Sal­vado­ran priest Os­car Romero to be de­clared saint by Pope Fran­cis

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Harriet Sher­wood Re­li­gion cor­re­spon­dent

Os­car Romero, the Sal­vado­ran priest who cham­pi­oned so­cial jus­tice for the poor and dis­pos­sessed, will be pro­claimed a saint by Pope Fran­cis in a canon­i­sa­tion cer­e­mony in Rome on Sun­day, al­most four decades af­ter he was as­sas­si­nated by a rightwing death squad.

The former arch­bishop of San Sal­vador, who was closely as­so­ci­ated with the Latin Amer­i­can lib­er­a­tion the­ol­ogy move­ment of the 1960s and 70s, will be canon­ised along with six oth­ers at the cer­e­mony in St Peter’s Square. They in­clude Pope Paul VI, who over­saw the sweep­ing Vat­i­can II re­forms of the Catholic church in the 1960s.

For years, con­ser­va­tives within the church sought to block Romero’s canon­i­sa­tion be­cause of his as­so­ci­a­tion with lib­er­a­tion the­ol­ogy, a move­ment whose fol­low­ers ar­gued that it was not enough for the church to em­pathise with and care for the poor. In­stead, they said, the church needed to push for po­lit­i­cal and struc­tural changes to erad­i­cate poverty, even – some be­lieved – if this meant sup­port­ing armed strug­gle against op­pres­sors.

Clare Dixon, head of the Catholic aid agency Cafod’s Latin Amer­ica re­gion, said: “Os­car Romero is revered in his na­tive El Sal­vador. He ranks along­side the likes of Martin Luther King and Ma­hatma Gandhi as one of the most re­mark­able fig­ures of the 20th cen­tury.

“His canon­i­sa­tion will give Romero the wider recog­ni­tion he so richly de­serves. He de­nounced the vi­o­lence which was tear­ing his coun­try apart, he spoke out against op­pres­sion, and stood against in­jus­tice along­side peo­ple liv­ing in poverty.”

Fa­ther Robert Pel­ton, a Romero ex­pert at the Uni­ver­sity of Notre Dame in In­di­ana, said the Latin Amer­i­can priest was a “won­der­ful pas­toral ex­am­ple to the world”. He added: “I’m sur­prised how long it took to fi­nally get to the truth about him.”

Fran­cis be­gan the process of declar­ing Romero a saint soon af­ter be­com­ing pope. About 250,000 peo­ple at­tended Romero’s be­at­i­fi­ca­tion cer­e­mony – the penul­ti­mate step to­wards be­com­ing a saint – in San Sal­vador in May 2015.

Ear­lier this year, the Vat­i­can’s Con­gre­ga­tion for the Causes of Saints de­clared that a mir­a­cle had oc­curred fol­low­ing Romero’s in­ter­ces­sion – the fi­nal step be­fore be­ing pro­claimed a saint. A 34-year-old preg­nant Sal­vado­ran woman, who had been di­ag­nosed as ter­mi­nally ill, gave birth safely and re­cov­ered com­pletely af­ter prayers by her fam­ily and her church seek­ing Romero’s in­ter­ces­sion.

Romero was shot through the heart by a sniper while cel­e­brat­ing mass in a hos­pi­tal chapel on 24 March 1980, a day af­ter he had called on the mil­i­tary to stop killing in­no­cent civil­ians in El Sal­vador’s dirty war. Nu­mer­ous death threats had been made against him.

At his fu­neral, the army opened fire, killing dozens of mourn­ers in a crowd of more than 100,000. His mur­der came at the start of a 12-year civil war, in which more than 75,000 peo­ple were killed and thou­sands dis­ap­peared.

Dixon said that diplo­matic and po­lit­i­cal pres­sure had been ex­erted on the Vat­i­can in the years fol­low­ing his death to block ef­forts to have Romero made a saint. It was not un­til af­ter the elec­tion of a left­ist pres­i­dent in El Sal­vador in 2009 and Pope Fran­cis be­com­ing pope in 2013 that the is­sue of Romero’s canon­i­sa­tion was “pulled out of the deep-freeze”.

The former arch­bishop was “revered and re­viled, loved and loathed” in El Sal­vador, “and that con­tin­ues to be the case in a coun­try which is still deeply po­larised,” she said.

Nev­er­the­less, the Catholic church would be “go­ing ab­so­lutely crazy” this week­end cel­e­brat­ing the canon­i­sa­tion, with par­ties sched­uled for the early hours of the morn­ing to co­in­cide with events in Rome.

In his di­aries, Romero wrote: “Be­tween the pow­er­ful and the wealthy, and the poor and vul­ner­a­ble, who should a pas­tor side with? I have no doubts. A pas­tor should stay with his peo­ple.” His ser­mons, de­mand­ing so­cial jus­tice for poor peo­ple and ex­co­ri­at­ing politi­cians and mil­i­tary lead­ers, reached hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple via ra­dio broad­casts.

Fran­cis, the first Latin Amer­i­can pope, was never a lib­er­a­tion the­olo­gian, and crit­i­cised as­pects of the move­ment when he was a priest in Ar­gentina, ac­cord­ing to pa­pal bi­og­ra­phers. But since be­com­ing pon­tiff, he has ar­gued that the church must cham­pion the poor and marginalised, and has re­peat­edly crit­i­cised cap­i­tal­ism and con­sumerism.

Pho­to­graph: Marvin Re­ci­nos/AFP/Getty

Gas­par Romero holds a holy card por­tray­ing his brother, the late Mon­signor Os­car Ar­nulfoRomero.

Pho­to­graph: AP

Arch­bishop Os­car Ar­nulfo Romero, who wasgunned down while giv­ing mass in a SanSal­vador church on 24 March 1980.

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