1917 (Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador) – 1980 (San Salvador, El Salvador)
When Óscar was a little boy, he helped his dad, who was a postman, deliver letters and postcards in his neighborhood. As he grew older, he even learned how to make tables, chairs, shelves, and other things out of wood, and he was on his way to becoming a carpenter. Óscar, however, had always felt that Jesus was calling him to become a priest. For his family, who had little money and where his parents had to look after him, his two sisters and his four brothers, this was quite hard. Nonetheless, they found the money to send him to a seminary, where he started his studies to become a priest already at the age of fourteen.
Even though Óscar knew that becoming a priest was very important for him, he loved his family more than his studies. When his mum fell ill, he didn’t hesitate and looked for ways to help. His family needed money to survive, so Óscar went to work in a gold mine. Do you know what it is like to work in a gold mine? Do you think it is fun? No, working in a gold mine is very hard: you have to carry around heavy rocks, break them with a pickaxe or a heavy hammer and work for very long hours in a hot and dusty place. And do you think Óscar was paid a lot of money for such hard work? No. For one long days’ work in the gold mine, Óscar got only just enough money for a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread.
But Óscar knew that helping those who were in need is what Jesus did and what he told us to do too. Can you think of a time when you helped someone who was in trouble? Great! That’s just like what Saint Óscar did not only when he was growing up but also once he became a priest and later a bishop. Óscar always loved poor people in a special way, because in them Jesus is present. When he started working as a priest, he convinced several radio stations to share his sermons from Sunday mass., This let the poor farmers, who didn’t feel welcome in many churches, hear them too.
When Óscar became bishop and later archbishop, life in his country of El Salvador was very difficult. Many people were killed and beaten by soldiers and everyone was afraid. Óscar understood that it is important not only to help the poor and those who are in need, but also to speak out against the terrible things that were going on around him. In his sermons during mass he would always tell the truth both about the bad things that happened and about how we, followers of Jesus, must go against them. The army and government who were behind the killings really disliked what Archbishop Óscar was saying. He was turning more and more people against them and giving them the courage and hope that flow from Jesus.
At one point, Archbishop Óscar even said to the soldiers who were behind the terrible murders that they mustn’t kill another person, because God is always against violence and murder. Obeying God is always more important than obeying people! This angered the army so much that they had Archbishop Óscar shot the very next day, right in the middle of mass. Óscar knew very well that his life was in danger, but what was more important to him was to follow Jesus’ example.
Saint Óscar, who is considered a great saint also by Anglicans and Lutherans, can help us have courage when we too have to stand up to a bully or to someone who is treating others around us badly.
“There is one rule by which to judge if God is near us or is far away – everyone concerned for the hungry, the naked, the poor has God close at hand.”
Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez