JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the central Italian region of Tuscany on Thursday shows that at least one of the options suggested by the Salvadoran bishops for the canonization of Archbishop Romero is eminently doable. Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez told Vatican Radio: “The bishops of El Salvador wrote the pope a letter asking him that the canonization be in my country and that, if it was not possible, that he should pass through and visit Romero when he goes to Panama next year.” According to the Salvadoran prelate, the Pope “loved the idea of visiting the tomb,” but “everything depends on decisions that have to be evaluated.”
Although the idea of canonizing Romero in Central America during the trip to the World Youth Day in January 2019 is problematic (because it would change the whole tenor of the trip), the option of making a limited visit to San Salvador, of a private character, to visit Romero’s tomb seems feasible from many points of view. The option seems to fit with the practice in this pontificate of making private visits to pay homage to certain church figures, for example the visit Francis is making during a trip to the Tuscany region this Thursday, May 10, to the tomb of Fr. Zeno Saltini, founder of a religious community. Francis had already made similar gestures by visiting the tombs of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina in March and of Bishop Tonino Bello in April of this year; and of the Italian priests Lorenzo Milani and Primo Mazzolari in 2017. These are discreet, low profile trips that highlight the spiritual dimension of each visit.
A spiritual visit to Romero’s tomb would also put into practice the advice that the pope himself gave to the Salvadoran bishops during the last ad limina visit they made in March 2017, to make the places associated with Romero “places of pilgrimage.” The pope wants Romero’s tomb and other sites related to him to become pilgrimage destinations in order to promote his values in Salvadoran society. The Salvadoran martyr’s tomb is already acquiring that status, having attracted such visitors as Pres. Barack Obama, Pope John Paul II, Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, Princess Mako of Japan and the presidents of Taiwan, Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, to name a few. Francis’ visit would be the third papal visit (John Paul visited twice) and seal the tomb’s distinction as a great continental pilgrimage destination.
A lightning visit to San Salvador also fits the new vision of papal travel in the Francis pontificate, which has already included at least four one-day trips, including his trip in 2014 to Strasbourg to address the European Council; that trip lasted only four hours. That same year, Francis made an 11-hour visit to Albania, where he paid homage to 38 martyrs who were subsequently beatified. The following year, he traveled to Sarajevo, to encourage its populace on their way from a past of war towards a future of prosperity and peace. Obviously, El Salvador fits that context.
Moreover, El Salvador is a small country, and state visits are usually limited to only one day. The two visits of John Paul II were one-day visits, as were the visits of four US presidents to that nation (Obama stayed two days).
The only drawback would be the proximity of the trip to Panama for WYD, which takes place between January 22 and 27, and the Salvadoran presidential elections on February 3. However, electoral proximity was not an impediment to the papal visit to Sri Lanka in 2015.
In El Salvador, there has not been a papal visit since John Paul II last visited 22 years ago, on that occasion to celebrate the achievement of peace after the civil war that roiled that nation. The faithful remember John Paul’s two visits with nostalgia, so much so that they have even taken the popemobile that he used out in processions.
If the Salvadoran bishops succeed in convincing Francis, the saint produced by the war could be the reason for the return of a pontiff to El Salvador, even if he is canonized in Rome.