AFTER decades of debate within the church, Pope Francis has formally recognised that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed “in hatred of the faith” and not for purely political reasons. Pope Francis signed the decree on 3 February, recognising as martyrdom the assassination of Archbishop Romero in a San Salvador hospital chapel as he celebrated Mass on 24 March 1980. The decree clears the way for his beatification.
Archbishop Romero’s sainthood cause was opened at the Vatican in 1993 but was delayed for years as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied his writings amid wider debate over whether he had been killed for his faith or for taking political positions against the government of El Salvador and against the death squads that were operating in his country at that time. As head of the San Salvadoran Archdiocese from 1977 until his death, his preaching grew increasingly strident in defence of the country’s poor and oppressed.
Pope Benedict XVI told reporters in 2007 that the archbishop was “certainly a great witness of the faith” who “merits beatification, I do not doubt”. But he said some groups had complicated the sainthood cause by trying to co-opt the archbishop as a political figure. Seven years later, Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, told reporters that “for me, Romero is a man of God”. However, he said at the time, “the process must go ahead and God must give his sign. If he wants to do so, he will.”
During his general audience on 7 January, Pope Francis quoted words that Archbishop Romero had spoken at the funeral Mass of a priest assassinated by Salvadoran death squads: “We must all be willing to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honour.”
Although not seen as exercising any pressure to move the cause forward, St John Paul II made a point of praying at Archbishop Romero’s tomb in the San Salvador cathedral during visits to the city in 1983 and again in 1996. During his first visit, he told people gathered in the cathedral, “Within the walls of this cathedral rest the mortal remains of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a zealous pastor whose love of God and service to his brothers and sisters led to the very sacrifice of his life in a violent way as he celebrated the sacrifice of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
The following wisdom by Romero offers a sense of encouragement to us all.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.