Another Reflection on 40th Anniversary of Oscar Romero’s Assassination

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (now Saint Romero) has been a personal saint for this Protestant (Presbyterian) since 1989, and I was blessed to be able to attend the 20th and 30th anniversary commemorations of his 1980 brutal assassination and lament I was unable to attend the 40th anniversary this March 24th.[1]

A moving reflection on the 40th anniversary has been provided by Carlos Colorado, the author of Eminem Doctrin, a blog about Romero’s teachings, and Super Martyrio, a blog advocating since 2006 for Romero’s canonization that in fact happened in 2018.[2] Here is what Colorado said.

“In March 2000 I was in El Salvador for what was then the 20th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination. . . . At a reception in a trendy boarding house in western San Salvador, I brashly suggested to the guests that Romero could become El Salvador’s Socrates—who was forced to drink poison by fervid Athenians, but was later embraced by the city as its most quintessential son. It fell to the late, legendary NCR [National Catholic Reporter] correspondent Gary MacEóin to let me down gently, explaining that the entrenched hostility toward Romero from the powerful meant that he would be persona non grata to the political establishment indefinitely.”

“Of course, MacEóin was right about the elites; Romero is ‘not a saint of their devotion’—as the Salvadoran expression goes—to this day. But many things were already changing by the year 2000 and many more things have changed since, to make Romero’s remarkable rehabilitation possible. While Romero’s memory was suppressed in El Salvador during the 80s and 90s, it was kept alive abroad with glowing biographies and film portrayals, including Oliver Stone’s ‘Salvador’ (1986) and the modest indie pic “Romero” (1989).[3] In 1990, the church opened its sainthood investigation, but it seemed as if, for the rest of the decade, that project was shelved.”

“While Romero’s sainthood file gathered dust at the Vatican, on the streets his image was ascendant, with larger and larger commemorations of his March 24 anniversary each year, not only in San Salvador, but also in London and Rome. Things began to change in official circles in El Salvador in 2004, when Tony Saca, who had been an altar boy for Romero, was elected president. Although a member of the party founded by the man thought to have ordered Romero’s assassination, Saca petitioned Pope Benedict XVI to permit Romero’s sainthood cause to advance. But the real sea change came with the 2009 election of Mauricio Funes, the first left-wing president, who promised to make Romero the moral compass for his government. Funes named a new traffic artery after Romero, renamed the airport after Romero, and installed a heroic painting of Romero in the presidential mansion’s great hall.”

“Perhaps the largest transformation occurred in 2015, when Romero was beatified in El Salvador, showing the country how admired he was when hundreds of thousands turned out for the large-scale spectacle.[4] The church made a concerted effort then to educate the population about Romero. Many read his homilies and learned about his actions and actual views for the first time, often refuting what they had heard in official disinformation. There were many who actually believed Romero had materially assisted the guerrillas, supplying arms and openly espousing Marxist propaganda. The publicity campaign and educational effort that accompanied the beatification helped to blunt extreme views.”

“Ultimately, Gary MacEóin was right, though, that Salvadorans would not be ready to buy into Romero’s message. With all of the 40th anniversary commemorations, including an emblematic candlelit street procession, cancelled due to Coronavirus, this anniversary will be very reminiscent of the first ten years when Romero memorials were banned. This year, instead of public memorials, Romero devotees are being asked to light candles at home. Indeed, it appears that in El Salvador, Romero is “hidden in plain sight.” That is, he is everywhere: his name is at the airport, on the roadway artery, and his image is in the presidential state room and in street murals all over the country. But the current generation, including the new millennial president, find the most universal Salvadoran a stranger they do not know.”

“In a sense, the muted Romero commemoration will be the most faithful to the spirit of the man. Just when it seemed he was in danger of becoming “another little wooden saint” (as activists feared he would become), Romero is again associated with austerity, sacrifice and restraint. I suspect he would not want it any other way.”

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[1] Remembering Archbishop Oscar Romero (Now Saint Romero),dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 24, 2020)   See also Remembering Oscar Romero in Film, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2011)(20th anniversary); list of posts in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[2] Colorado, Muted 40th Romero anniversary recalls the early days, El Salvador Perspectives (Mar. 23, 2020).

[3]  See Remembering Oscar Romero in Film, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 14, 2011).

[4]  See Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Beatified on May 23, 2015, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 13, 2015); The Canonization of Oscar Romero, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2018).

 

Pope Francis Approves Beatification of Padre Rutilio Grande

On February 21, Pope Francis approved the beatification of Padre Rutilio Grande, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest who was murdered on March 12, 1977, by a Salvadoran death squad for his advocacy for people who were persecuted by the country’s military and death squads.[1]

His ministry and slaying inspired then Archbishop Oscar Romero (now Saint Romero) to become an  outspoken critic of the country’s military and advocate for El Salvador’s oppressed.[2]

Pope Francis has long expressed his intense admiration for both Grande and Romero. At the entrance to his room at the Vatican hotel where the Pope lives is a piece of cloth with Romero’s blood on it and notes from a catechism teaching Grande delivered. Last year during a visit to Panama, the Pope said,“I was a devotee of Rutilio even before coming to know Romero better. When I was [a priest] in Argentina, his life influenced me, his death touched me. He said what he had to say, but it was his testimony, his martyrdom, that eventually moved Romero. This was the grace.”

The official Vatican News stated the news of this beatification as follows:

  • “The Pope also recognized the martyrdom of the Servants of God Rutilio Grande García, a Jesuit priest, and his 2 lay companions, who were killed in hatred of the faith in El Salvador on March 12, 1977.”
  • “Murdered before the start of the Salvadoran civil war, Father Grande, who was a close friend of fellow Salvadoran and martyr, Saint Oscar Romero, became an icon for human rights in rural Latin America.”
  • “Known for his vigorous defence of poor, the Jesuit priest, an elderly man and a teenager were shot by a right-wing death squad as they were travelling in a car outside the village where he was born.”
  • “The horror that the assassination of Fr. Grande generated led Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador to take up the Jesuit’s mantle as a defender of the poor.  Three years later, Romero would succumb to the assassins’ bullets for his outspoken criticism of the military and work on behalf of El Salvador’s oppressed.”
  • “The decree on the martyrdom of Fr. Grande and his two companions does away with the need for a miracle through their intercession to qualify for beatification, the final step before sainthood, for which a miracle would be required.  The beatification date will be declared at a later date.”

