Oscar Romero sainthood cause on long, tangled path

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A tourist visits the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador

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When Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, promoter for the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador, announced April 20 that the process had been "unblocked" -- seemingly by the approval of Pope Francis - shock waves of joy surged throughout Latin America and many parts of the global church, reports Pat Marrin in NCR.

Romero's assassination while saying Mass on March 24, 1980, had by popular acclamation declared him a good shepherd who had laid down his life for the flock during a time of violent repression in the tiny Central American country. His leadership during the years leading up to a 12-year civil war that claimed 80,000 lives also propelled his reputation worldwide as a model for church advocacy for the poor.

In the intervening years, Romero's case for sainthood has successfully passed each level of scrutiny to confirm his orthodoxy and loyalty to the church. No miracle is required for his canonization, because he was martyred, something Pope John Paul II affirmed at a millennial jubilee ceremony in Rome in 2000 when he personally added Romero's name to a list of 20th-century martyrs.

A special prayer praised the "unforgettable Oscar Romero, murdered at the altar." Pope Benedict XVI has also acknowledged Romero as a martyr for the faith. Yet the process remained stalled.

Thirty-three years after Romero's death, as anniversaries have come and gone and expectations been raised and dashed, focus has shifted to the question of why it has taken so long to beatify him. Even after the latest flurry of reports, San Salvador Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas recently said no formal word has yet come from Rome.

In 2010, when anticipation was high ahead of the 30th anniversary of Romero's death, Escobar explained the stalled beatification as the result of efforts by some to "manipulate, politicize or use Romero's image," thus obscuring his largely spiritual role. The message was clear: Romero, while publicly proclaimed as a martyr and prophet, had to be free of all controversy for his path to sainthood to advance.

The taint of "liberation theology," labeled by its critics as an ideologically driven push to overthrow governments, by violence if necessary, has been a tangled thread running through the church since the regional meeting of bishops in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968. That meeting produced the now-famous phrase, "God's option for the poor," and affirmed a different way of doing theology in the developing world.

FULL STORY Oscar Romero sainthood cause on long, tangled path (NCR)

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