A turning point for the Church: Oscar Romero’s beatification

Next Saturday, arguably the most important beatification of the early 21st century will be celebrated in San Salvador, El Salvador, when the late Archbishop Oscar Romero reaches the final stage before sainthood in the Catholic Church.

It’s an event 35 years in the making, and it’s hard to imagine anyone with a more remarkable tale to tell.

At the outset of a bloody civil war in El Salvador in the late 1970s, Romero was the country’s most important voice for the poor and victims of human rights abuses.

His stance obviously threatened the power structure, because in a scene straight out of T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” Romero was shot to death while saying Mass on March 24, 1980.

No one has ever been prosecuted for the assassination, though it’s widely believed the killers were linked to a right-wing death squad. Gunmen also attacked a massive crowd at Romero’s funeral six days later, leaving dozens dead.

Following a US-backed coup in October 1979, a military regime took power, and Romero emerged as its nemesis.

A month before his death, he wrote US President Jimmy Carter to ask him to suspend military and economic aid to the government, insisting the new rulers “know only how to repress the people and defend the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy.”

Just a day before he was shot, Romero begged, even ordered, soldiers and members of security forces not to fire on citizens.

From the moment he died, Romero has been popularly revered as a martyr and saint. The formal pursuit of canonization, however, was held up for decades.

In part, the block was due to conservative Latin American prelates who felt that awarding a halo to Romero would be seen as an endorsement of left-wing Marxist politics.

Pope Benedict XVI reopened Romero’s case, and Pope Francis seems determined to finish it.

Back in 2007, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina reportedly told a Salvadoran priest that “to me [Romero] is a saint and a martyr … If I were pope, I would have already canonized him.” Continue reading

  • John L. Allen Jr in Crux

John L. Allen Jr., associate editor of Crux, specializes in coverage of the Vatican.

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