BY ISN STAFF | May 14, 2014
According to a statement by Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez (Auxiliary Bishop of San Savlador) to Prensa Latina, the canonization process of Archbishop Oscar Romero may be coming to its final stage. He noted that a letter was presented to Pope Francis last week signed by all of the El Salvador bishops in support of Romero’s canonization (La Prensa). Last April, National Catholic Reporter reported that Romero’s path to sainthood had been “unblocked” and that Pope Francis was supportive of the slain Archbishop becoming a saint.
Romero was installed as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Salvador in February of 1977. At the time all signals suggested he would simply perpetuate the status quo of a Church unwilling to speak out against the injustice of violence and poverty plaguing the majority of El Salvador’s population. However, the death of his close friend, Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande caused Romero to look at the realities of his country in new ways. After Grande’s death Romero quickly became known for seeking out the stories of those marginalized by a US-supported military oppression. He transformed into a prophetic voice calling for human rights and dignity, challenging Salvadoran leaders and even U.S. President Jimmy Carter to end military repression and work toward peace. In February 1980, as death threats directed at Romero were looming, he spoke about the persecution of the poor while speaking in Louvain, Belgium, “That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.”
On March 24, 1980, while celebrating mass in small chapel in San Salvador, Romero was murdered by a group of Salvadoran soldiers. Many of those who implemented or organized Romero’s killing received training at the former U.S. Army School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, located at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Romero’s funeral was attended by an estimated 250,000 people and ended in violence. Father Jim Connor, S.J., representing Georgetown University, attended the funeral and offered a reflection on the experience for America Magazine later that year, saying:
“As I sat huddled in the San Salvador cathedral with thousands of terrified peasants, I found myself viewing the Salvadoran social situation with the poor and from their perspective of weakness, terror and oppression. I was given a vivid experience of the power of evil that can permeate the institutions and behavior of those who fight to uphold an unjust system. That experience helped greatly to sharpen and put disparate pieces in order.”
Romero once said that he would “live on in the Salvadoran people.” This statement could not be more true as his life and death opened the eyes of millions of people throughout the world to the plight of the economically poor and marginalized in El Salvador and beyond. Throughout Latin America and across the world Romero is a symbol of hope for people of faith struggling for justice and dignity. Within the Ignatian family Romero continues to inspire people of all ages at universities, high schools, parishes and social ministries. His eventual beatification has the potential to inspire future generations to work for social justice grounded in the Gospels.