JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
Ahead of 2015, the pieces had so come together for Archbishop Romero’s beatification that I was not only able to correctly predict that it would happen that year, but also the time when the announcement would come. A short two years later, the stars appear to be aligned again such that I can try my hand at prognostication with respect to his canonization—the final step in the saint-making process. Specifically, my prediction is that Romero’s canonization will be announced this year. A second, more qualified prediction, is that Romero’s canonization will actually take place this year. It may happen, but it is less certain. Let me explain.
[See also: 2016, the Romero Year]
First, let me set the scenery. 2017 marks the centennial of Romero’s birth, so people will be talking about Romero and calls for his canonization will be a natural part of that discussion. More importantly, a presumptive miracle has been reported and is being investigated by church authorities, with the early word being that it looks likely to be approved. That has set San Salvador abuzz with speculation that a canonization announcement is imminent, with supporters sounding as confident as they did at the beginning of 2015 when Romero was beatified.
Msgr. Rafael Urrutia, vice-postulator of the cause, tweeted a picture of Romero on New Year’s Eve with the caption “May we celebrate his canonization in 2017.” San Salvador Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez went a step further, predicting on January 2nd that the Salvadoran Church would receive a definitive status update on the cause from Pope Francis himself when the Salvadoran bishops make their “ad limina” visit to the Pontiff in March. The date of their visit will even be March 24, the anniversary of Romero’s martyrdom, which is also his feast day. Obviously, the confidence expressed by the men best positioned to know the precise status of the cause is a primary indicator for the rest of us.
Three critical markers throughout the year will be: March 24, for the reasons stated by Bishop Rosa; May 9 – 12, when the Latin American bishops hold their general assembly in San Salvador to honor Romero; and August 15, the 100th anniversary of Romero’s birth.
The March “ad limina” visit is worth watching closely, no doubt. The last “ad limina” visit by the Salvadoran bishops, with Pope Benedict XVI in February 2008, generated Romero-related headlines when Benedict told the bishops that, in El Salvador, the gospel had been “preached fervently by Pastors full of love for God such as Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero.” The references will undoubtedly be more emphatic during this visit with a pope widely seen as a kindred spirit of Romero, on a date so closely associated with Romero, on his centennial year.
But it seems unlikely that the miracle investigation would be wrapped up by then, such that the pope would be in a position to make a definitive canonization announcement to the Salvadoran bishops. Take, for instance, the Mother Teresa miracle approval, for comparison. Mother Teresa received, no one would dispute, the fast track treatment, starting with the waiver of the five year hold after her death, right through the desire to have her canonization take place during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Nevertheless, in Mother Teresa’s case, it took six months from the opening of the diocesan inquiry on the miracle for her canonization in June 2015 through the promulgation of the decree approving the miracle in December 2015. A similar trajectory would seem to be Blessed Romero’s best-case scenario.
For that reason, a definitive announcement would appear unlikely to be ready either in March or even in May, when the Latin American bishops descend upon San Salvador for their meeting. There had been some speculation that Francis could make a hastily announced visit to the meeting, to mark the ten-year anniversary of an earlier meeting at Aparecida, Brazil, presided by Pope Francis, and to canonize Romero in San Salvador. But that’s impossible given the announced papal agenda for the year, which has the Pope visiting Portugal May 9 – 12; those dates are pretty much set in stone, because they correspond to another important centennial, the Marian apparitions at Fatima. So, March or May both seem unrealistic.
Which leaves us with August 2017. That date seems workable. It would provide enough time, using the Mother Teresa “fast track” model, to have the miracle certified, so that an announcement could be made by the date of Romero’s centenary (August 15). Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of the cause, is scheduled to give a talk on Romero in London on August 12—it will be interesting to see what he says. Then, the canonization could happen at the end of the year—perhaps in Rome at the papal mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe?—or in El Salvador next year.
Accordingly, for these reasons, the most likely scenario seems to me to be that we will hear grand, lofty praises for Romero in March and May, and perhaps prefatory announcements—but no final decision regarding his canonization until August. (Prediction #1.) Of course, I could be happily wrong, and we may hear an announcement in March or May and, in that case, the ceremony could conceivably take place on or around the actual centenary. (Prediction #2.) And, the Pope is also free to waive the miracle requirement, though I do not think that is likely, but if he does then all bets are off and we could see things move quite dramatically.
In any case, 2017 is shaping up to be a big year for the Salvadoran martyr and for his companion, Rutilio Grande who was killed three years earlier, and whose beatification is likely to be approved this year, probably in tandem with Romero’s cause.