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Newly beatified archbishop knew how to defend and protect his flock

SAN SALVADOR (SE):  “In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the gospel and in communion with the whole Church,” wrote Pope Francis on the occasion of the May 23 beatification of the Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, Vatican Radio reported.

CNN reported that tens of thousands of people, many having braved heavy overnight rains to secure a seat or spot to stand, crowded San Salvador’s Saviour of the World Plaza to witness a day that many thought would never come. They chanted, “Romero, friend, the people are with you.” 

In his letter to Archbishop Luis Escobar Alas from San Salvador, El Salvador, which was read to those gathered, Pope Francis wrote that Blessed Romero’s “ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the most poor and marginalised. And in the moment of his death, while he celebrated the holy sacrifice of love and reconciliation, he received the grace to identify himself fully with he who gave his life for his sheep.” The archbishop was assassinated on 24 May 1980 while celebrating Mass. 

In his last homily he appealed to the country’s National Guard, death squads and police to stop the violence wracking the country, which was run by a series of military dictatorships at the time. The BBC reported him as saying, “The law of God which says thou shalt not kill must come before any human order to kill. It is high time you recovered your conscience. I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression.”

A day later he was shot through the heart by a single bullet, allegedly killed by a right-wing death squad. His killers were never found.

According to a report from CNS, Angelo Cardinal Amato, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, said during the ceremony, “Blessed Romero is another brilliant star that belongs to the sanctity of the Church of the Americas.” He went on to note that while those who persecuted him have died or are in obscurity, “the memory of Romero continues to live in the poor and the marginalised” and that he is not a symbol of division but one of peace.

Father Estefan Turcios, pastor of El Salvador’s St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Soyapango and national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in El Salvador, said, “There have been people inspired by Romero for 35 years. How do you think they feel right now?” Blessed Romero helped free Father Turcios from imprisonment for defending the rights of the poor.

However the late archbishop has also had his doubters, CNS reported. The Vatican received mounds of letters which spoke against him according to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of his cause, and this affected his path toward beatification and eventually, sainthood. But three decades after his assassination, Pope Benedict XVI cleared the way and in February this year Pope Francis signed the decree recognising Archbishop Romero as a martyr, killed “in hatred of the faith,” meaning there is no need to prove a miracle for beatification. 

“He wasn’t political but he lived in a very conflictive political time. Everything was politicised,” Father Jesus Delgado, Blessed Romero’s friend and personal assistant, told the BBC. “There was a line in the middle and the ones who supported the government were good and the ones who were against the government were bad —it was that simple.”

Gaspar Romero, the archbishop’s youngest brother told the BBC that he remembers his sibling as a hard-working and committed man.

“He was always very humble and dedicated to his studies,” he said. “He was committed to protecting the poor, if he was alive today he would be doing the same work.”

The beatification Mass was attended by four Latin American presidents and six cardinals including: Oscar Andres Rodriguez Cardinal Maradiaga, of Honduras; Leopoldo Brenes, of Nicaragua; Jaime Cardinal Ortega, of Cuba; Jose Luis Cardinal Lacunza, of Panama; Roger Cardinal Mahony, of the United States of America, Cardinal Amato, as well as Archbishop Paglia. 

The ceremony culminated a week in San Salvador that saw pilgrims, arriving mainly from Latin America, but also from as far away as Singapore, to celebrate the occasion.  


Pope Francis said that Archbishop Romero “built the peace with the power of love, gave testimony of the faith with his life.” 

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