Sunday, April 21, 2013


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Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the cleric in charge of Óscar Romero’s sainthood cause, has announced that Pope Francis informed him during an audience on Saturday, April 20, that he was authorizing Archbishop Romero’s beatification process to advance. Paglia made the announcement at the end of a homily honoring the Italian bishop Antonio Bello, known as “Don Tonino,” who died in 1993. “This very day,” Paglia told the audience at the Cathedral of Molfetta (on Italy's Adriatic coast), “day of the death of Don Tonino, the beatification cause of Msgr. Romero has been unblocked.” In addition to being the postulator or principal clergyman in charge of Archbishop Romero’s canonization, Paglia is the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, a major Vatican agency reporting to the Pope. His video-taped remarks, in Italian, are available on YouTube. No formal announcement has been made by the Vatican or by the San Salvador Archdiocese, though Salvadoran clerics have stated they believed Pope Francis would move swiftly to authorize resuming the process. Super Martyrio will monitor developments and report them here.


This news is being verified by John Allen, Catholic News Service, La Stampa, and ANSA; and confirmed by the Romero Trust.


Reaction in El Salvador

The news was reported by international media, raising mostly supportive reactions.   In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes said that “This news gives us immense joy—to the Salvadoran people and yours truly, as well—and our hope to see the figure of our martyr bishop who gave his life for the poor and destitute of El Salvador recognized has been renewed.”   The President announced that he would travel to Rome in May to thank the pope in person and also give an update on the efforts his government has pursued, sometimes in close collaboration with the Church, to achieve “pacification” within Salvadoran society.   This recognition of the life and work of Archbishop Romero will be, without a doubt, a milestone in the path of peace and national reconciliation,” continues the president's statement,   It is therefore important that no one try to politicize this decision of the Catholic Church. I ask, in this sense, the political class and leadership of the country to express their joy at this announcement and refrain from any political demonstration which obscures this historic event for the people of El Salvador.”

The political right in El Salvador has reacted with low-key pronouncements.   Donato Vaquerano, the head of the ARENA legislative faction, said he was pleased: “Welcome news,” was his comment to the local press.   Ever since a United Nations Truth Commission held the ARENA party founder, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, responsible for masterminding the Romero assassination, the rightist group’s leaders prefer not to talk about the subject.   Vaquerano took the opportunity to accuse the party of the left for alleged manipulation of Archbishop Romero’s figure: “The most damage to the figure of Monsignor Romero has been done by the FMLN,” the far-right politician said.

Neither the Vatican nor the Archdiocese of San Salvador have issued a statement, but Msgr. Gregorio Rosa Chavez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, and a former collaborator of Romero, has made ​​some comments.   We’ve been surprised by how quickly the news came, but we expected it, because pope Francis always had great admiration for Romero and the complete conviction that he was a martyr and a saint,” said Bishop Rosa.   Undoubtedly the Pope has heard many voices these days since he was elected, he would have consulted, and I said once that in Latin America there is an overwhelming majority of bishops who are in favor of canonization [for Romero], and he knows that that decision is a great joy for the whole Church, especially the Church in Latin America.”

Msgr. Dieudonné Datonou, charge d’affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature (the Vatican's diplomatic representation in El Salvador) stated thatthis Nunciature has received no official communication at this time.” However, he added, “in the event that this news is confirmed, it would be a source of great satisfaction and joy for the local church and for all El Salvador, and not only for El Salvador, but for the whole Latin American and Universal Church.”
Msgr. Jesus Delgado, a senior Salvadoran cleric, sounded a slightly contrarian note. Delgado took issue with the notion that the process had ever been “blocked (he preferred to think of it as “on standby” for the last few years), and took pains to note that its “unblocking” was not some formal, official act, but may have been Bishop Paglia's colorful embelishment of what the pope said. Additionally, Delgado warned that Salvadorans should not expect to see any beatification before the next election (El Salvador elects a new president next year).