In March 2003, this blogger was in El Salvador and attended a memorial mass for Father Grande at the church in the village of El Paisnal, where he had served as the parish priest, and stopped to pay my respects at Grande’s memorial on the road to the village where he had been murdered.[3]

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[1] Gomes, Indian martyr, Devasahayam, cleared for sainthood, Vatican News  (Feb. 22, 2020); Reuters, Pope Moves Slain Salvadoran Priest, Icon for Poor, Closer to Sainthood, N.Y. Times (Feb. 22, 2020); Assoc. Press, Pope Oks Beatification for Rutilio Grande, Salvadoran Martyr, N.Y. Times (Feb. 22, 2020).

[2] See posts listed in the “ Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: El Salvador.

[3] See Remembering Oscar Romero in Film, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2011) (includes photos of the sanctuary during the memorial mass and of the Grande memorial).

The Canonization of Oscar Romero

On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis at the Vatican canonized Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Vatican’s press release briefly stated the following:

  • “Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 as he was saying Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital where he lived.  He was an outspoken voice for the poorest people of his country, so got caught up in a conflict between the military government and guerilla groups that claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives.”
  • “Thirty five years later, he was declared a martyr of the Church, killed out of hatred of the faith, and was beatified on May 23rd[1]

Pope Francis, who wore the bloodstained rope belt that Romero wore when he was assassinated, canonized Romero and Pope Paul VI at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before about 70,000 faithful, a handful of presidents and 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome to honor a man whom many Latin Americans consider a hero. Back in El Salvador’s capital, tens of thousands more Salvadorans stayed up all night to watch the Mass on giant TV screens outside the cathedral where Romero’s remains are entombed. Below are photographs of the crowd at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis and of  photographs of Romero and Pope Paul VI hung on the exterior of St. Peter’s.

 

 

 

Pope Francis’ Homily

In his homily Pope Francis said that Romero “left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters.”

The homily was based upon Hebrews: 4: 12-13 (NRSV): “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” The passage from Hebrews “tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . . It really is: God’s word is not merely a set of truths or an edifying spiritual account; no – it is a living word that touches our lives, that transforms our lives. There, Jesus in person, the living Word of God, speaks to our hearts.”

“The Gospel, in particular, invites us to an encounter with the Lord, after the example of the ‘man’ who ‘ran up to him’ (cf. Mk10:17). We can recognize ourselves in that man, whose name the text does not give, as if to suggest that he could represent each one of us. He asks Jesus how ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v. 17). He is seeking life without end, life in its fullness: who of us would not want this? Yet we notice that he asks for it as an inheritance, as a good to be obtained, to be won by his own efforts. In fact, in order to possess this good, he has observed the commandments from his youth and to achieve this he is prepared to follow others; and so he asks: ‘What must I do to have eternal life?’”

“Jesus’s answer catches him off guard. The Lord looks upon him and loves him (cf. v. 21). Jesus changes the perspective: from commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love. That man was speaking in terms of supply and demand, Jesus proposes to him a story of love. He asks him to pass from the observance of laws to the gift of self, from doing for oneself to being with God. And the Lord suggests to the man a life that cuts to the quick: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor…and come, follow me’ (v. 21).”

“To you, too, Jesus says: ‘Come, follow me!’ Come: do not stand still, because it is not enough not to do evil in order to be with Jesus. Follow me: do not walk behind Jesus only when you want to, but seek him out every day; do not be content to keep the commandments, to give a little alms and say a few prayers: find in Him the God who always loves you; seek in Jesus the God who is the meaning of your life, the God who gives you the strength to give of yourself.”

Again Jesus says: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor.’ The Lord does not discuss theories of poverty and wealth, but goes directly to life. He asks you to leave behind what weighs down your heart, to empty yourself of goods in order to make room for him, the only good. We cannot truly follow Jesus when we are laden down with things. Because if our hearts are crowded with goods, there will not be room for the Lord, who will become just one thing among the others. For this reason, wealth is dangerous and – says Jesus – even makes one’s salvation difficult. Not because God is stern, no! The problem is on our part: our having too much, our wanting too much suffocates us, suffocates our hearts and makes us incapable of loving. Therefore, Saint Paul writes that ‘the love of money is the root of all evils’ (1 Tim 6:10). We see this where money is at the centre, there is no room for God nor for man.”

“Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, our heart is like a magnet: it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world’s treasure (cf. Mt 6:24); either it will live for love or it will live for itself (cf. Mk 8:35). Let us ask ourselves where we are in our story of love with God. Do we content ourselves with a few commandments or do we follow Jesus as lovers, really prepared to leave behind something for him? Jesus asks each of us and all of us as the Church journeying forward: are we a Church that only preaches good commandments or a Church that is a spouse, that launches herself forward in love for her Lord? Do we truly follow him or do we revert to the ways of the world, like that man in the Gospel? In a word, is Jesus enough for us or do we look for many worldly securities? “

“Let us ask for the grace always to leave things behind for love of the Lord: to leave behind wealth, leave behind the yearning for status and power, leave behind structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world. Without a leap forward in love, our life and our Church become sick from ‘complacency and self-indulgence’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 95): we find joy in some fleeting pleasure, we close ourselves off in useless gossip, we settle into the monotony of a Christian life without momentum, where a little narcissism covers over the sadness of remaining unfulfilled.”

“This is how it was for the man, who – the Gospel tells us – ‘went away sorrowful’ (v. 22). He was tied down to regulations of the law and to his many possessions; he had not given over his heart. Even though he had encountered Jesus and received his loving gaze, the man went away sad. Sadness is the proof of unfulfilled love, the sign of a lukewarm heart.”

“On the other hand, a heart unburdened by possessions, that freely loves the Lord, always spread’ joy, that joy for which there is so much need today. Pope Saint Paul VI wrote: ‘It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song’ (Gaudete in Domino, I). Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have travelled this path.”

Conclusion

In my first trip to El Salvador in April 1989 I started to learn about Oscar Romero and his courageous denunciations of human rights violations by the Salvadoran government and, to a lesser extent, the rebels. For these acts he was assassinated while he was saying mass in a small, modern and beautiful chapel on the grounds of a cancer hospital across the street from his small apartment. As a Protestant Christian I came to regard Romero as my personal saint. Thus, I treasure the Roman Catholic Church’s formally recognizing him as a saint.[2]

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[1] Vatican, Bl. Oscar Romero: A martyr of the option for the poor, Vatican News (Oct. 14, 2018); Vatican, Booklet for the Celebration: Holy Mass and Canonizations (14 Oct. 2018); Vatican, Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis (Oct. 14, 2018); Zra, Óscar Romero, Archbishop Killed While Saying Mass, Will Be Named a Saint on Sunday, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018); Assoc. Press, Pope’s Canonization of Paul VI, Romero Personal, Political, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018); Sherwood, Salvadoran priest óscar Romero to be declared saint by Pope Francis, Guardian (Oct. 11. 2018); Winfield & Aleman, Pope makes El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI saints, Wash. Post (Oct. 14, 2018); Pavoledo, Archbishop Óscar Romero and Pope Paul VI Are Made Saints, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2018).

