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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 12, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 24
Pope beatifies Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop was murdered by El Salvador death squad
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Pope beatifies Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop was murdered by El Salvador death squad

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a stunning reversal of the Catholic Church's judgment, Pope Francis has beatified the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, and declared him a martyr. Beatification is the step prior to naming someone a Catholic saint.

Romero was assassinated by a right-wing death squad while celebrating mass in a cancer hospital on March 24, 1980. Romero had been loved by the poor of his native El Salvador, but was hated by conservative Catholic officials who accused him of siding with leftist rebels.

The day before he was murdered, Romero delivered a strongly-worded sermon condemning his country's U.S.-backed military for killing civilians.

'The law of God which says thou shalt not kill must come before any human order to kill,' he said in his homily. '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.'

After his murder, some Latin American Catholics called Romero a martyr, and pressed the Vatican to declare him a saint, but conservative Latin American cardinals opposed any recognition of Romero. The pope at the time, John Paul II, was also strongly anti-communist, and hostile to progressive forces in the church.

The case for Romero's sainthood made no progress till 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI ruled that Romero was not a communist.

The beatification ceremony constitutes official church approval of Romero's legacy, even if some conservatives in the Vatican and Salvadoran society still view his memory with distaste.

'The beatification ... is a cause for great joy for Salvadorans and for those of us who rejoice at the example of the greatest children of the church,' Francis said in a statement. 'Monsignor Romero, who built peace from the strength of love, gave testimony of the faith with his life, committed to the very end.'

U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Romero's tomb in 2011, called him 'an inspiration for people in El Salvador and across the Americas.'

'He was a wise pastor and a courageous man who persevered in the face of opposition from extremes on both sides,' Obama said. 'He fearlessly confronted the evils he saw, guided by the needs of his beloved pueblo, the poor and oppressed people of El Salvador.'

Romero's assassin has never been identified, and no one has been prosecuted for the killing.

Paramilitary death squad leader Roberto 'Blowtorch Bob' d'Aubuisson, was named by a U.N. truth commission as the mastermind of the assassination, but died in 1992 without confessing. D'Aubuisson got his nickname from his use of a blowtorch in interrogations of leftist prisoners.

Deep political divisions from El Salvador's 1980-1984 civil war still remain, and d'Aubuisson is revered among the country's right - including church officials. Nevertheless, Salvadoran officials closed off two square miles of streets in the capital, San Salvador, to accommodate pilgrims for the beatification ceremony.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Vatican officials in charge of saints, conducted the ceremony beneath a 60-foot-tall monument depicting Christ atop a white pillar and blue globe. An urn held the blood-stained shirt that Romero was wearing when he was shot.

Celebrations were also planned in Los Angeles, which is home to about 360,000 people of Salvadoran origin. Many of them arrived in the 1980s fleeing the Central American nation's civil war, in which at least 75,000 people died and 12,000 more disappeared.

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