VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The celebrations of the 100th anniversary Blessed Oscar Romero’s birth should be a time to reflect on what it really means to call someone a martyr, said Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador.

Too many people in El Salvador “continue to call martyrs those who picked up arms and died following an ideal” in the country’s 12-year-long civil war, the cardinal wrote in an article for L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

The country’s real martyrs, the cardinal said, “never stained their hands with blood,” and they were “men and women who strove to love God and their neighbors.”


The real martyrs of El Salvador are Blessed Romero, “the assassinated priests and the four U.S. women — three religious and a laywoman — whose lives were taken in December 1980,” he said, referring to Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, a laywoman.

In addition, he wrote, “we all have a debt that we must begin to settle as soon as possible. We are obliged out of gratitude to God and love for the truth to redeem the memory of hundreds of anonymous martyrs, most of whom were humble campesinos.”

“For us, martyr means witness,” he said. “We must walk with them in the name of Christ.”

The article by Cardinal Rosa Chavez was published Aug. 10 in the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, but was written for the newspaper’s Spanish edition, which published a special issue for Blessed Romero’s birthday Aug. 15.

The cardinal began his article thanking Pope Francis for naming Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile, as his personal envoy the celebrations of Blessed Romero’s anniversary.

In the nomination letter, he said, the pope described Blessed Romero as “bishop and martyr, illustrious pastor and witness to the Gospel and defender of the church and human dignity.” The pope also noted that as a priest and as a bishop, Blessed Romero worked for “justice, reconciliation and peace.”