Msgr. Ricardo Urioste, President of Fundación Romero, said that he believed the decision to “unblock” the cause would now permit its progress, because study of the cause had been “on hold, it was not being studied.

Archbishop Romero had “lobbyists” before the new Pope
As Bishop Rosa points out, since coming to the throne of St. Peter, Pope Francis has heard several petitions for the beatification of Archbishop Romero.   The informal lobbying of the pontiff began the day of his installation.   Salvadoran First Lady Vanda Pignato greeted the Pope after his installation Mass on March 19.  Pignato wore a Romero pin when she approached the Pope in the receiving line and, “He told me that he hoped the canonization of Archbishop Romero would be as soon as possible. I showed him my Archbishop Romero picture, my pin, and I told him that I hoped it would be during his papacy, during his pontificate. He smiled at me and I took both his hands and asked him that it would be so.”

Two days later, the new pontiff met his compatriot, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the 1980 Nobel Prize recipient, who was in Rome to give a speech during the Roman celebration of the 33rd anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero.   The Nobel laureate addressed the Romero issue during his audience with the pope, and after the meeting, Perez Esquivel declared before the microphones of the Roman press that Romero had been a shepherd who heard the voices of his people.

Days after this meeting, President Funes of El Salvador, appealed to the Pope in a national radio and television address, that he should canonize the “the greatest, the best and the wisest” Salvadoran on the anniversary of his death.   Today we renew our hope that the highest hierarchs of the Catholic Church recognize the greatest, the best and the wisest Salvadoran and canonize him,” Funes said.   The president also spoke of Archbishop Romero as “the kindest, most generous, the most pure, the most leading figure in El Salvador, who has transcended borders with his preaching and with the example of his life and his work.”   He finalized, stating that, “We honor his memory in this new time of hope, of change and reconciliation that we live in the country. We want no more hatred, no violence nor confrontations between brothers and sisters.”

A long quest for the first Salvadoran saint

The plans to seek the canonization of Archbishop Romero were first formally announced in San Salvador in 1990, as part of the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of his murder.   Three years later, Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas sent the necessary petition to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) in the Vatican, and the same year the CCS gave permission to start the investigation.   Since then, Romero has been a “servant of God”—a person in official evaluation of his holiness.   The first part of the investigation was the diocesan phase, in San Salvador.   It was completed in November 1996, and Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle, who had succeeded Archbishop Rivera, approved the findings and sent them to the CCS.  (Filochowski, Romero Trust.)

In 1997, the Vatican accepted the documentation from the diocesan phase, regarding it as valid, and in 1998, all necessary records were sent to the Roman authorities.   Since then, the “Roman phase” of the process has been pending.   Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, a high ranking prelate, known for his diplomatic efforts and proximity to the Sant Egidio movement, was named the postulator of the cause by Pope John Paul II.   At that time, there was talk of a quick process to canonize Romero.   During the Millennium Jubilee in 2000, Archbishop Romero was honored during a ceremony commemorating the martyrs of the twentieth century in the Roman Coliseum, at the insistence of Pope John Paul.   A special prayer praised the “unforgettable Oscar Romero, murdered at the altar during the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice.”  

At the beginning of the new millennium, Super martyrio has learned that pursuant to an objection by Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who expressed concerns about Romero’s association with Liberation Theology, Archbishop Romero's cause was investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).   At that time, the CDF was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was later elected Pope Benedict XVI.   Between 2000 and 2005, the CDF studied the writings, sermons, and speeches of Archbishop Romero to ensure that they were free from doctrinal error.   In 2001, Bishop Paglia held a special congress in Italy, bringing together experts and theologians to try to relocate the figure of Archbishop Romero within the authorized teaching of the Church.   Thereafter, the CDF concluded that “Romero was not a revolutionary bishop, but a man of the Church, the Gospel and the poor.”

