JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
Vatican reporter Massimo Faggioli joked over his Twitter feed, “Many Catholics are looking forward to the next in-flight press conference of Pope Francis.” He added the hashtag, “#DACA,” a reference to the recent action by the Trump Administration to end legal accommodations for young undocumented migrants, sure to be the subject of at least one question during the Pope’s return flight, when he customarily gives an on-board press conference (to the delight of Francis supporters and the chagrin of his detractors).
It is precisely because of the opportunity for a frank exchange that these encounters offer that I hereby offer any Vaticanista who is open to it a suggested question about Oscar Romero they might ask the Pope during the return trip conference.
The in-flight papal press conferences are opportunities to gain fresh knowledge or insight on pending canonization causes. It was during such an encounter ten years ago that Pope Benedict was asked about the Romero beatification. In the ninth question, toward the end of the conference, the correspondent from I. Media in France asked Benedict if, during that trip to “the Continent of Archbishop Oscar Romero,” he cared to comment on the status of the cause or “how you see this figure.” [See Video of the exchange—in Italian.] Benedict was remarkably candid in his response, saying that he had “no doubt” that Romero personally “merits beatification,” but that issues relating to the political implications still needed to be worked out. The unusual airing of the Pope’s personal views was expunged from the official transcript of the exchange. But the furtive endorsement arguably added new impetus to the cause.
Similarly, when Francis was asked about the Romero cause during his flight back from Korea in 2014, it revealed the Vatican’s inside thinking not specifically about Romero but about the canonization process in general. By then, Romero was in the home stretch of his path to beatification. But Francis also said in response to the question from Reuters’ Philip Pulella, “What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbor. And this is a task for the theologians.” Earlier this year—nearly three years after the Pope’s remark—Francis announced a separate track for beatification for “those Christians who, following in the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard”—more or less as he had telegraphed in 2014.
Accordingly, it is in this latter spirit that I would frame a new question to Francis about Romero. The status of the Romero canonization cause is generally known, due to information made public by the Archdiocese of San Salvador and the postulator, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, establishing that Rome is in the process of studying a miracle which, if approved, could lead to Romero’s canonization in the next year or two. [More.] Therefore a question regarding the status of the cause would seem to me a wasted chance to glean fresh information. Instead, what could be more interesting is a question designed to prompt a Benedict-like personal reflection.
Indeed, given the context of this visit, such question seems most appropriate. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Romero’s birth, and therefore it is natural to reflect on his legacy and the impact he has had on the Church. The day before he departs, Francis will visit Medellin, the Colombian city where the Latin American bishops’ conference adopted the phrase “the preferential option for the poor,” and the deep commitment to social justice that, for many, Romero exemplified. This year is also the tenth anniversary of the Aparecida Conference, which is seen as the blueprint for Francis’ pontificate, including his recommitment to being “a Church which is poor and for the poor,” as Francis has stated the formula. (That is where Benedict was going when he said that he had no doubt Romero deserved to be beatified; and Francis himself, as Cardinal Bergoglio, reportedly told Salvadoran clerics that if he were pope, the first thing he would do is canonize Romero.) Finally, the postwar climate in Colombia where the pope has been makes El Salvador a relevant point of reference.
Therefore, the question I would put to His Holiness is:
· In the centenary of his birth, how has Bl. Oscar Romero influenced the Church in the Continent, your own spiritual life and/or your Papacy?