[As published in Vatican Insider.]
Four bishops in the Vatican with a dual purpose: the altars, and the Pope in El Salvador in 2017 for the canonization.
The canonization of the two Johns (John XXIII and John Paul II) may be the prelude to an Oscar. Operation sanctification for Romero, assassinated in 1980 and propelled to the altars by a fame of martyrdom that has only grown in the successive years, finds four Salvadoran bishops simultaneously in the Vatican to obtain recognition – by 2017, within three years – of the holiness of Romero. The plan is bold for two reasons: first because Romero has not even been beatified yet, and because it seems that the prelates will ask Pope Francis to go to El Salvador to celebrate the great event personally.
The 4 prelates in Rome to meet Pope Francis on May 9 are the Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas; José Elías Rauda Gutiérrez, Bishop of Chalatenango, who presided over the Mass for the official celebration of the XXXIV anniversary of the death of Romero; Elías Samuel Bolaños Avelar, Bishop of Zacatecoluca, who presided over the celebration in 2013 and accompanied Archbishop Escobar "ad limina" to visit Benedict XVI in 2008; in that year the Pope Emeritus quoted Romero as an exemplary evangelist. Bolaños had also accompanied Escobar to the beatification of John Paul II in 2011. The last member of the delegation is Luis Morao Adreazza (Italian born), Bishop of Chalatenango, in whose territory lies the rural "Monsignor Romero University."
We do not forget that 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Romero, on August 15, 1917, and the church of El Salvador will begin the countdown to the celebration with the commemoration of three theme years. The first will run from August 2014 to the same month of 2015 and will have the theme "Romero, man of God." The year 2015-2016 will be devoted to "Romero, man of the Church," while 2016-2017 has the theme "Romero, Servant of the Poor." It is not out of the realm of possibility that this 'triduum' can begin with some words from the reigning pontiff.
The bishops visiting Francis are armed with a letter signed by all the bishops of El Salvador expressing their unanimous support for Romero’s canonization in time for his centenary. What certainly is novel is the fact that the four bishops are in Rome at the same time to talk to the Pope about Romero outside the calendar of "ad limina" visits for the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador.
Pope Francis knows that Romero is the most important cause of canonization for Latin America and it appears that the pope is very involved behind the scenes. “The Pope is more motivated than we are,” said the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, in an interview on ‘Radio La Chevere.’‘ “That’s a bit of an overstatement, but it is marvelous to see that he has no doubt about who Romero was, and that he is issuing orders in the Vatican so that all will cooperate so that the process speeds up.”
Francis’ orders include directives to various Vatican departments to send all material about Romero to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which recently took over the entire dossier for the canonization of the prelate. “The documentation that was missing is now in the hands of the Congregation of the Saints,” Jesus Delgado, former Secretary to Romero told ContraPunto, a Salvadoran newspaper: “The Pope recently issued the order that everything relating to Archbishop Romero in any congregation be sent to the Congregation of the Saints,” said Delgado. The documents involved “could be of a secondary or tertiary nature, but it was necessary. There could be an instance where some congregation has some documentation, like the Congregation for Bishops,” said Delgado.
This suggests that Francis wants Romero’s positio or final document to be finalized and for all relevant documentation to be ready for review by the commissions of theologians and then cardinals who will need to approve a finding that Romero is a martyr. Such a finding could pave the way for Romero to be beatified as early as March of next year, which will mark the 35th anniversary of his March 24, 1980 assassination. Msgr. Delgado said that he saw that goal as attainable.
If Romero can be beatified by next year, Msgr. Rosa Chávez has no doubt that the martyr bishop can be canonized by 2017, the centennial year. “I calculate that we will have Romero on the altars by 2017,” Rosa Chávez remarked. Within three years?—he was asked by the news radio. “Three years, tops,” he replied.
If Salvadorans able achieve this goal, it could be the fastest canonization since the time of St. Francis of Assisi. Although Romero has been in process since 1994, the fact is that his positio has yet to be submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Even Saint John Paul II, whose canonization has been remarked for its speed, took six years (from 2008 to 2014) to go from the submission of the positio to the conclusion of the process.
However, even the lightning speed with which the process would be concluded might not be the most ambitious aspect of the three year plan for Archbishop Romero. It is rumored that the letter the bishops are handing to Francis also includes an invitation to come to El Salvador in 2017—but no one will verify that in public. “There are other things in the letter that cannot be revealed at the moment,” was all Rosa Chávez would say about it on the Salvadoran news radio.
The inhabitants of the small Central American country have good reason to hope. Who does not remember the (informal) promise made by Francis to go back to Latin America in 2017? Last year, at the Shrine of Aparecida, Brazil, he said he would be back in South America in 2017 for the 300th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin. Fortunately, Romero ‘s birthday falls on the day of the Feast of the Assumption.