|In Rome, last month.|
This Tuesday, November 20, the organizers of World Youth Day announced Pope Francis’ WYD agenda in Panama this January, and one detail was instantly clear. Televisa’s Vatican correspondent Valentina Alazraki immediately drew the inevitable conclusion: “Contrary to what was hypothesized there will not be a stop in San Salvador to pray over the tomb of Saint Oscar Romero,” she posted on Twitter. (Romero is one of the events’ co-patron saints.)
The agenda presented makes it clear: the program includes the Pontiff’s January 23 departure from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and arrival, on the same day, at Panama’s Tocumen International Airport, without mentioning any other stop. In case any reader was thinking that there could be a secret plan to take the Holy Father on a detour to San Salvador, such a possibility seems to be precluded given that the departure and arrival times specified in the itinerary of the papal flight leave no room for another stop.
Francis leaves Rome at 9:35 am (3:35 am in Panama) and arrives in Panama City at 4:30 pm local time (10:30 pm in Rome)—about thirteen hours of flight-time, just enough for a direct flight from Rome to Panama. (The same can be deduced from studying the return flight, which departs via Avianca Airlines on Sunday, September 27, removing any doubt that the visit to El Salvador would happen then.) Unless the authorities have deliberately released false information, the agenda seems to leave a visit to San Salvador out of the question, at least for this trip.
The news disappoints the expectations of the Salvadoran Church, which had repeatedly promoted the option before the Pope. The last time was during a special audience the day after Romero's canonization, on Monday, October 15. San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas invited the Pope to make the visit during his speech before the audience and the Pontiff. Francis smiled when Archbishop Escobar made the proposal, eliciting enthusiastic applause, but he did not respond to the invitation in his words addressed to the group.
In fact, this is the third opportunity to visit the country that the Pope has passed up. He was asked to beatify Romero in San Salvador in 2015; he was asked to have the canonization in El Salvador this year; and, finally, he was requested to visit “in passing” en route to Panama. On the other hand, one can certainly argue that Francis has said made countless concessions and overtures in canonizing Romero, naming a Salvadoran cardinal, receiving the Salvadorans in special audiences in 2015 and 2018, and in other gestures.
Up to now, the Church had argued that the Pope had never said “no” to visiting San Salvador. But the time comes when silence equals “no”.
The Salvadorans waited 38 years to see Romero canonized and, surely, they will not give up so easily, and their new request will likely be for a visit of their own in the near future. After all, their next saint is a Jesuit.