Monseñor Oscar Romero has been called San (Saint) Romero and San Romero of the Americas by many since his assassination on March 24, 1980.
During the ruthless years of the late 70s in El Salvador, military death squads terrorized and killed those seeking an end to poverty, civil rights for all citizens and military reforms. Romero was archbishop of El Salvador during those conflict-ridden years. At their invitation, Romero visited communities in the city as well as distant rural villages; he saw the extreme poverty and heard the horrific stories of targeted homicides and of those who were taken and never heard from again—the “disappeared.”
Romero consistently spoke out against the poverty and social injustice. He spread a message of hope, a call for change, and denunciation of terror and violence through his weekly radio-broadcasted sermons giving “a voice to the voiceless.” He used Biblical passages that called for justice to encourage an end to oppression by unjust political and social structures. Communities throughout the country listened to those sermons and drew comfort and hope for change through Romero’s words.
On May 23, Oscar Romero was officially “beatified” during a ceremony in the Plaza Salvador del Mundo, in the capital, San Salvador, in a ceremony lead by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Beatification is one step away from declaring a person a “saint,” i.e. stating the person is holy and deserves recognition for his/her significant contributions to the life of faith. 300,000 people attended the Saturday ceremony. And many took part the night before, in a torchlight procession, through the streets of San Salvador and then a vigil undeterred by the pouring rain. As the beatification ceremony was to begin, in the clear blue sky, the sun was surrounded by a halo of colors. In amazement, all were staring up at it, many interpreting the solar anomaly as affirmation.
In his life, following his death and now in his Beatification, Romero remains a controversial figure. Elements of El Salvador urged officials in Rome not to beatify him charging that Romero represents an intolerable Marxist ideology, that he is not a martyr and that he was killed for his politics not his faith. Many, however, have tried to live by Romero’s Gospel values and work for the end to injustices that he called for. Those and many around the world facing injustice and oppression see Romero as one who gives them hope.
Those celebrating Romero on his way to sainthood are glad that the current Pope Francis recently spoke out in support of Romero and that his advocacy marks a new direction in Catholicism, a renewed spirit that recognizes the urgency and efficacy of working for humane and equal treatment of all persons in these times and places, not solely focused on what happens after death.
It is hoped that if Salvadorans of all ideologies and political leanings celebrated Romero in his beatification, a man who shed light on issues that are still important today, they may be able to work on the issues crying for resolution today. If so, Romero’s legacy will surely be properly honored.