really followed the message of Jesus. He did what Jesus did for us.”

She called the declaration of martyrdom “very special” — to her and El Salvadorian people. 

“Everybody in my country, they want him to be a saint,” she said. “We are very proud.”

When Karla Guzman, from the same New Bedford parish, was a little girl, there were many times that her grandmother took her to the cathedral in San Salvador where Romero is buried. There she attended celebrations on his birthday. She said she expected him to be declared a martyr.

“He was always on the poor people’s side,” she said. “He fought for them until the day he died.”

In one of his homilies, Romero said, “The transcendence that the Church preaches is not alienation; it is not going to Heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart. It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor, of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel, of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it and to say to them, ‘You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.’ It is to say exactly the opposite, ‘You are valuable.’”

In addition to speaking out against poverty and social injustice, Romero condemned the assassinations and torture perpetrated by the government. 

He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

In his homily the day before he was killed, Romero made a special appeal to soldiers, telling them that “Each of you is one of us.”

He went on, “The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression.”

Douglas Tejada, a parishioner at St. Mary-Our Lady of the Isle Parish in Nantucket, commended Romero’s dedication to peace and outspoken love for the marginalized.

“He says the truth,” Tejada said of Romero. “That is why the government killed him.”

Noe Pineda, also from St. Mary Parish, said that he grew up during the war in El Salvador and remembers that difficult time well.

He added that he has long believed that Romero had authority and power from God. “He had the assistance of the Spirit to preach the way he did in those times.”

Pineda said that the fact that Romero is one step closer to being declared a saint by the Church shows that God guided Romero in life and that it is His Will that Romero will be declared a saint.

“It is very clear in my heart,” he said.

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