Mural of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero by Juana Alicia.

Oscar Romero declared a martyr as Vatican inches him toward sainthood

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Archbishop Oscar Romero, the hero of the Catholic left who was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador, is inching one step closer to sainthood after his case languished in bureaucratic limbo for decades.

Mural of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero by Juana Alicia.

Mural of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero by Juana Alicia.

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According to the Italian Catholic bishops daily, Avvenire, a panel of theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has ruled unanimously that Romero should be considered a martyr, or murdered “in odium fidei” (Latin for “hatred of faith”).

The paper reported the ruling was made on Wednesday (Jan. 7). The move is considered a decisive step on Romero’s path to sainthood.

Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was shot dead by right-wing death squads while celebrating Mass in March 1980. His murder came a day after he delivered a homily calling for soldiers to lay down their guns and end government repression in the country's bloody civil war.

Romero’s cause was started nearly two decades ago when St. John Paul II gave him the title of Servant of God in 1997. But his case never advanced amid lingering Vatican suspicion of Liberation Theology, an economically progressive approach to Catholicism that flourished under Romero and was suppressed by both John Paul and Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis, the first pontiff elected from Latin America, reopened Romero's cause soon after his 2013 election, and is said to be supportive of Romero's sainthood. Last year, the current archbishop of El Salvador, Jose Luis Escobar Alas, and three other bishops met with the pope and said all Salvadoran bishops support Romero’s canonization.

Sainthood is typically a two-step process where one miracle is required for beatification and a second miracle is required for canonization.

Martyrs, however, can be beatified without a miracle; a second miracle attributed to Romero's intercession would still be needed to make him a saint.



  1. I was under the impression that Christ himself was a proponent of “liberation theology”. “Feed the poor” and “heal the sick”? “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom”? It sounds like Romero was simply imitating Christ.

  2. Romero even got the martyring part down right.

    The man was murdered for openly criticizing his government in the midst of one of the most murderous wars in Latin American history. Clergy and church layworkers were targets of government sponsored “death squads” throughout the 80’s and 90’s.

    There was little to no chance of his efforts being recognized by John Paul II or Benedict XVI. John Paul II was far too mired in Cold War politics to ever support someone who criticized an anti-communist government. Benedict XVI being far too interested in supporting orthodoxy and a rigid status quo. Liberation theology being an anathema to his philosophies.

    Its nice to finally see some recognition of him by the Church he served. The rest of the world has been paying tribute to him for decades.

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