Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why Is This Honest To God Martyr Not A Saint, Or A Blessed, Or A Venerable...Or Something

I wonder why Archbishop Oscar Romero has stalled on the canonization fast track.  Seems to me he is a legitimate Roman Catholic martyr----well maybe not.  Maybe he's a legitimate Christian Catholic martyr

When I was writing yesterday's post, I got to thinking about Archbishop Oscar Romero and just what is it about him that he has not been moved forward on the sainthood track.  I mean for God's sake, this was a man assassinated while he was saying Mass and precisely because he spoke out so strongly for El Salvadors' campesinos, indigenous, and poor. He was assassinated because he very courageously took on the very powers that kept his people oppressed while thwarting their hopes for bettering themselves.  

In the late 70's what was going on in El Salvador was no different in kind to what was going on in Poland---except for one thing.  Unlike with the Polish government, the Institutional Church was thoroughly in bed with the official and unofficial right wing government and their supporting US corporate and governmental interests. Well that last part was true of the Church in Poland too.  Which proves it's not OK to exploit your population if you espouse godless communism, but I guess it is OK if you espouse godly fascism.

The following is an article  about Archbishop Romero written by Fr. John Dear for the NCR on March 16, 2010.  I reprint it virtually in total because I know Fr. John would not be upset.  I've met him and there is no doubt in my mind that he's the real deal himself ---and the issue is to spread the word, not own it.

"I have often been threatened with death," Archbishop Oscar Romero told a Guatemalan reporter two weeks before his assassination, 30 years ago on March 24, 1980. "If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality."
Oscar Romero gave his life in the hope that peace and justice would one day become a reality. He lives on now in all those who carry on the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace. A beautiful new photo book and biography, Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints, by Scott Wright, shows us what a holy life he lived, and just how much he gave.

Romero spent his years up until 1977 as a typical quiet, pious, conservative cleric. Indeed, as bishop, he sided with the greedy landlords, important power brokers, and violent death squads. When he became archbishop, the Jesuits at the Univeristy of Central America in San Salvador were crushed. They immediately wrote him off -- all but one, Rutilio Grande, who reached out to Romero in the weeks after his installation and urged him to learn from the poor and speak on their behalf.

Grande himself was a giant for social justice. He organized the rural poor in Aguilares, and paid for it with his life on March 12, 1977. Standing over Grande's dead body that night, Romero was transformed into one of the world's great champions for the poor and oppressed. From then on, he stood with the poor, and denounced every act of violence, injustice and war. He became a fiery prophet of justice and peace, "the voice of the voiceless," and in Jon Sobrino's words, "a new Jeremiah." For me, Romero was a stunning sign of God's active presence in the world, a living symbol of the struggle for justice and what the church could be.

The day after Grande's death, Romero preached a sermon that stunned El Salvador. With the force of Martin Luther King, Jr., Romero defended Grande, demanded social and economic justice for the poor, and called everyone to take up Grande's prophetic work. To protest the government's participation in the murders, Romero closed the parish school for three days and cancelled all Masses in the country the following week, except for one special Mass in the cathedral.

That act alone would have put Romero in the annals of history. Imagine if every Mass in the United States but one had been canceled in protest after the death of Dr. King! Over a hundred thousand people attended the cathedral Mass that Sunday and heard Romero's bold call for justice, disarmament and peace. Grande's life and death bore good fruit in the heart and soul of Romero. Suddenly, the nation had a towering figure in its midst.

Within months, priests, catechists and church workers were regularly targeted and assassinated, so Romero spoke out even more forcefully. He even criticized the president, which no Salvadoran bishop had ever done before, and few in the hemisphere ever did. As the U.S.-backed government death squads attacked villages and churches and massacred campesinos, Romero's truth-telling became a veritable subversive campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Soon Romero was greeted with applause everywhere he went. Thousands wrote to him regularly, telling their stories, thanking him for his prophetic voice and sharing their new found courage. His Sunday homilies were broadcast nationwide on live radio. The country came to a standstill as he spoke. Everyone listened, even the death squads.

As Romero's stature grew and his leadership for justice and peace deepened, his simple faith and pious devotion remained steady, and gave him a foundation from which he could take on the forces of death. To protest the government's silence in the face of recent massacres, he refused to attend the inauguration of the new Salvadoran president. The church, he announced, is "not to be measured by the government's support but rather by its own authenticity, its evangelical spirit of prayer, trust, sincerity and justice, its opposition to abuses." While he embodied the prophetic role of the church, he also modeled that spirit of prayer, trust and sincerity in his everyday life.

