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Path to Sainthood Opening Up for Archbishop Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero

BY CHRIS KERRApril 22, 2013

ISN staff report

4/22/13 – Across the Americas there may be signs of hope for the eventual sainthood of the slain archbishop of El Salvador, Óscar Arnulfo Romero.  Romero was gunned down while celebrating mass in a small San Salvador chapel on March 24, 1980.  His vocal advocacy for the poor and marginalized during a volatile time in El Salvador’s history has inspired millions of people in Latin America and beyond to see the social imperative of the Gospels as core elements of a Christian faith.

A number of Catholic publications have reported that Vatican sources have suggested a growing openness to Archbishop Romero’s case for beatification.  According to National Catholic Reporter, “a Vatican official responsible for the sainthood cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador announced Sunday that the cause has been “unblocked” by Pope Francis, suggesting that beatification of the assassinated prelate could come swiftly.”

Additional resources on the case for Romero’s beatification can be found at:
Francis ‘unblocks’ Romero beatification, official says (4/22/13 – National Catholic Reporter)
St. Oscar Romero (4/22/13 – America Magazine)
Vatican official says Archbishop Romero’s sainthood cause ‘unblocked’ (4/22/13 – Catholic News Service)
Pope Francis reportedly supports Romero sainthood (3/25/13 – National Catholic Reporter)

BIOGRAPHY OF ARCHBISHOP ROMERO (source: United Nations – http://www.un.org)

Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (August 15, 1917 – March 24, 1980) was a prominent Roman Catholic priest in El Salvador during the 1960s and 1970s becoming Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. After witnessing numerous violations of human rights, he began to speak out on behalf of the poor and the victims of repression. This led to numerous conflicts, both with the government in El Salvador and within the Catholic Church. After speaking out against U.S. military support for the government of El Salvador, and calling for soldiers to disobey orders to fire on innocent civilians, Archbishop Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass at the small chapel of the cancer hospital where he lived. It is believed that those who organised his assassination were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the School of the Americas.

Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was born in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador, on August 15, 1917. His father apprenticed him to a carpenter when he was 13, but the young Romero felt a vocation for the Catholic priesthood and left home the following year to enter the seminary. He studied in El Salvador and in Rome and was ordained in 1942.

Romero spent the first two and half decades of his ministerial career as a parish priest and diocesan secretary in San Miguel. In 1970 he became auxiliary bishop of San Salvador and served in that position until 1974 when the Vatican named him to the diocese of Santiago de María, a poor, rural region which included his boyhood hometown. In 1977 he returned to the capital to succeed San Salvador’s aged metropolitan archbishop.

Romero’s rise to prominence in the Catholic hierarchy coincided with a period of dramatic change in the Church in Latin America. The region’s bishops, meeting at Medellín, Colombia, in 1967 to discuss local implementation of the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), had resolved to abandon the hierarchy’s traditional role as defender of the status quo and to side, instead, with the continent’s poor in their struggle for social justice. This radical departure divided both the faithful and the clergy.
During this period Oscar Romero’s reputation was as a conservative, and on more than one occasion he showed himself skeptical of both Vatican II reforms and the Medellín pronouncements. For this reason his appointment as archbishop in 1977 was not popular with the socially committed clergy, to whom it appeared to signal the Vatican’s desire to restrain them. To their surprise, Romero emerged almost immediately as an outspoken opponent of injustice and defender of the poor.

By Romero’s own account, he owed his change of attitude to his brief tenure as bishop of Santiago de María, where he witnessed first-hand the suffering of El Salvador’s landless poor. Increasing government violence against socially committed priests and laypersons undermined his trust in the good will of the authorities and led him to fear that the Church and religion themselves were under attack. The assassination on March 12, 1977, of his long-time friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande brought a stinging denunciation from Romero, who suspended masses in the capital’s churches the following Sunday and demanded the punishment of the responsible parties.

As Romero spoke out more and more frequently over the following months, he gathered an ever-increasing popular following who crowded into the cathedral to hear him preach or listened to his sermons over YSAX, the archdiocesan radio station. In his youth Romero had been a pioneer of broadcast evangelism in El Salvador, and he now turned the medium to great effect as he denounced both the violence of El Salvador’s incipient civil war and the deeply-rooted patterns of abuse and injustice which bred it. In a country whose rulers regarded dissent as subversion, Romero used the moral authority of his position as archbishop to speak out on behalf of those who could not do so for themselves. He soon came to be known as the “Voice ofthe Voiceless.”

When a coup d’état overthrew the Salvadoran government on October 15, 1979, Romero expressed cautious support for the reformist junta which replaced it. He soon became disenchanted, however, as the persecution of the poor and the Church did not cease. In February 1980 he addressed an open letter to U.S. President Jimmy Carter in which he called upon the United States to discontinue military aid to the regime. “We are fed up with weapons and bullets,”he pleaded.

Romero’s campaign for human rights in ElSalvador won him many national and international admirers as well as a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. It also won him enemies, however. On March 24, 1980, an assassin fired from the door of the chapel where Romero was celebrating mass and shot him dead. The archbishop had foreseen the danger of assassination and had spoken of it often, declaring his willingness to accept martyrdom if his blood might contribute to the solution of the nation’s problems. “As a Christian,” he remarked on one such occasion, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”

Christopher Kerr

Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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