[2] Previous posts have discussed my discovery of Romero and various legal proceedings about his assassination. (See the posts listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR. A website totally devoted to honoring Romero and promoting his beatification and canonization is Super Martyrio. There also are frequent posts about Romero in the blog El Salvador Perspectives.

Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Canonized as a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church                                                                                                     

As discussed in previous posts, the Roman Catholic Church on May 23, 2015, beatified Archbishop Oscar Romero after it had determined that he was a martyr, who is someone who was killed because of hatred of his Christian faith and, therefore, who did not have to have committed a miracle for this honor. Such beatification is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for someone to become a saint of the Church.[1]

On March 6, 2018, Pope Francis authorized the Church’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree concerning “the miracle, attributed to the intercession of Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, archbishop of San Salvador.” That miracle was the healing of a Salvadoran pregnant woman who was suffering from life-threatening complications, but who was healed after she had prayed for Romero’s intercession. [2]

This papal decree followed the October 2017 unanimous decision by a Vatican panel of medical experts that there was no scientific explanation for the woman’s recovery; the December 2017 approval of that decision by a panel of theologians; and the February 2018 approval of that decision by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints is the congregation of the Roman Curia that oversees the complex process that leads to the canonization of saints, passing through the steps of a declaration of “heroic virtues” and beatification. After preparing a case, including the approval of miracles, the case is presented to the Pope, who decides whether or not to proceed with beatification or canonization.[3]

In 2016, Cardinal Parolin, under the mandate of Pope Francis, approved the current Regulations for the Medical Board of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that introduced the necessity of a qualified majority of at least at least 5/7 or 4/6; to proceed to the examination of a presumed miracle. These new rules approved by Pope Francis are designed to make the process for approving a miracle in a sainthood cause more stringent.

We now await announcement of the time and place of the canonization.

As someone who strives to be a Christian of the Presbyterian persuasion and who already has self-designated Romero as his personal saint because of his courage in proclaiming the Gospel in El Salvador and denouncing its government’s violations of human rights, I am grateful for the Roman Catholic Church’s making Romero’s sainthood official.

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[1] Previous posts about Oscar Romero are listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.   Here are the ones about his beatification: Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero? (May 23, 2013); Progress on Vatican’s Canonization of Oscar Romero (May 20, 2014); Pope Francis Urges Swift Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (Aug. 22, 2014); Comment: Salvadoran Bishops Unhappy with Possible Beatification of Oscar Romero (Oct. 5, 2014); University of Centro America Endorses Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (Nov. 25, 2014); Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero Closer to Beatification (Jan. 19, 2015); Pope Francis Confirms Martyrdom of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (Feb. 3, 2015); Additional Details About Future Beatification of Oscar Romero (Feb. 4, 2015); Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Beatified on May 23, 2015 (Mar. 13, 2015).

[2] Vatican, Promulgation of the Decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, 07.03.2018Pope Francis approves sainthood for Oscar Romero, Catholic Herald (Mar. 7, 2018); O’Connell, Pope Francis opens the door for canonization of Oscar Romero and Paul VI, America: The Jesuit Review (Mar. 7, 2018); Pope approves miracle for Romero, SuperMartyrio (Mar. 7, 2018); Canonization of Oscar Romero announced, El Salvador Perspectives (Mar. 7, 2018).

[3] Vatican, Congregation for the Causes of SaintsCongregation for the Causes of Saints, Wikipedia.

 

 

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Beatified on May 23, 2015

This Wednesday (March 11th) the Roman Catholic Church announced that the beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero will take place this May 23rd. The ceremony will be in Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo, in the country’s capitol of San Salvador. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Church’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will celebrate the Mass. [1]

Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop                        Oscar Romero
Plaza El Salvador del Mundo (with Romero statue)
Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo (with Romero statue)

The announcement was made by Italian Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, the Roman Catholic Church’s chief promoter of the Archbishop’s sainthood cause, at a news conference Wednesday (March 11) in the Hall of Honor of El Salvador’s Presidential Palace. Present were the country’s President, Salvador Sanchez Ceren; Chancellor Hugo Martinez; the Archbishop of the City of San Salvador, Monsignor José Luis Escobar Alas; and Apostolic Nuncio, Leon Kalenga.

AnnBeatification

After looking at a portrait of Romero in the Hall of Honor, Monsignor Paglia said that this beatification is an extraordinary gift for the whole church in the world and especially for all El Salvador, because “Romero from heaven has become a good shepherd and today “Blessed.” This is a “time of joy and celebration. How not to recognize that the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero has given strength to many Salvadoran families who lost relatives and friends during the war.” Paglia stressed that the symbolism of the death of Monsignor Romero “has made him an eloquent witness of love for the poor that knows no limits. I think we have a protector in heaven, a protector for everyone, but especially the poor and humble in this country that has given the world and the Church a big child in love as Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.” (Photo has President Ceren (2d from left) and Bishop Paglia (2d from right).)

In response Present Ceren said, “Through his faith and work for the neediest people, Romero can inspire a new world of hope and optimism. This beatification also becomes a miracle to El Salvador, because it allows us, from his thoughts, to unite the country and face the new challenges we have. No doubt if Monsignor were still alive, he would help us join hands to bring peace to our family.” The President also said the country is committed to further developing and disseminating the thought of the Salvadoran martyr. “Monsignor Romero is a child who exalts this country. His work and doctrine has reached far corners of the world and has turned his life into a hope for humanity.”

The next day, Archbishop Paglia celebrated a mass of thanksgiving at Romero’s tomb in the Crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral. In his homily Paglia urged everyone to continue Romero’s example of seeking justice. “Monsignor Romero continues preaching to us, he tells us that we need to hear the word of God, which means: love without limits. Romero is a beautiful stone that is built in heaven, which is why from now on we must speak with Romero, as a father and pastor,”

“Today Romero speaks louder than before. Romero does not need to be beatified, but the world needs to see witnesses like Monsignor Romero, because it is his example that we must imitate.This is the deeper significance of the beatification.”

