POPE FRANCIS on Sunday canonised Óscar Romero, the Salvadoran Archbishop gunned down at the altar as he celebrated mass, and six other church figures, including Pope Paul VI, the first pope to take steps to heal Roman Catholic-Anglican relations.
Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated by a right-wing death squad in 1980, at the start of the country’s civil war between the military government, backed by the United States, and an alliance of left-wing groups.
In his homily, Pope Francis said that Archbishop 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, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters”.
After the ceremony, the Pope gave a special welcome to the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, who was leading an Anglican delegation, and expressed his “deep gratitude” that they were there representing Archbishop Justin Welby.
Archbishop Welby had written to the Pope describing St Óscar Romero as “a true example to all Christians, and particularly to our fellow bishops”.
Lord Williams said in an interview after the ceremony: “Both Paul VI and Óscar Romero were people who were profoundly concerned with how the Church included people whose experience and whose sufferings were not recognised. Both . . . wanted the Church genuinely to be alongside the most vulnerable. . . I think today’s been a great affirmation of the Church’s responsibility to the marginal.”
St Óscar Romero has caused controversy both in El Salvador and in the Roman Catholic Church. Until the election of Pope Francis, in 2013, the cause for his beatification was blocked by pressure from right-wing Salvadoran politicians and conservatives in the RC Church, who argued that Romero had become too associated with Liberation Theology. But, within weeks of Pope Francis’s election, Romero’s cause was unblocked.
He was beatified in 2015, paving the way for him to be declared El Salvador’s first saint. He is seen as a national hero in El Salvador.
PAPope Francis waves to the crowds after the canonisation ceremony
Clare Dixon, who has been head of Latin American programmes for the RC charity CAFOD for nearly 40 years, said that Romero’s canonisation was, “for the Catholic Church, an affirmation that defending the poor and speaking out against human-rights abuses form an essential, central tenet of faith”. She was “overjoyed” that “justice has finally been done”.
Julian Filochowski, who worked with Romero and is chairman of the Archbishop Romero Trust, said: “This is the canonisation of the voice of the voiceless. [Romero] is a model for Pope Francis’s pontificate.”
In his three years as Archbishop of the Salvadoran capital, Romero broadcast homilies that drew attention to atrocities being committed by government troops.
When some 250,000 people gathered for his funeral outside San Salvador cathedral, on 30 March 1980, unidentified gunmen opened fire, killing about 40 people. In 1993, a UN commission found that Roberto D’Aubuisson, an ex-army officer and founder of the right-wing ARENA alliance, had ordered the assassination.
In England, the day after Romero’s death, Robert Runcie was installed as Archbishop of Canterbury in the cathedral where St Thomas Becket had been murdered by King Henry II’s men, 800 years earlier. The ceremony was altered to enable Runcie to pray for Romero at Becket’s tomb. Campaigning by Runcie and others the previous year had led to the blocking of the sale by the Ministry of Defence of second-hand military vehicles to the Salvadoran army.
In 1998, a statue of Romero was erected above the entrance to Westminster Abbey; and, in 2007, the Church of England commemorated Romero in its calendar of saints. In the same year, Mgr Ricardo Urioste, who had been Romero’s Vicar-General, visited Archbishop Rowan Williams. Mgr Urioste told the Archbishop how grateful he was that a statue of Romero had been placed over the western door of Westminster Abbey. The Archbishop smiled, and said: “Well, Monsignor, it gives me great joy to see that sometimes we Anglicans can make the right decision before our Roman Catholic brethren.”
In 2013, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, a patron of the Archbishop Romero Trust, presented the newly elected Pope Francis with a wooden Romero Cross like his own pectoral cross.
Dr Sentamu posted on Twitter his thanks to Pope Francis and to God for “acknowledging a prophetic bishop whose words/actions were Christ-like”.
Among the others being canonised on Sunday was Pope Paul VI, whose meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, in 1966, is a landmark in Roman Catholic-Anglican relations. In his homily, Pope Francis praised him for “crossing new boundaries”. Archbishop Welby continues the tradition of wearing, on trips to Rome, the ring that Pope Paul VI gave Ramsey. It had been his own ring as Archbishop of Milan.