In 2005, during the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination, everything seemed to indicate that the cause of beatification was in its final stretch.   Bishop Paglia made ​​statements to that effect, and in March 2005, Romero's body was moved to a position of honor directly under the main altar of the San Salvador Metropolitan Cathedral—a sign that usually implies that a beatification is imminent.   However, the death of John Paul II interrupted the progress of the process.   Although Pope Benedict received the Salvadoran President Tony Saca in his first audience and talked about Romero's beatification, by October of that year, the process had been derailed.   Apparently, the same Latin American cardinals who had requested an audit of Romero’s theology now demanded a study of his concrete pastoral action.   By the next March, Archbishop Saenz admitted that the cause was moving “slowly”.

Between 2007 and 2008, Pope Benedict referred to Romero thrice within the period of one year, raising hopes that the process might be returning to a normal course.   However, after this period, there were no more statements, and the process stalled, apparently neglected by the competent authorities.   The Italian newspaper «La Stampa» came to call it “the lost cause.”

A change of fortunes

In 2007, then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio told Msgr. Jesus Delgado of the Romero Foundation, “If I had been pope, the very first thing I would have done is order the beatification of Archbishop Romero” (Bergoglio had come in second in the 2005 conclave that elected Card. Ratzinger as successor of Peter).   Three years later, in 2010, Delgado reminded Bergoglio what he had said said three years earlier and Bergoglio responded: “I remember it, the problem is that I will never get to be pope.”

Surprisingly, Card. Bergoglio became pope unexpectedly after two developments that would have seemed unprecedented and almost unimaginable when he said he would never become Pope.   First, Pope Benedict XVI resigned his pontificate in February 2013, becoming the first pope to do so in nearly 800 years.   Second, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected his successor in March, even though he did not appear on the various lists of “papabili” cardinals of the Vaticanistas.

The speculation that a new pope could breathe new life into the Romero beatification was heard even before the name of the new pope was known, as the very process of reviewing priorities a new papacy would entail could help dust off the cause.    In fact, it is being reported that the new momentum behind Romero’s beatification is not due exclusively to the new pope being Latin American, but also to developments in another beatification process that are advantageous for Romero.   Postulator Paglia gave interviews in February and March saying that the beatification of a “martyr of the mafia” in May, could help Romero’s cause.   I believe that the beatification of Padre Puglisi as a 'martyr of the mafia' opens some interesting lines of reflection,” said Paglia.   The beatification of Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi, an anti-mafia priest in Sicily, murdered in 1993 for reasons that arguably are not directly related to the hatred of the faith (organized crime), can move the Church to new ways of interpreting the doctrine of martyrdom and the hatred of the faith requirement.   In fact, the Italian press is reporting that the Puglisi case has opened an “expressway” to beatification for Archbishop Romero.

Next Steps
Julian Filochowski, of the UK-based Romero trust, stated that: “It is wonderful to learn that the Cause for Archbishop Romero’s beatification has been ‘unblocked’ by Pope Francis. This is a carefully chosen word and it means that the Cause will leave the siding where it has been parked for more than a decade, whilst accusations that Archbishop Romero’s homilies went beyond the bounds of orthodoxy were examined by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It will now be put back on the regular road to sainthood under the auspices of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints - and in all probability it will be fast-tracked since the beatification of a martyr does not require a miracle.”  El Salvador's ambassador to the Holy See, Manuel Lopez, belongs to the Catholic Sovereign Order of Malta and also commented on the next steps.   The postulator will present the positio to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, it will be analyzed first by a commission of theologians, and then by a commission of cardinals, and the two commissions will forward their recommendations to the Pope, who will make the final determination,” said Lopez .  

The ambassador spoke optimistically about the new reality: “We're definitely entering new ground that is very positive for the cause,” said the diplomat.   I think at this point you have the best chance we have ever had to have the first Salvadoran saint.”  Filochowski concluded with an upbeat note, “Maybe 2014 will be Romero’s year - as Archbishop Paglia seems to anticipate; we can certainly now hope, and indeed expect, to celebrate the centenary of Archbishop Romero’s birth in 2017 with his sanctity formally recognised by the Church. Santo subito!

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