Paglia also said Father Rutilio Grande was another character the world needs, because he was also on the side of the poor and denounced the injustices social that once were in the country. [2]

Many believe the March 11th date of the announcement is significant as Grande was murdered on March 12, 1977, and as Paglia in February announced that the Vatican also had opened a sainthood process for Grande. “It is impossible to know Romero without knowing Rutilio Grande,” Paglia said then.

Carlos X, the author of the SuperMartyrio blog devoted to the canonization of Romero, opined that the date of May 23 (Pentecost Eve), is significant “as a reflection on Romero’s death, as a retrospective on his ministry as a bishop, and as a meditation on the great charge that Romero sought to fulfill” for the following reasons:

  • “First, Romero died during Lent and was buried on Palm Sunday.  It seems sadly and sweetly fitting that he should return after Easter, resurrected not only in his people but in his Church, in which he will be raised to the honor of its altars.”
  • “Second, this Pentecost will be the 40th anniversary of Romero’s first pastoral letter, “The Holy Spirit in the Church,” issued in May 1975 while he was Bishop of Santiago de Maria.  Many will want to read that pastoral letter; they will find that it serves as an apt road map for the bishop that was Oscar Romero, and that he was faithful to its most fervent objectives.”
  • “Finally, Pentecost is the inspiration for the Second Vatican Council, and the Latin American bishops’ synods at Medellín (1968) and Puebla (1979), which guided Romero’s ministry.  It is impossible to read Romero’s episcopate but through the prism of these modern ‘Cenacles.’”

As a Protestant Christian of Presbyterian persuasion, I was baffled by the Roman Catholic Church’s concept of beatification. Research disclosed that beatification is a necessary condition for someone subsequently to be recognized as a saint, “a member of the Church [who] has been assumed into eternal bliss and may be the object of general veneration. A saint is also a person of remarkable holiness who lived a life of heroic virtue, assisted by the Church, during their pilgrimage on earth.”

Upon beatification, an individual can be called “blessed” and venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance. Beatification usually requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. Because Pope Francis confirmed the Church’s finding that Romero was a martyr, there was no need for proof of a miracle for his beatification, but evidence of a miracle will be necessary for the Church to canonize Romero as a saint.

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[1] Falasca, Oscar Romero will be blessed May 23, Avvenire.it (Mar. 11, 2015); Romero will be beatified in May, SuperMartyrio (Mar. 11, 2015); McElwee, Slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero to be beatified May 23, Nat’l Catholic Reporter (Mar. 11, 2015); “The son of a small country in Central America is now placed among the blessed:” Vincenzo Paglia, DiarioCoLatino (Mar. 12, 2015); Vincenzo Paglia: Pope Francis calls us to imitate Romero, DiarioCoLatino (Mar. 12, 2015). There are many posts to this blog about Romero, including Pope Francis’ urging a quick beatification for Romero, Francis’ confirming martyrdom for Romero and additional details about that confirmation.

[2] In 2000 I attended a memorial mass in El Salvador for Rutilio Grande, as reported in a prior post.

 

 

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero Closer to Beatification

Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero

The nine-member Roman Catholic Commission of theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have given their unanimously positive vote to finding that Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered “in hatred of the faith,” i.e., he was a martyr.[1]

Now a commission of church cardinals and bishops must approve this finding before it goes to Pope Francis for final approval

If this finding obtains those additional approvals, Romero can be beatified without a finding that a miracle happened through his posthumous intervention. After beatification, Romero will be a candidate for sainthood, for which a finding of a miracle is necessary.

As a Protestant Christian for whom Romero already is a saint, I am pleased with this development.[2]

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[1] This post is based upon Vatican theologians recognize Romero as a martyr, Super Martyrio (Jan. 8, 2015); Winfield, Slain Salvadoran archbishop closer to beatification, Portland Press-Herald (Jan. 10, 2015).

[2] This blog has a number of posts about Oscar Romero and his possible beatification.

University of Central America Endorses the Beatification and Canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop Oscar Romero

 

In the midst of its commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the murders of its martyred Jesuit priests and professors, El Salvador’s University of Central America (Universidad de Centro America), also made news regarding the beatification and canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

 

In early November UCA’s website had an article by Jon Sobrino, S.J., the Director of its Archbishop Romero Center, entitled, “Beatification of Bishop.” He reported that Salvadoran Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar recently had said that Pope Francis had told him that Romero would be beatified next year (2015).

Subsequently Sobrino corrected this to say that he had not attended the meeting of the clergy where Archbishop Escobar made the announcement, but instead Sobrino had received the information second-hand from someone who had conveyed erroneous information.  In particular, Sobrino clarified that Archbishop Escobar had not spoken to Pope Francis, but instead to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator (advocate) of Romero’s cause for beatification and canonization, who had said beatification would “possibly” be in 2015.[1]

After the publication of the initial Sobrino article, Archbishop Escobar said that he hoped beatification of Romero would occur in 2015, which will be the 35th anniversary of his assassination and part of the Triennial, 2014-2017, ending in 2017, the year marking the centennial of his birth. But although beatification “was in its final stages, no date has been set,” said the Archbishop.[2]

On November 14th UCA published on its website an editorial, “Holy to the World,” endorsing the beatification and canonization of Romero. It started, “The news [by UCA] of the possible beatification of Archbishop Romero [in 2015]spread like wildfire, both inside and outside the country. The UCA has received many reactions from many countries of the continent. The vast majority of these reactions expressed joy and hope for good news. Only a very small group of people was opposed.”

The editorial continued “Eventual beatification and subsequent canonization of Romero will be an act of justice to his career, qualities and generous dedication to the Salvadoran people. Definitely, Monsignor Romero was and still is . . . good news for the poor. To recognize this is to recognize the causes he defended, by which he lived and why he was murdered. Beatification and canonization [will recognize his] complaint against structural injustice and his fight for justice for the victims of senseless violence and an exclusionary and undemocratic system that concentrates wealth in a few hands.”

“Doing justice to Archbishop Romero is also doing justice [for those] he championed:  the work of [Fr.] Rutilio Grande, the suffering of many victims of state violence who found comfort, encouragement and hope in Romero and the Archbishop’s legal aid office. Doing justice to Archbishop Romero also is doing justice to the victims of the violence he denounced, victims before and after their death, and the poor.”

