Thousands of Catholic faithful from various nationalities participate in the ceremony celebrating the beatification of martyr archbishop Oscar Romero at Las Americas square in San Salvador, on May 23, 2015. Thousands gathered in San Salvador Saturday to celebrate the beatification of archbishop Oscar Romero, a figure whose defense of the poor and repressed challenged the rebellious leaders of El Salvador and the – amazingly, the Vatican, center of the Roman Catholic Church.
I recently completed teaching a course on how the R.C. Church changed since the late 1960s, to a group of Catholic and non-Catholic college students. Several indicated that they didn’t realize you had to be dead before the Church would declare you a saint, with a capital S.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was celebrating Mass in hospital chapel on March 24, 1980, when he was shot through the heart by a sniper who apparently fired from a car outside. The day before, Romero had delivered a strongly worded admonition to the U.S.-backed military to stop repressing civilians. He spoke directly to men carrying weapons, telling them to put down those weapons.Pope Francis announced that there were no impediments to the beatification (naming the person “blessed”) or to the canonization (actual naming as a saint). The delay had to do with confusion over liberation theology, a method of empowering oppressed peoples to ask for and receive justice. The movement spread through South and Central America. Detractors began rumors that somehow Romero was aligned with socialists, though there was no proof.
According to the Huffington Post, “Saturday’s ceremony constitutes official church approval of Romero’s legacy, even if some conservatives in the Vatican and Salvadoran society still view his memory with distaste.”
“The beatification … is a cause for great joy for Salvadorans and for those of us who rejoice at the example of the greatest children of the church,” Pope Francis said in a statement. “Monsignor Romero, who built peace from the strength of love, gave testimony of the faith with his life, committed to the very end.”
My students seem to understand the meaning of martyrdom – to die for your faith, to die in the service of the Lord, to give your life so that others may be free. I can allow my disappointment at this long delay be replaced by joy, that the right, just, fair decision has been made, and the beloved priest will be formally recognized. So many have held him as a model of servant leadership for a long time.