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Oscar Romero beatified in El Salvador

29 May 2015

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Celebration: Roman Catholics from around the world came to witness the beatification of Oscar Romero  

Celebration: Roman Catholics from around the world came to witness the beatification of Oscar Romero  

POPE FRANCIS has beatified Oscar Romero, the Latin American archbishop assassinated during mass in 1980 after publicly criticising the military oppression of the poor.

The former Archbishop of San Salvador, whose statue stands in the façade of Westminster Abbey, now takes the title "Blessed", meaning that he may be canonised as a saint if the Pope becomes convinced that a healing miracle has occurred at his intercession.

The beatification mass was celebrated last Saturday in the Plaza del Divino in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.

The relic of the blood-stained shirt worn by Archbishop Romero when he was gunned down by an assassin, as he raised the chalice during mass in a hospital chaplaincy, was brought to the altar in a glass case.

The postulator of Romero's cause for sainthood, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, read a passage from a biography of Archbishop Romero before the formula of beatification was read, first in Latin and then in Spanish.

Before the event, Pope Francis sent a letter to the President of El Salvador's Bishops' Conference, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador, describing Romero as "a zealous bishop who . . . converted himself in the image of Christ the Good Shepherd".

"In times of difficult co-existence, Mgr Romero knew how to guide, defend, and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the gospel and in communion with all the Church," the Pope said.

"His ministry was distinguished by his particular care for the poorest and most marginalised."

The homily was preached by the Italian Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, representing the Pope. The Cardinal said that Archbishop Romero's memory continued to give "consolation to the poor and marginalised of the earth".

He recalled how the murder of Fr Rutilio Grande, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest working with the poor, had "touched the heart of the Archbishop", who subsequently became more explicit in defending the oppressed and the persecuted clergy who assisted them, irrespective of the daily threats to his own life.

Cardinal Amato also said that Romero's concern for the poor "was not ideological but evangelical".

"His charity extended also to the persecutors to whom he preached conversion to the good, and to whom he assured forgiveness, despite everything," he said.

Christian Aid, which worked with Romero in the 1970s, was among those groups and individuals to welcome the beatification.

The director of PROCARES, a Christian Aid partner organisation in El Salvador, Berta Aguirre, said that it represented a new chapter in the country's history, and a chance to highlight ongoing injustices.

She said: "Romero's beatification means a lot for this country and for the victims of the civil war. It highlights the terrible situation of repression and injustice that many of us have lived with for years.

"Romero was a man of faith. His only sin was to preach the gospel."

Pope Francis this year cleared the way for the beatification by recognising Romero's death as a martyrdom inflicted because of "hatred of the faith" rather than simply a murder. The RC Church considers martyrdom akin to a "second baptism" that sends the candidate straight to heaven, and therefore does not require the validation of a healing miracle.

No one has been prosecuted for the murder of Archbishop Romero, but it is widely believed that he was murdered by one of the right-wing death squads terrorising the poor of his country at that time.

His death came at the start of a 12-year civil war that claimed an estimated 75,000 lives in the Central American country.

His cause for canonisation opened in 1993, but appeared to make slow progress in spite of Pope John Paul II's praying before his tomb, and Pope Benedict XVI's expressing the view that his death was "a witness of faith".

Romero's feast day will be celebrated on 24 March, the date of his martyrdom.

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