The Catholic Church will do justice with the beatification today of Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who was assassinated while celebrating mass because he defended the poor. Today, both Salvadorians and the oppressed of the continent are emboldened by the tribute to a man who gave his life so they can have a voice.
The road to beatification for Monsignor Romero has not been easy. The priest embraced the cause of the poor and rebelled against violence soon after being named Archbishop of San Salvador. From that position, he challenged the powerful and started his road to martyrdom. His actions upset the Vatican under the rule of Pope John Paul II, a fervent anticommunist for whom the closeness of priests and the poor was a synonym for communism.
Soon after the passing of John Paul II, Romero’s path to holiness was resumed. It is said that a poem by Spanish- Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldáliga had the first mention of Saint Romero of the Americas. Since then, recognition of his martyrdom spread like wildfire until Pope Francis, the first Latin American in that position, sped up the process of elevating Romero to the altars with his beatification.
There are many differences between Monsignor Romero and Pope Francis, but they are united by their commitment to the Church’s social doctrine and the condemnation of violence, both from the right and the left. Both have been dismissed as being part of the Liberation Theology, without recognizing that their commitment to the poor is a mainstay of the Church as old as the Gospel.
Today’s ceremonies will give El Salvador a respite in their cycle of violence. Today the gangs, instead of ultra-right groups, are the cause of so much suffering. The desire for peace has never ceased amongst the big majority of the people. Hopefully the new generations will find the pacifism Romero was aiming for.
Monsignor Romero’s beatification is bringing the Church closer to the poor, in a continent in which the religious hierarchy is usually close to the power and Catholicism is losing ground to other creeds. Romero is a symbol of the Church that we all want, that of the pastor who gave his life to protect his flock.