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Papal decree says Romero’s murder was for his faith

06 February 2015


Revered: a volunteer holds posters of Archbishop Oscar Romero at La Resurrección, in San Salvador

Revered: a volunteer holds posters of Archbishop Oscar Romero at La Resurrección, in San Salvador

POPE FRANCIS has officially recognised the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, clearing the way for his beatification - possibly within months.

The Pope has signed a decree to declare that Romero, who was shot dead as he celebrated mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador, on 24 March 1980, was killed in "odium fidei", or "hatred of the faith".

The declaration on Tuesday followed an audience between the Pope and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato. The Congregation concluded last month that the assassination of Romero constituted a martyrdom rather than a murder motivated by his political interventions.

No one has been prosecuted for the murder of Romero, whose statue stands in a niche outside Westminster Abbey, but it is widely believed that he was murdered by one of the right-wing death squads that terrorised the poor of his country, El Salvador.

A doctrinally orthodox priest, he was not known for political involvement when he was appointed as the Archbishop of San Salvador on 22 February 1977.

Within a week of his consecration, however, demonstrators protesting against electoral fraud were massacred, and within three weeks his close friend, the Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, was murdered by a death squad.

Romero subsequently emerged as a courageous and vocal champion of the oppressed, and soon became a target himself.

Shortly before he was shot, Romero predicted his own death, saying that he was unworthy of the "grace" of martyrdom. "But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality," he said. "Let my death, if it is accepted by God, be for the liberation of my people."

His cause for canonisation opened in 1993, but appeared to make slow progress. Pope John Paul II prayed before his tomb, however; and Pope Benedict XVI said that his death was "a witness of faith".

Delays were said to be caused by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's having to study his writings to determine whether he was killed for the faith, or for opposing the death squads.

Last August, Pope Francis said publicly that he would like to see the Archbishop's cause progress as "quickly as possible". A date for the beatification was expected to be announced as the Church Times was going to press.

Pope Francis also recognised the martyrdoms of the Polish Franciscan priests Michal Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strazalkowski, and the Italian priest Alessandro Dordi, who were killed in Peru in 1991 by Shining Path Communist insurgents.

The aid agency CAFOD, which worked closely with Archbishop Oscar Romero, expressed "delight" at the news.

"Archbishop Romero was one of the most inspirational figures of the 20th Century, and we are delighted that his beatification has been confirmed," said Chris Bain, director of CAFOD. "He was an extremely brave man, who was inspired by his faith to fight not just poverty but injustice, to give a voice to the voiceless.

"He didn't simply talk about the need to love your neighbour, but courageously denounced the violence and named the injustices that plagued his country. He reminded us that Christ is found in people living in poverty, and that we cannot ignore the suffering of our brothers and sisters in need.

"His words were full of courage and hope, and they still resonate strongly with us today. 'Many,' he said, 'would like the poor to keep on saying it is God's will for them to live that way. But it is not God's will for some to have everything and others to have nothing. That cannot be of God.'"

In the 1970s, CAFOD supported Archbishop Romero's radio broadcasts. When the station was blown up, CAFOD provided funding to rebuild it. The charity continues to work in El Salvador, including defending human rights. 

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