Beatification and canonization also “implies a moral condemnation of his opponents, who reviled him, persecuted others and rejoiced with his murder.” This anticipated recognition of Romero leaves “in the pit of shame and disrepute the mainstream media, which systematically slandered him, branded him a communist agitator and even suggested the way to silence him.” It also will “bare the guilt of those who constantly threatened him, the masterminds who forged his death.”

“In short, to do justice to Archbishop Romero is to accept that he was right, that he was telling the truth, and makes these points clear to those who until now have remained rooted in lies and injustice.”

Beatification and canonization “will only be a formal recognition of what most people have in their hearts and cries. Romero said that if he were killed, he would be resurrected in the Salvadoran people. But his life and resurrection have transcended borders, religions and ideologies. Archbishop Oscar Romero is holy not only for El Salvador, but for the whole world.”

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[1] A Salvadoran newspaper (Diario CoLatino) had an article about the Archbishop’s correction of the story. A fascinating, detailed examination of Sobrino’s error is provided in an article on the “SuperMartyrio” website that is dedicated to advocating Romero’s beatification and canonization:

[2] Earlier posts have discussed the Roman Catholic Church’s processes for beatification and canonization of Romero: Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero? (May 23, 2013); Progress on Vatican’s Canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero (May 20, 2014); Pope Francis Urges Swift Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (Aug. 22, 2014). My attention to this issue prompted the writing of another post, A Presbyterian’s Musings About Saints (Sept. 19, 2014).

A Presbyterian’s Musings about Saints

My recent investigation and writing of a post about the Roman Catholic Church’s process for the beatification and canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero prompt these musings about blesseds and saints in that church and their absence in my own church, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, and its denomination, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Roman Catholic Church[1]

According to a Catholic secondary source (“Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”), a saint is “…a member of the Church [who] has been assumed into eternal bliss and may be the object of general veneration. A saint is also a person of remarkable holiness who lived a life of heroic virtue, assisted by the Church, during their pilgrimage on earth. They are as varied and exceptional as only God could create them, and each has his own distinct story.”

The veneration of saints (in Latin, cultus, or the “cult of the saints”) describes a particular popular devotion or abandonment to a particular saint or saints. Although the term “worship” of the saints is sometimes used, it is intended to mean honor or give respect. According to the Catholic Church, Divine Worship is properly reserved only for God and never to the saints.  They can be asked to intercede or pray for those still on earth, just as one can ask someone on earth to pray for them.

A saint may be designated as a patron saint of a particular cause or profession, or invoked against specific illnesses or disasters, sometimes by popular custom and sometimes by official statements. Saints are not thought to have power of their own, but only that granted by God.

Apparently under canon law, before beatification, the body of the candidate must be exhumed and authenticated and relics taken for veneration. This has produced disputes, some of which have been resolved by dividing the body. For example, St. Catherine of Sienna is entombed in Rome, but her head is revered in a Sienna basilica. Now the beatification and canonization of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen is being delayed because of a dispute whether his corpse should remain in a crypt in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City or be moved to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois, where he was ordained.[2]

Relics of saints are respected in a similar manner to holy images and icons. The practice of past centuries in venerating relics of saints for healing is taken from the early Church. Once a person has been declared a saint, the body of the saint is considered holy. The remains of saints are called holy relics and are usually used in churches. Saints’ personal belongings may also be used as relics. Some of the saints have a symbol that represents their life.

In 993, Pope John XV was the first pope to proclaim a saint, but it was not until the papacy of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) that the Pope claimed an exclusive monopoly on the canonization of saints. In 1983, Pope John Paul II made sweeping changes in the canonization procedure for Catholics whom are generally regarded as holy with the local bishop first investigating a deceased candidate’s life and writings for heroic virtue (or martyrdom) and orthodoxy of doctrine. Then a panel of theologians at the Vatican evaluates the candidate. After approval by the panel and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope proclaims the candidate “venerable.”

Beatification

The next step, beatification, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. When the pope proclaims the candidate beatified or “blessed,” the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance.

Although I do not know the total number of “blessed” in the Roman Catholic Church, the last three Popes have beatified 2,860 (Pope John Paul II, 1,342; Pope Benedict XVI, 843; and Pope Francis, 675 (including 124 Korean Martyrs on his recent trip to South Korea).)

Canonization

The Roman Catholic Church has over 10,000 named saints (or over 27 for every day of a normal year).

Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well). The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Canonization does not “make” a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done.

The last three Popes have canonized 1,355 saints: Pope John Paul II, 482; Pope Benedict XVI, 45; and Pope Francis, 828. A source says that Pope Francis’ 828 in the first 18 months of his papacy is more than all the Popes of the last three centuries.

Westminster and the PCUSA

sermon

The PCUSA and Westminster do not have a roster of designated blesseds and saints. As a result, Westminster does not have statues or paintings of such individuals in our Sanctuary.Instead, most of Westminster’s Sanctuary’s beautiful stained-glass windows from the 1950s and 60s, made by Willet Studios, primarily depict images of the life of Jesus like the one to the right for His Sermon on the Mount that is on the north side of the main floor of the Sanctuary. Earlier windows feature Victorian and early 20th century stylized organic and geometric designs. Here below, for example, is a photograph of the large Rose Window that was installed at the back of the balcony in 1897 with the construction of our Sanctuary.

RoseWindow

Westminster, however, at the back of the Sanctuary’s main floor does have four Gospel Windows (images of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the authors of the New Testament’s Gospels). Below is a photograph of these windows.

Saints Matthew & Mark
Saints Matthew & Mark
Saints Luke & John
Saints Luke & John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, there are two stained glass windows at the back of the Sanctuary’s balcony with images of prominent Protestants. One is called the “Reformation Window” with images of Protestant reformers Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox. The other is called the “Missionary Window” with images of four Protestant missionaries: William Carey (India), David Livingstone (Africa), Sheldon Jackson (Alaska) and Marcus Whitman (Northwest U.S.). Photographs of these windows are below. Finally, also in the balcony we have a window for unnamed Martyrs and another window for Jesus’ Disciples and Apostles (without names). (Thanks for the photographs to Dr. Rodney Allen Schwartz, Director of Westminster’s Gallery and Archives.)

