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placeholder January 19, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
Archbishop Romero is a martyr, panel advises Vatican

Archbishop Oscar Romero

A panel of theologians advising the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes voted unanimously to recognize the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as a martyr, according to the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference.

The panel declared Jan. 8 that the archbishop had been killed "in hatred for the faith," Avvenire reported Jan. 9.

"I would agree with the panel of theologians advising the Holy Father, that Archbishop Romero died for the faith," said Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, bishop of Oakland. "Furthermore, there has been a continuous 'cultus' of people praying at his tomb, begging for his intercession. There is real religious devotion associated with him. I would encourage the faithful of our diocese to pray to Archbishop Romero, asking him to intercede for us to God."

Last March, Bishop Barber celebrated the annual memorial Mass at Oakland Catholic Worker, where the archbishop is remembered each year.

The panel's decision is a key step in the archbishop's cause, following an extended debate over whether he was killed for political reasons or for his faith.

The key issue, said Robert Lassalle-Klein, religious studies professor at Holy Names University, is "can being killed for practicing the option for the poor be considered being martyred for the faith?"

"It's one thing to be killed for just being Christian, if you're killed for being Christian in the model of Jesus, does it qualify for martyrdom?" he asked.

The panel's recommendation resolves that question, he said. "Now that's settled. Romero can be considered a martyr for the faith," he said.

The next step in the process lies with the cardinals and bishops who sit on the Congregation for Saints' Causes, who will vote on whether to advise the pope to issue a decree of beatification. A miracle is not needed for beatification of a martyr, though a miracle is ordinarily needed for his or her canonization as saint.

Lassalle-Klein said sainthood may not be far away, perhaps coming as early as the 35th anniversary of Archbishop Romero's death.

Archbishop Romero, an outspoken advocate for the poor, was shot and killed March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a hospital in San Salvador during his country's civil war. His sainthood cause was opened at the Vatican in 1993.

Pope Benedict XVI told reporters in 2007 that the archbishop was "certainly a great witness of the faith" who "merits beatification, I do not doubt." But he said some groups had complicated the sainthood cause by trying to co-opt the archbishop as a political figure.

In March 2013, Pope Francis reportedly told El Salvador's ambassador to the Holy See: "'I hope that under this pontificate we can beatify (Archbishop Romero)."

Pope Francis told reporters in August 2014 that "For me, Romero is a man of God."

"But the process must go ahead, and God must give his sign. If he wants to do so, he will," Pope Francis said.

During his general audience Jan. 7, Pope Francis quoted words that Archbishop Romero had spoken at the funeral Mass of a priest assassinated by Salvadoran death squads: "We must all be willing to die for our faith even if the Lord does not grant us this honor."

Supporters of the cause for Romero's canonization have been frustrated for years by what they view as a stalled effort.

However, the cause now appears to have momentum, and a soon-to-come beatification or sainthood announcement "would be a great day for us," said Damian Zynda, an Archbishop Romero researcher who is a faculty member with the Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University.

"It's about time," said Msgr. Antonio Valdivia. "The people here and there have already proclaimed him."

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