San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero will soon be beatified by the Roman Catholic Church, but he is already a saint to Latin American peoples.
“Pope Francis strongly invited us to start an attentive document examination regarding Msgr. Romero’, says a source working at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who wishes to remain anonymous. “The Pope has asked heads of all departments to send all the documents in their archives as soon as possible, in order to proceed with Monsignor Oscar Romero’s beatification process”.
Archbishop JosÈ Escobar Alas and three other Salvadoran bishops met the Pope at the Vatican on 9 May to discuss the cause of Archbishop Romero. The four bishops personally delivered a letter to the Pope signed by all the bishops of El Salvador expressing their unanimous support for Romero’s canonization in time for his centenary. 2017, in fact, marks the 100th anniversary of Romero’s birth.
In 1997, a cause for beatification was opened for Romero, and the Church bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God. Controversy surrounding the Latin American Archbishop’ s beatification blocked the process. However, Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, who is the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family and the postulator for Romero’s sainthood cause, has recently announced that Romero’s beatification cause has been unblocked.
Walking with the poor
Monsignor Romeo is undoubtedly one of the most significant figures of the Latin American Church of the 20th century. On 25 April 1970, he was appointed San Salvador’s auxiliary bishop and on 15 October 1974, he took up his appointment as Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de Marìa, one of the poorest areas of the country. On 3 February 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. He was considered a moderate. Landowners and the army were convinced that the bishop would not be a problem. They found it funny that Romero turned down the proposal of the construction of a bishop’s palace, choosing to live in a small room of the chapel sacristy of the Divine Providence Hospital, where terminally ill cancer patients are hospitalized.
On 12 march 1977, his longtime friend and collaborator Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, was travelling with two peasants by car along the road that connects the municipality of El Paisnal to that of Aguilares, when they were all slaughtered. The Jesuit’s body was riddled with 18 rounds fired with a Mantzer, the same gun brand used by soldiers serving in the Salvadoran National Guard. Grande’s death and similar instances of persecution of the church had a remarkable effect on Archbishop Romero. It was as if his friend’s death marked a turning point in his life. Romero suspended masses in the nation’s churches and decided, despite the government and several bishops’ protests, that only one mass, the Misa Unica in memory of the Jesuit killed, would be celebrated on the Sunday following Rutilio Grande’s death. On 20 March, more than 100,000 people along with 150 priests were in front of the cathedral to attend the Misa Unica.
From that point forward Monsignor Romero started to speak out against the regime’s abuses and call for justice and peace. The retaliation was violent: the army intimidated and killed people, and occupied and desecrated churches. During a homily in the cathedral, the Archbishop addressed the military directly: “I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you ñ in the name of God: stop the repression’.
Following these words, the ‘palaces of power’ started to shake. Romero spoke like no one had dared to before.
He asked soldiers to make a choice between the regime’ orders and the law of God. The army could not take the chance: the bishop had become dangerous, by encouraging soldier insubordination and by gaining broader and broader consensus inside the country and abroad.
At around 6:30 in the morning on 24 March 1980, a black car drove up to the chapel of the Divina Providencia Hospital. A man got out of the car and went into the church where Romero was celebrating the mass. The man got closer and fired at point blank range at the Archbishop. Msgr. Romero died few minutes later.
A few days before being killed, while talking with a reporter, Romero said: ‘I have frequently been threatened with death. I must say that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death but in resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people. I am saying this without any presumption, with the greatest humility. As a pastor I am obliged by divine command to give my life for those I love, who are all Salvadorans, even those who might kill me’.
He continues to live
The peoples of Latin America, have already proclaimed Archbishop Oscar Romero saint. His image is found in many groups that are committed to the poor and the lowly. His voice is echoed in every activity or meeting of grassroots communities.
2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of Romero’s birth, on 17 August 1917. The Church of El Salvador will begin the countdown to the celebration with the commemoration of three theme years. The first will run from August 2014 to the same month of 2015 and will have the theme ‘Romero, man of God’. The year 2015-2016 will be devoted to ‘Romero, man of the Church’, while 2016-2017 has the theme ‘Romero, Servant of the Poor’.
Last year, at the Shrine of Aparecida, on the occasion of the World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis said he would be back in South America in 2017 for the 300th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin. Fortunately, Romero ës birthday falls on the day of the Feast of the Assumption.
Theologian Jon Sobrino has written: “Monsignor Romero continues to live. He lives in those who go to the cathedral to pray, he lives deep in their hearts. He lives in shelters, in country villages and slums. There is no doubt that Archbishop Romero continues to live among the poor, among those still struggling for survival. He lives in all those that make the decision to serve these people, and that get the strength to take risks from his memory … He lives in all those that seek God with sincerity. Monsignor Romero continues to illuminate the mystery of God made so opaque by the crucifixion of the poor people and so bright by their hope and their commitment to resurrection”.
The bishop of San Salvador is already considered a martyr by the Anglican and the Lutheran Churches. The Feast Day of Oscar A. Romero is celebrated in Anglican and Episcopal churches on 24 March.