Vatican Cardinal Angelo Amato praised Blessed Oscar Romero during the martyred archbishop’s beatification as a man of peace who “continues to shine a light over the poor and marginalised”.
Cardinal Amato, prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, was giving the homily at Saturday’s beatification, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people in Salvator del Mundo square. The late archbishop of San Salvador was declared Blessed 35 years after he was shot dead by a right-wing death squad while celebrating Mass, at the start of the country’s civil war.
At least 250,000 pilgrims came from El Salvador, and others joined them from Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba and futher a-field for the ceremony in the capital’s Salvator del Mundo square. Some people had spent the night in vigil on the streets, many of them wearing T-shirts “Romero martir por amor” (Romero, martyr for love), or waving flags with Romero’s portrait.
“His persecutors have disappeared and been forgotten, but Romero continues to shine a light over the poor and marginalised of the earth,” Cardinal Amato said in his homily, adding: “Romero was not a man of division, but of peace, reconciliation and brotherhood.”
After the beatification of Romero was proclaimed, a box containing his relics was brought forward, including the bloodied shirt he was wearing when he was assassinated, together with palm leaves – symbols of martyrdom and of life overcoming death.
Before and after his murder, Romero was seen by many as a divisive political figure, and right-wing politicians and church leaders had actively boycotted the process of beatification, arguing that the murdered archbishop was paving the way for a communist takeover of the country. He had become an outspoken critic of the then-government’s treatment of the poor.
Pope Francis wrote in a letter read out at the ceremony: “In times of difficult coexistence, Mgr Romero knew to guide, defend and protect his flock … His ministry was distinguished by a special attention to the poorest and most marginalised.”
Mgr Jesus Delgado, Romero’s former secretary and one of his biographers, said: “Thanks to the beatification, this opposition is coming to an end. Last week, a lady stood up after a conference, asking for forgiveness since she was among those drinking champagne after his murder.”
The country's president welcomed the raising of Romero to the altars. “This beatification means that truth and social justice are factors that are to be taken into account in the life of this country,” said President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former member of the left-wing rebel movement of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which came to power in 2009.
The Los Angeles Times noted that the son of Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, who had ordered the killing, a mayor also called Roberto, sat towards the front of the crowd. He said on Twitter: “Let’s not politicise this.”
Critical voices were few, and most saw it as an opportunity for the country to come together and overcome ideological divisions.
Riccardo Urioste, Romero’s former general vicar, commented: “This is the triumph of the truth. They accused him of being a Marxist, a communist … but it was all not true, and the Church today recognises him as a martyr. Let us hope that this will foster unity in the Church, and will help us to see each other more as brothers the and sisters.”
This beatification brought together rich and poor, Catholics and Protestants, left and right. As Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, postulator of Romero's cause, said: “Today, Romero is happy in heaven, because he sees we are united, and this was his dream for this country and the world.”
Above: a halo of light appeared as Romero was declared Blessed. Photos: CNS and others