By Rhina Guidos
SOME thought this day would never arrive. Others hoped and some always knew it would.
On May 23, the Catholic Church, beatified Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass, just a day after pleading and ordering soldiers to stop killing innocent civilians.
“Blessed Romero is another brilliant star that belongs to the sanctity of the Church of the Americas,” head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes Cardinal Angelo Amato said during the beatification Mass, at the square of the Divine Saviour of the World in the capital city of San Salvador. “And thanks be to God, there are many.”
While those who persecuted him have died or are in obscurity, “the memory of Romero continues to live in the poor and the marginalised”, Cardinal Amato said. His homilies often pleaded for better conditions for the poor, for a stop to the escalating violence in the country and for brotherhood among those whose divisions ultimately led to a 12-year conflict.
He’s not a symbol of division but one of peace, Cardinal Amato said.
In a message sent for the occasion of the beatification, Pope Francis said Archbishop Romero “built the peace with the power of love, gave testimony of the faith with his life”.
In a time of difficulty in El Salvador, Archbishop Romero knew “how to guide, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church”, the Pope said in his message.
“His ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the poor and marginalised.
“And at the time of his death, while celebrating the holy sacrifice, love and reconciliation, he received the grace to be fully identified with the one who gave his life for his sheep.”
Three decades after his assassination, Pope Benedict XVI cleared the archbishop’s sainthood cause.
In February Pope Francis signed the decree recognising Archbishop Romero as a martyr, a person killed “in hatred of the faith”, which meant there was no need to prove a miracle for beatification.
In general two miracles are needed for sainthood – one for beatification and the second for canonisation.
Pastor of El Salvador’s St Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Soyapango and national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in El Salvador Fr Estefan Turcios said by studying Blessed Romero’s life, others would discover all the Gospel truths that led him to defend life, the poor and the Church,
and do away with untruths surrounding his legacy.
During the country’s civil war that lasted from 1979 until 1992, some Salvadorans hid, buried and sometimes burned photos they had taken with or of Archbishop Romero, because it could mean others would call them communists or rebel sympathisers and put their lives in danger.
Though he still had some detractors, Fr Turcios said, the beatification can help others understand the reality and truth that others had known all along: Archbishop Romero “was loyal to God’s will, was loyal to and loved his people and was loyal to and loved the Church,” he said.
For 81-year-old Salvadoran Gregoria Martinez de Jimenez, the beatification marked the official recognition of something she has known all along: “We finally have a saint who is one of ours,” she said as tears flowed.
“He was a duplicate of Jesus,” added her daughter Maria Elena Jimenez Martinez, 44.
Both women attended Archbishop Romero’s funeral, where smoke bombs went off and shots were fired.
Rhina Guidos was writing for Catholic New Service from San Salvador.