Action Item: Kick-start Oscar Romero’s Beatification, This YearYour Holiness is almost certainly aware that the Holy See received the complete dossier on the Servant of God Oscar A. Romero fifteen years ago this year. The year the file was transmitted, a Vatican commission appointed by your predecessor, the Blessed John Paul II, noted that Archbishop Romero was “recognized beyond confessional boundaries” as being among the “martyrs and exemplary confessors of faith, hope and charity,” who could help promote Christian unity. Five years later, a noted Vaticanista wrote that “no saint-in-waiting figures more prominently than Oscar Romero.” Pope Benedict XVI confirmed expectations that Archbishop Romero should be beatified when he commented, “That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt.” After exhaustive examinations of his theology and practices, the time for action on his cause is now. This year.
To move on Romero’s beatification would be a fitting tribute to three of your predecessors and complete their work. First, it would honor the Venerable Paul VI to beatify Archbishop Romero—whom Pope Paul promoted to bishop, to the Pontifical Council on Latin America, and to the Archdiocese of San Salvador—during this «Year of Faith.» There can hardly be a more convincing model for the «Year of Faith» than a martyr of the faith. As Pope Paul reminded us when he proclaimed the 1967 «Year of Faith» in memory of St. Peter and St. Paul, martyrs are the models per excellence of the faith. He quoted Pope St. Clement’s tribute: “To these men who spent their lives in the practice of holiness, there is to be added a great multitude of the elect, who, having through envy endured many indignities and tortures, furnished us with a most excellent example.” (Apostolic Exhortation «Petrum et Paulum Apostolos».) Accordingly, Pope Paul saw fit to make the memory of their martyrdom the central focus of the 1967 «Year of Faith,» asking rhetorically, “How can we not pledge—before the grave of an 'Apostle and Martyr'—our commitment to practice with apostolic courage and missionary zeal, the faith that he taught and transmitted to the Church and to the world, with his word, with his writing, with his example, with his blood?” (Ibid.)Second, it would honor Blessed John Paul II for Archbishop Romero to be beatified without any further delay in order to send a message of hope to the Poor, because as John Paul exhorted: “The poor cannot await!” (Speech to the Delegates of the Economic Commission for Latin America.) As the great Pontiff recognized, “Their situation demands extraordinary measures, aid that cannot be postponed: urgent relief.” (Ibid.) The Pontiff was referring to material assistance to the poor from sources outside the Church when he said, “Those who have nothing cannot wait for relief to reach them as a sort of overflow of the general prosperity of society.” (Ibid.) But the same expediting principle applies to the Church’s response and because the Church’s mission is primarily a spiritual one, the Church is called to respond to the situation by bringing to bear the tools it has, the talents and gifts it possesses. “Solidarity as a basic attitude implies,” said John Paul, “feeling the poverty of others as our own, feeling the misery of the marginalized in our own flesh and, acting in rigorous consistency with that.” (Ibid.) John Paul hand-wrote a tribute to Romero read at the Colosseum in Rome during the 2000 Jubilee, to honor “zealous pastors like the unforgettable Oscar Romero, killed at the altar while celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice.”
Finally, it would honor Benedict XVI for Archbishop Romero to be beatified as soon as possible in order to prevent the distortion of his memory by others outside the Church. Benedict, who worked so hard to reassert Catholic identify and doctrinal precision, recognized that, “the problem” in Archbishop Romero’s canonization process has been that a political faction has “wrongly wished to use him as their badge, as an emblematic figure.” (Remarks during Papal Flight to Brazil.) The challenge for the Church is to counteract these efforts to appropriate Romero’s name and image: “How can we shed light on his person in the right way and protect it from these attempts to exploit it? This is the problem.” (Ibid.) This situation is comparable to an intellectual property dispute where one party attempts to usurp another’s trade mark and for which the effective response is not to let time pass and do nothing, but to seasonally assert and seek to restore one’s rightful proprietary interests. Additionally, inaction in this case further creates confusion because it allows groups to argue, either in ignorance or bad faith, that the Church has abandoned Romero and repudiates or neglects its commitment to social justice. Less will be gained with further study than will be lost by further delay, especially in light of the length of time his cause has already been under examination, and the type of scrutiny it has received.Accordingly, the Church’s imperative to promote the faith; the importance of confirming our commitment to the poor (which has been a Bergoglio imperative), and the need to recover Archbishop Romero as the intellectual, moral and spiritual property of Christians, all weigh greatly in favor of accelerating his beatification process. This year!