Monday, January 15, 2007


The first few months of 2005 saw a heady rush in the Romero beatification cause, following years of stagnation. The vice postulator, Msgr. Rafael Urrutia, told the Salvadoran press, “we have advanced 95 percent” of the way, and the postulator, Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, predicted beatification in as little as six months’ time. In September ‘05, Paglia told the National Catholic Reporter to expect “good news” within a month. Then, at a meeting of Cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saint in October, something happened. That month, the Prefect of that saint-making body told the press that Paglia’s calculations did not add up, and the following month, a Vatican publication predicted that beatification was still “years away.”

In March 2006, San Salvador Archbishop Fernando Sáenz confirmed the obvious: the beatification cause was proceeding very slowly now. Romero friend and Opus Dei cleric Jesús Delgado gave the Salvadoran press the intriguing tidbit that “the shadows of the orthopraxis are still conniving over the Romero case and the Church has prudently and wisely has decided to take its time.” That Spring, three synchronized signals regarding the case came from the highest levels of the Church hierarchy. In May 2006, Pope Benedict himself declared that, in order to establish martyrdom, there must be, “moral certainty” that the persecutor's action stemmed “directly or indirectly” from a hatred of the faith, as opposed to political motivations. At about the same time, the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and Msgr. Paglia both signaled that this was the sticking point in Romero’s case. At about that time, the trail goes cold on clues regarding the Romero beatification.

2007 would therefore seem to be a no-action year -- were it not for the fact that three major dates on the Catholic agenda this year all augur in favor of progress in the Romero beatification cause. The first is the fact that this year will mark the 30th anniversary of Romero’s ascension to the San Salvador archbishopric. Romero was selected on February 9, and invested on February 22, 1977. This year also marks several associated milestones, including the 30th anniversary of Romero’s priests, Rutilio Grande (March 12) and Alfonso Navarro. To provide a bookend to the reflection, 2007 also marks the 15th anniversary of the Salvadoran Peace Accords. The time, would therefore, seem ripe to tie it altogether and attempt to resolve the political implications for the beatification in a manner that helped the society most affected by the question -- Salvadoran society -- to have closure and reconciliation.

The other significant anniversary this year is that March 26, 2007 -- two days after the 27th anniversary of the Romero assassination -- marks the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio. This is the one where the Pope declares that, “The world is sick. The poor nations remain poor while the rich ones become still richer. The very life of poor nations, civil peace in developing countries, and world peace itself are at stake.” Pope Paul, whom Romero believed to be supportive of his pastoral work, concludes “We want to be clearly understood on this point: The state of affairs must be confronted boldly, and its concomitant injustices must be challenged and overcome. Everyone must lend a ready hand to this task, particularly those who can do most by reason of their education, their office, or their authority.” In his three years as archbishop, Romero cited Populorum Progressio in 16 different sermons.

Finally, in May 2007, the Latin American Bishops are having the fifth general assembly in Aparecida, Brazil, in a gathering that will be attended by Pope Benedict. This is the successor conference to the 1968 conference, held in Medellin, Colombia, which gave us the phrase “preferential option for the poor,” and the Puebla conference, held in 1979, which Romero himself attended. Arguably, there is no more prominent apostle of the teachings of the CELAM fathers than Archbishop Oscar Romero, who embraced the teachings of the conferences and followed the teachings to the bitter end, even if it meant death and martyrdom. Previous conferences have recognized the heroic deeds of men like Bartolome de las Casas who bravely have confronted what the bishops themselves defined as the continent’s most urgent problem -- economic and social injustice. This year’s gathering would be a fitting forum for recognition of Romero.