Westminster's "Reformers' Window"
Westminster’s                            “Reformation Window”
Westminster's "Missionaries Window"
Westminster’s                         “Missionary Window”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to a comment on the PCUSA website, “In the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition, we have and always will acknowledge and honor saints. Our designation as saints comes from our rich inheritance of Christ’s righteousness.” This commentator then adds the following:

  • “In St. Paul’s understanding, the title ‘saint’ belongs to all those who have been united with Christ, those who have a share in the rich inheritance as Children of God (baptism). St. Paul routinely calls the members of his churches ‘saints’ because of who they are in Christ and not because of what they have accomplished.”
  • “Furthermore, based on the teachings of the Second Helvetic Confession, and the early church fathers, Presbyterians do not pray for the mediation of the saints. We pray to God through Christ alone, and only look to the saints, ordinary people who had extra-ordinary faith, as examples and role models.”
  • “Also, as John Calvin and the early church fathers taught in regard to the mystery of Holy Communion, we believe that when we gather at the Lord’s Table and partake of the sacrament in faith, by the work of the Holy Spirit we become united in Christ and in prayer with those gathered around the eternal throne of God (which the Lord’s Table also represents) in accordance to the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation.”

The PCUSA website introduces the subject of All Saints Day by saying, “In early Christian tradition, saints’ days began as a way to mark the anniversary of a martyr’s death — his or her “birthday” as a saint. By the middle of the church’s first millennium, there were so many martyrs . . . that it was hard to give them all their due. All Saints’ Day was established as an opportunity to honor all the saints, known and unknown.”

The PCUSA website goes on to say, “All Saints’ Day has a rather different focus in the Reformed tradition. While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of ages past, the emphasis is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God. Rather than putting saints on pedestals as holy people set apart in glory, we give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of the believers in this and every age. [All Saints Day for Presbyterians] . . . is an appropriate time to give thanks to members of the community of faith who have died in the past year. We also pray that we may be counted among the company of the faithful in God’s eternal realm.”

Bishop William Walsham How
Bishop William Walsham How
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams

At Westminster, All Saints Day is observed by reciting the names of our most recent saints, those church members who died during the prior year, and by singing the famous hymn “For All the Saints” with words by William Walsham How (1823-1897)[3] and beautiful music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).[4] The words of this hymn in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal go like this:

  1. “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
  1. “Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might; thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight; thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
  1. “O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
  1. “And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
  1. “From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, Alleluia!”

Interestingly this hymn originally had six other verses that probably were eliminated in our Hymnal to keep the hymn of reasonable length by contemporary standards. But three of those deleted verses specifically recognize the Apostles, the Evangelists and the Martyrs as saints and thereby may suggest that only they are saints.

We also must acknowledge that the names of some Presbyterian churches include the names of saints: the Apostles of Jesus (Peter (or Simon), Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas and Matthew), the authors of the synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John), the first evangelist (Paul) and other Roman Catholic saints (Elmo (or Erasmus)), Stephen, Barnabus, Giles and Patrick).

 Observations

I recognize that all of us as sinners need all the help we can get in striving to live holy lives and that blesseds and saints undoubtedly provide such assistance to many people. Moreover, I believe it must be useful for many people to have blesseds and saints from their own country or ethnic group or era to connect with Jesus, who lived and died 2,000 years ago.

A church’s having blesseds and saints can also be seen as a way for the church to evangelize, i.e., to spread the Good News of the Bible. In secular terms, it is a way to market the faith. Pope Francis’ recent beatification of 124 Korean martyrs can be seen in this light.

Once a church decides that it will have blesseds and saints, it obviously needs a well-established set of rules and procedures for making such important decisions, and Pope John Paul II’s previously mentioned changes in that regard I see as a rational management response.

However, I do not understand why the beatification and canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero can be seen as controversial or difficult when he had the courage to act, despite repeated death threats, as Jesus taught all of us to act (Love your neighbor as yourself).

As an outsider to the Catholic faith, I see the proliferation of blesseds and saints as perhaps interfering with Christianity’s focus on Jesus Christ and God. I also find it difficult to accept the miracles that are requirements for beatification (except for martyrs) and for canonization. According to the Catholic Church, to be deemed a miracle, it happens after the death of the candidate for beatification or canonization, and “a medical recovery must be instantaneous, not attributable to treatment, [and the medical problem] disappear for good.”

In the Presbyterian version of Christian faith as I have experienced at Minneapolis’ Westminster, on the other hand, we avoid having our focus on Jesus interrupted by statues and references to the blesseds and the saints. Moreover, our sermons frequently use the faith and actions of contemporary people to illustrate important points of Scripture. In this way we help to see how Jesus’ teachings can be important in our lives today.

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[1] This account of the history and practices of the Roman Catholic Church’s blessed and saints is based upon the following secondary sources in addition to those that are hyperlinked above: http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/All_Saints_Day.htm; http://www.catholic.org/saints/faq.php; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_saints; http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201310/how-many-saints-are-there-28027. I welcome amplification and corrections by those with more knowledge of the Catholic history and practice of beatification and canonization.

[2] Otterman, Tug of War Between Dioceses Halts a Bishop’s Beatification, N.Y. Times (Sept. 14, 2014.)

[3] How was an Anglican priest who served as Bishop of Wakefield in northern England and as Bishop of Bedford in the East End of London. He also was a poet and author of the lyrics for other hymns.

[4] Williams, who was Welsh-English, was a composer of symphonies, operas, chamber and choral music and film scores.

Pope Francis Urges Swift Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop        Oscar Romero

On March 24, 1980, Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while saying mass at a chapel in that city because of his preaching the Gospel and denouncing the Salvadoran regime’s violations of the human rights of his people.

I have been hoping that the Roman Catholic Church officially would recognize him as a saint, something many people in El Salvador and around the world, including this Protestant Christian, already have done unofficially. [1]

 

Now over 34 years later, on August 18, 2014, Pope Francis said that Romero’s beatification (one of the Church’s preconditions for sainthood) [2] should happen swiftly. That was the conclusion drawn by many from the Pope’s answer to a journalist’s question at an informal press conference on the papal plane’s return flight to Rome after the papal visit to South Korea.[3] Here is that answer in the Vatican’s official English translation:

Pope Francis & Journalists, August 18, 2014 (Photo--Daniel Dal Zennaro/European Pressphoto Agency)
Pope Francis & Journalists, August 18, 2014 (Photo–Daniel Dal Zennaro/European Pressphoto Agency)
  • “The process [for the beatification of Romero] was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, blocked “for prudential reasons”, so they said.  Now it is unblocked.  It has been passed to the Congregation for Saints.  And it is following the usual procedure for such processes.  It depends on how the postulators move it forward.   This is very important, to do it quickly.”
  • “What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour.  And this is a task for the theologians.  They are studying it.  Because after him [Romero] there is Rutilio Grande [[4]] and there are others too; there are others who were killed, but none as prominent as Romero.  You have to make this distinction theologically.”
  • “For me Romero is a man of God, but the process has to be followed, and the Lord too has to give His sign…  If He wants to do it, He will do it.  But right now the postulators have to move forward because there are no obstacles.”

