“Honor Comes Late to Martyr for the Poor”
The New York Times, May 23, 2015, p.A4
“Thirty-five years after Óscar Romero, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated with a single bullet as he said Mass in a modest chapel here, [El Salvador] is celebrating his beatification on Saturday, the final step before sainthood. For many here and in the rest of Latin America, though, Archbishop Romero is already a saint. His tireless advocacy for the poor resonates deeply in a region where the gulf between those with riches and those without remains vast. He was the champion of impoverished Salvadorans, his homilies and radio broadcasts giving voice to their struggles. And as political violence battered the country and death squads killed any activist who challenged the existing order, the archbishop was defiant. ‘I have frequently been threatened with death,’ he said two weeks before he was killed. ‘If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.’ The decision by Pope Francis to declare Archbishop Romero a martyr to the faith and speed up the long-stalled process toward his sanctification is widely seen as a recognition of the deep pastoral commitment the archbishop demonstrated, at the cost of his life. For decades, the conservative Vatican hierarchy was suspicious of Archbishop Romero, as it was of many Latin American priests who were influenced by liberation theology, which challenges the social and economic structures that perpetuate poverty. Even today he remains a divisive figure in El Salvador, where some on the right believe he was a communist in clerical garb.”
Quickie analysis: It is unfortunate that the anti-Communist prism through which Pope John Paul II saw the world prevented earlier recognition of Romero and other Latin American clerics who advocated on behalf of the poor and dispossessed.