People carry a picture of late Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero during a march ahead of the 34th anniversary of his assassination in San Salvador on March 22, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Orellana *Editors: This photo can only be republished with RNS-ROMERO-POPE, originally transmitted on February 3, 2015.

Pope Francis declares Oscar Romero a martyr, moves slain archbishop toward sainthood

People carry a picture of late Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero during a march ahead of the 34th anniversary of his assassination in San Salvador on March 22, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Orellana *Editors: This photo can only be republished with RNS-ROMERO-POPE, originally transmitted on February 3, 2015.

People carry a picture of the late Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero during a march ahead of the 34th anniversary of his assassination in San Salvador on March 22, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Orellana
*Editors: This photo can only be republished with RNS-ROMERO-POPE, originally transmitted on Feb. 3, 2015.


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(RNS) Pope Francis on Tuesday (Feb. 3) officially declared that Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated by a right-wing death squad in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador, was a martyr for the faith, clearing the way for his beatification.

The move ends decades of fierce debate over Romero's legacy, but it was not a complete surprise: Francis, the first Latin American pope, has often said he thought Romero was a martyr worthy of consideration for sainthood.

But his view contrasts with the conservative papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which viewed Romero as an icon of the theological left who was killed for political reasons because he spoke out against poverty and human rights abuses.

As a result, Romero's cause for canonization languished in the Vatican's bureaucratic limbo despite his great popularity elsewhere.

That is set to change. Tuesday's declaration by Francis stated that Romero was "killed in hatred of the faith." On Wednesday, the Vatican is scheduled to hold a news conference with Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, a Vatican official who is promoting Romero's cause for canonization.

Paglia may announce a date for Romero's beatification, the final step before canonization, which is a formal declaration that a person is a saint.

Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated 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 death at the altar came early on in a civil war that would result in the deaths of 75,000 Salvadorans.

In his sermon on March 24, 1980, just minutes before his death, Romero concluded with these words on the parable of the grain of wheat.

"Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies," he said. "It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies. … We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us."

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, which saw the gospel message as a vehicle of economic reform. That school of thought was suppressed by both John Paul and Benedict XVI.

Francis reopened Romero’s cause soon after becoming pope in 2013. 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.

But Francis has also shown on several occasions that he will circumvent the usual requirements to elevate someone who he believes is worthy of veneration.

(Josephine McKenna contributed to this story.)

KRE/MG END GIBSON

 

Comments

  1. Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated 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.

    El Salvador at that time was wracked by a sanguinary Communist insurgency. What Romero said he wanted would have been disastrous. I do home the Congregation for the Causes of Saints under Francis is not so corrupted it fancies that extreme imprudence with the lives of others at stake is a manifestation of heroic virtue.

  2. Partly true.

    El Salvador was also where the term “Death Squads” entered the public lexicon in the developed world. The ultra-right wing government created the insurgency by meeting civil protests with gunfire and repression. The government which assassinated Romero was one of the most brutal in the Americas. They even took potshots at mourners for Romero’s funeral.

    What Romero wanted, was eventually achieved. An end to the civil war, child conscription and mass murders of civilians by participants. It took the end of the Cold War and the loss of international support for both sides to resolve the conflict.

  3. @Art Deco Have you actually read his sermons? He demanded the respect for human dignity, respect for humans who are created in the image of the divine; and an end to the murder of innocents. I’d suggest you think first before you foist your political ideology onto the Holy Sprit-inspired work of the saints.

  4. Of course he hasn’t. Art loves to sling mud but rarely ever educates himself on a subject beyond ad hominem, personal attacks or partisan bullhockey

  5. And you think his successor Apb. Rivera y Damas lacked ‘respect for human dignity’ because he was more circumspect in his remarks on internecine warfare? You can have ‘respect for human dignity’ without expecting soldiers to engage in magical thinking. I cannot figure how ignoring the reality of the situation you are in is a Holy-Spirit inspired work.

  6. What Romero wanted, was eventually achieved. An end to the civil war,

    Do you really fancy that it was something peculiar or exclusive to Abp. Romero to desire an ‘end to the civil war’? It was achieved by working politicians bargaining within the matrix of the military facts on the ground (including, ahem, the contemporaneous economic crisis in Cuba). Not men of heroic virtue, just men trying to make the best of a wretched situation.

  7. He certainly knew his life was in danger to act otherwise. Damas was pretty clear that he feared for his life and was a potential target for assassination. Damas certainly agreed with Romero’s position but he was far more cautious about expressing it in public. He is hardly a counter-example to Romero as you claim.

    ” Rivera reportedly told Alfredo Cristiani, the President of El Salvador to post soldiers outside his offices. “Don’t get me wrong”, Rivera then told the president. “It’s not that I trust the soldiers. But if I’m killed, I want it clear who did it.””
    http://espanol.groups.yahoo.com/group/sanromero/message/935

    I cannot figure out whether you are just uninformed about what went on in El Salvador or feel the need to work with a preconceived narrative which is far more deferential to the government at the time than sanity permits

  8. Well the government at the time thought the best way to end it was by radically depopulating the nation for about 25 years.

    Negotiations and a peace accord didn’t happen until support for the combatants from outside nations dried up. Typical result of most Cold War battlefields by the early 90’s.

  9. Saints are not known for adhering to the “status quo” and they are frequently viewed as radical and dangerous, or even just outright nuts. If you can’t look at Oscar Romero’s public life in the bishopric and his murder and see the reflected light of the Gospel…well, as Jesus told the Pharisees,” ‘But we see’ you say, and your sin remains.” Furthermore, Jesus pitched the cheating moneychangers out of the temple courts; perhaps we should consider what Jesus might think about real economic reform. One of his bon mots was “You cannot serve both God and Mammon (the Caananite god of wealth).” I know he preached the ultimate in liberation theology; he accepted his own ignominious martyrdom to free us from our sins and save us from eternal damnation!

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