Analyzing this statement first requires an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s structure and procedures regarding beatification and of the history of the “cause” for such status for Romero.

First, Pope Francis’s recent statement implicitly says that he does not have the authority to make the beatification decision himself. Instead, under the Church’s Apostolic Constitution (Pastor Bonus or Good Pastor) two parts of the Roman Curia (the Congregation for the Cause of Saints (CCS) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)) have to make certain decisions before a recommendation for beatification comes to the Pope for approval or disapproval. [5]

Before the CCS enters the picture, however, a candidate for beatification must be recommended for that honor by the bishop of the diocese where the individual died after a thorough investigation (initiated only after at least five years after the individual’s death) establishing his or her theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) and the performance of a “miracle” (an event that can be witnessed by the senses but is in apparent contradiction to the laws of nature). If the candidate is a martyr, however, a miracle is not required for beatification, but is for sainthood. (Emphasis added.)

The bishop’s conclusion and documentation then is submitted to the CCS, which has 34 members (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), one promotor of the faith (prelate theologian), five relators, 83 consultants and a staff of 23; it is headed by Prefect Cardinal Angelo Amato. The CCS is charged with conducting a rigorous examination into the life and writings of an individual to determine if he or she demonstrates a heroic level of virtue or suffered martyrdom. A CCS member is appointed Postulator by the CCS to oversee all aspects of the cause at the congregational level. With the assistance of a member of the congregational staff (a Relator), the Postulator prepares the “Positio” or summary of the documentation relating to the merits of the individual’s cause. The “Positio” is then subjected to an examination by nine theologians, and if a majority of them view the “Positio” positively, it then goes to examination by cardinals and bishops who are members of the CCS. If the latter group is favorable to the cause, the head or “Prefect” of the CCS presents the entire cause to the Pope. If the Pope then approves the cause, he authorizes the CCS to draft an appropriate decree, which eventually is read and promulgated.

Apparently during this process the CCS may submit certain issues to the CDF, which has 23 members (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), 28 consultants and a staff of 47; the CDF is headed by Prefect Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Under the previously mentioned Apostolic Constitution the CDF  is charged “to protect and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals . . . in things that touch this matter in any way” (Art. 48) and to help “the bishops, individually or in groups, in carrying out their office as authentic teachers and doctors of the faith, [including] the duty of promoting and guarding the integrity of that faith” (Art. 50). I assume this must have happened because the Pope stated that the CDF had blocked the beatification process for lack of proof of Romero’s ‘”prudence,” one of the required cardinal virtues for such status.

Second, the history of the process for Romero’s beatification[6] sheds light on Pope Francis’ recent remarks:

  • The process was started in 1993 with the Archbishop of San Salvador’s announcement of his intent to proceed and with the CCS’ permission to proceed. By November 1996 the archdiocesan investigation of the cause was complete when the Archbishop approved the investigation’s findings and sent documentation to the CCS, and by 1998 all the necessary records had been submitted to the Congregation.
  • In 2000, pursuant to an objection by Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who expressed concerns about Romero’s association with Liberation Theology, Romero’s cause was investigated by the . . . CDF,” then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Between 2000 and 2005, the CDF studied the writings, sermons, and speeches of Archbishop Romero to ensure that they were free from doctrinal error. In 2001, Bishop Vincenzio Paglia, the initial Postulator of Romero’s cause, held a special congress in Italy, bringing together experts and theologians to try to determine if Archbishop Romero’s actions and written and spoken words were within the authorized teaching of the Church. Eventually the CDF concluded that “Romero was not a revolutionary bishop, but a man of the Church, the Gospel and the poor.”
  • Subsequently the cause was again referred to the CDF apparently on complaint by certain Latin American cardinals who demanded a study of Romero’s concrete pastoral actions. Thereafter the cause apparently was neglected and stalled.
  • Shortly after the inauguration of Pope Francis in March 2013,  Postulator Paglia publicly reported that the Pope in a private audience on April 20, 2013, told him that the Pope was authorizing the beatification process to proceed. Paglia said that the process had been “unblocked.”

The Pope’s recent comment that at some point the CDF had concluded that Romero lacked “prudence” has been interpreted as concern that Romero had Marxist ideas. Another commentator stated, the CDF “had questioned whether the Salvadoran prelate qualified as a martyr, since his assassins clearly had political motives. Was the archbishop killed because of his faith, or because of his political involvements? And were his political activities entirely inspired by his faith? Those were the questions that complicated the cause.”

Third, the Pope said the blocking of the process by the CDF had been removed and there were now no doctrinal problems, but it is not totally clear when, why and how that happened. Apparently, as just stated, it was a decision by Pope Francis himself in April 2013, but details are lacking.

Fourth, the Pope said that he wanted clarification on whether martyrdom in ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the faith) is for confessing the [Roman Catholic] credo or for performing the works that Jesus commands us to do for our neighbors and that theologians were now studying this issue. It, however, was unclear as to whether this was being done by the CDF or the CCS. In either event, another commentator said that official martyrdom traditionally has been limited to those who were killed as persecution for their Catholicism. Indeed, this is the traditional test known as ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the Catholic faith) while death for the cause of Christian justice—sometimes called “odium iustitiae”— is currently a subsidiary test and potentially could be established as an alternative formula to prove martyrdom.

Fifth, the Pope’s recent comments made it very apparent that he supported Romero’s beatification. He called Romero “a man of God” and said that it was “very important, [for the postulators] to do it [their work] quickly.” I also thought the Pope impliedly endorsed the idea that martyrdom includes performing “the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour“ (“odium iustitiae”), which is exactly what Romero was doing and why he was assassinated.

For example, Julian Filochowski, chairman of the Archbishop Romero Trust, said the Pope’s recent comment was “reaffirming in public what he’s said in private: that he hopes this process for the beatification of Romero will be dealt with and come to a speedy conclusion.” Filochowski also said, “Archbishop Romero was never the leftist some supposed him to be. His theology was essentially the theology of the Beatitudes [the teachings that begin with ‘blessed are the poor in spirit.’]”

