500 Salvadorans had visited Pope Francis yesterday to thank him for beatifying the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, one of the most important figures in Latin American Catholicism.
Romero, whose defense of the poor made him a model for many Roman Catholics in Latin America, was beatified as a martyr for his faith.
Pope Francis says that the impact of Romero “is still perceived today” and recalled another Salvadoran priest killed in the same period who is in the process of beatification, Jesuit Rutilio Grande.
The Pope lamented that there are still martyrs today in different parts of the world. He recalled that Romero remained martyred after his murder because “he was defamed, slandered and even soiled by his brothers in the priesthood and in the episcopate.”
“I was a young priest then and a witness to this,” Pope Francis said. “His martyrdom continued (even after his death). He was defamed, slandered…even by his own brothers in the priesthood and the episcopate,” Francis said.
He further requested that El Salvador “become a country where everyone feels redeemed and brotherly, without difference.” It’s what Monsignor Romero tried to do.
Pope Francis said Romero, who was shot while saying Mass in a hospital chapel, had been attacked even after his death by “the hardest stone that exists in the world: the tongue”.
Francis, the first Latin American pope, unblocked Romero’s sainthood process shortly after his election in March 2013.
It had been delayed under popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI because conservative Latin American Church leaders saw Romero as having been too close to Liberation Theology, a radical movement that drew attention to helping the poor and opposing injustice.
The conservatives had accused Romero, who spoke out against the Salvadoran government and often condemned repression and poverty in his homilies, of having been an advocate of a Marxist-style class struggle.
They asserted that he was killed for his political views and not for his faith.
The murder was one of the most shocking of the long conflict between a series of US-backed governments and leftist rebels in which thousands were killed by right-wing and military death squads. No one was ever brought to justice for Romero’s killing.