Indeed, during his brief time as Pope, Francis has repeatedly discussed Romero and his beatification with visitors. Just after his inauguration, he “received several guests who took up Romero with the new pope, including the Anglican archbishop of York, who handed Pope Francis a “Romero Cross.”  Francis met twice with the Argentine Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, and they discussed Romero and the desirability of a positive result in his canonization process.  “[That] same topic . . . took center stage in . . . meetings with then Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes, with his successor Salvador Sánchez Cerén, . . . with the President of the Central American Parliament, who Francis assured that the canonization is ‘on the right path’” and when this May the Pope met with a delegation of Salvadoran bishops. Moreover, Romero’s message seems to fit the themes of Francis’ papacy, especially the emphasis on the poor from a son of the Latin American church.[7]

Sixth, Francis’ comment that “Romero is a man of God” should be particularly well-received in San Salvador, where the Church has just launched a “Romero Triennium”—a three year program of commemorations leading to the 100th anniversary of Romero’s birth in 2017.  The theme for the first year is “Romero, Man of God.” Some suggest that the year 2017 would be a very opportune time for Pope Francis to go to El Salvador and proclaim Romero as “Santo Romero.”

Indeed, many in El Salvador were jubilant over the Pope’s statement. Said President Salvador Sanchez Ceren,”We are confident that in this land where Monsignor Romero lived, a determination of his martyrdom will receive his blessings.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez, added, “We are delighted by the interest and determination of His Holiness, Pope Francisco, to advance the process of beatification of Archbishop Romero our spiritual leader.”[8]

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[1] I have written many posts about Romero, some of which have concerned the beatification process.

[2] Beatification is part of the Roman Catholic Church’s process towards sainthood. It recognizes the person as someone who has lived a faithful or holy life. After beatification they are known as ‘blessed’ and can be venerated by Catholics but, unlike canonization, it is not required. Upon a grant of beatification status, a separate process for canonization commences.

[3] This discussion of the Pope’s recent comments is based upon the following: Francis: “Romero is a man of God,” Super Martyrio (Aug. 18, 2014); Pope Francis’ Flights Yield Candid Conversations, N. Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2014); Palumbo & Cave, An Obstacle to Honoring an Archbishop Is Removed (N.Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2014); Borkett-Jones, Should Romero Be Canonized? Pope Francis Seems To Think so . . . ., Christianity Today (Aug. 19, 2014); Pope lifts beatification ban on Salvadoran Oscar Romero, BBC (Aug. 19, 2014); Lawler, The cause for beatification of Archbishop Romero: BBC botched the story, Catholic Culture (Aug. 19, 2014).

[4] Rutilio Grande was a Salvadoran priest and a friend of Romero who was murdered in 1978 for his vocal advocacy and actions to support the interests of the poor people of his country. In May 2013 Pope Francis reportedly told Salvadoran President Funes that Grande also should be beatified.

[5] This account of the two congregations is based upon the English language summary by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Amplification and correction, especially on this account, from others more knowledgeable on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

[6] This summary of the history is based upon Pope Greenlights Romero Beatification, Super Martyrio (April 21, 2013); Who “Blocked” Romero’s Cause, Super Martyrio (April 29, 2013); Clear path for Romero at CCS, Super Martyrio (Nov. 22, 2013); New push for Archbishop Romero, Super Martyrio (April 25, 2014); Saint Romero in two strokes, Super Martyrio (May 5, 2014); Front row with Francis, Super Martyrio (May 30, 2014); Romero in the age of Francis, Super Martyrio (June 29, 2014); Francis: “Romero is a man of God, Super Martyrio (Aug. 18, 2014). Super Martyrio is a blog created and maintained by a Salvadoran-American lawyer in California to follow news about Romero in support of the cause for Romero’s beatification and canonization. Muchas gracias!

[7] Before becoming Pope, Sr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and as Cardinal made statements and attended events honoring Romero. In addition, Francis’ two papal predecessors have made similar comments. Saint John Paul II discussed Archbishop Romero in seven different public speeches/audiences.  The most famous of these was a 1983 mass in San Salvador where he called Romero a “zealous pastor, whom love of God and service of brethren drove to surrender his life in a violent manner.”  Saint Benedict XVI spoke about Romero during three different public events, including an in-flight press conference after a 2007 trip to Brazil, during which he said,  That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt … Archbishop Romero was certainly an important witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship, and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Consequently, his death was truly ‘credible’, a witness of faith.” 

[8] Jubilation in El Salvador by Pope announcement on beatification of Archbishop Romero, La Pagina (Aug. 19, 2014).

 

 

Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero?

Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero

 

Today at a private audience in the Vatican Pope Francis heard a plea for the Roman Catholic Church’s beatification[1] of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. The petitioner was Mauricio Funes, the President of El Salvador.[2]

President Funes & Pope Francis
President Funes &            Pope Francis 

 

Funes  gave the Pope a reliquary containing a piece of the bloodstained garment Msgr. Romero was wearing when he was assassinated on March 24, 1980. Created by the Sisters of the Hospital of Devine Providence, whose adjacent chapel was the site of the assassination, the reliquary monstrance (vessel for display of a relic) is in the shape of a cross with the arms depicting stylized human figures representing the participation of the people of God in the death of the Archbishop. (It is shown in the above photo.)

President Funes also told the Pope that Funes had been a pupil of Father RutilioGrande, whose assassination in 1977 had inspired Romero. The Pope apparently responded that Grande should also be beatified because of his love for the poor and for his persecution.

Afterwards President Funes met with the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

The Vatican’s subsequent press release said that the Pope had expressed “satisfaction . . .  for the good relations between the Holy See and the nation of El Salvador. In particular, Servant of God Archbishop Oscar Amulfo Romero y Galdamez of San Salvador was spoken of and the importance of his witness for the entire nation.”

As a Christian of the Protestant and Presbyterian persuasion, my church does not have official saints. However, I regard Romero as my saint as he already is the saint of the Salvadoran people. My many posts about Romero discuss my belated discovery of him on my first trip to El Salvador in 1989, his powerful, courageous resistance to the many human rights abuses of the Salvadoran government and military, his assassination and funeral, the cases about his assassination in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and U.S. federal court and remembering him in music, film, art and books and at Westminster Abbey in London.

I also have developed a great respect for Father Rutilio Grande. I attended his memorial mass in 2003 not far from where he was assassinated on a country road and reviewed that memorable occasion in a post.


[1]  As I understand, beatification is a recognition accorded by the Roman Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process of becoming a saint. A person who is beatifiedis given the title “Blessed” in English.

[2] This post is based upon articles in the Washington Post, Diario Latino, LaPagina and SuperMartyrio, the last of which is a blog devoted to following the process of Romero’s becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.