As the arrests, torture, disappearances and murders continued, Romero made two radical decisions that were unprecedented. First, on Easter Monday 1978, he opened the seminary in downtown San Salvador to welcome any and all displaced victims of violence. Hundreds of homeless, hungry and brutalized people moved into the seminary, transforming the quiet religious retreat into a crowded, noisy shelter, make-shift hospital, and playground. (I remember helping out there for a few days in 1985, and trying to imagine what a similar Gospel action would look like in the United States. We have never experienced such an action by our church leaders.)

Next, he halted construction on the new cathedral in San Salvador. When the war is over, the hungry are fed, and the children are educated, then we can resume building our cathedral, he said. Both historic moves stunned the other bishops, cast judgment on the Salvadoran government, and lifted the peoples' spirits.

Meanwhile, Romero's preaching reached biblical heights. "Like a voice crying in the desert," he said, "we must continually say No to violence and Yes to peace." His August 1978 pastoral letter outlined the evils of "institutional violence" and repression, and advocated "the power of nonviolence that today has conspicuous students and followers." He wrote: "The counsel of the Gospel to turn the other cheek to an unjust aggressor, far from being passive or cowardly, shows great moral force that leaves the aggressor morally overcome and humiliated. The Christian always prefers peace to war."

Romero lived in a sparse, three-room hermitage on the grounds of a hospital run by a community of nuns. During his busy days, he traveled the country, met with hundreds of poor Salvadorans, presided at Mass, and met with local community leaders. He assisted everyone he could. Later, he said that one of his primary duties as archbishop had become not just challenging the U.S.-backed government and its death squads, but claiming the dead bodies of their victims, including priests, nuns and catechists.

On one of my visits, a Salvadoran told me how Romero would drive out to city garbage dumps to look among the trash for the discarded, tortured victims of the death squads on behalf of grieving relatives. "These days I walk the roads gathering up dead friends, listening to widows and orphans, and trying to spread hope," he said.

In particular, Romero took time every day to speak with dozens of people threatened by government death squads. People lined up at his office to ask for help and protection, to complain about harassment and death threats, and to find some support and guidance in their time of grief and struggle. Romero received and listened to everyone. His compassionate ear fueled his prophetic voice.

By late 1979 and early 1980, his Sunday sermons issued his strongest calls yet for conversion to justice and an end to the massacres. "To those who bear in their hands or in their conscience, the burden of bloodshed, of outrages, of the victimized, innocent or guilty, but still victimized in their human dignity, I say: Be converted. You cannot find God on the path of torture. God is found on the way of justice, conversion and truth."

When President Jimmy Carter announced in February 1980 that he was going to increase U.S. military aid to El Salvador by millions of dollars a day, Romero was shocked. He wrote a long public letter to Carter, asking the United States to cancel all military aid. Carter ignored Romero's plea, and sent the aid. (Between 1980 and 1992, the U.S. spent $6 billion to kill 75,000 poor Salvadorans.)

In the weeks afterwards, the killings increased. So did the death threats against Romero. He made a private retreat, prepared for his death, discovered an even deeper peace, and mounted the pulpit. During his March 23, 1980, Sunday sermon, Romero let loose and issued one of the greatest appeals for peace and disarmament in church history:
"I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, to the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, the dignity of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination. We want the government to take seriously that reforms are worth nothing when they come about stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!"
The next day, March 24, 1980, Romero presided over a small evening Mass in the chapel of the hospital compound where he lived, in honor of a beloved woman who had died a year before. He read from John's Gospel: "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit "(12:23-26). Then he preached about the need to give our lives for others as Christ did. Just as he concluded, he was shot in the heart by a man standing in the back of the church. He fell behind the altar and collapsed at the foot of a huge crucifix depicting a bloody and bruised Christ. Romero's vestments, and the floor around him, were covered in blood. He gasped for breath and died in minutes.

I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news -- in my fraternity room at Duke University. I had just turned on the TV to watch the evening news. Only the month before, I had decided to apply to the Jesuits, to try to spend my life following Jesus. The shocking report of the death of this brave archbishop stunned me, inspired me and encouraged me to go through with my decision. Later that night, a peace vigil and prayer service was held on campus. My friend Paul Farmer, living next door to me, marks his conversion from that event. (Farmer would become a doctor and teacher at Harvard University and founder of Partners In Health, an international health and social justice organization.) Both of us were touched and changed by Romero's gift.
Romero's funeral became the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America. The government was so afraid of the grieving people that they threw bombs into the crowd and opened fire, killing some 30 people and injuring hundreds more. The Mass of Resurrection was never completed and Romero was hastily buried.

Just recently, I learned from one of his biographies that Pope John Paul II had decided to remove Romero as Archbishop of San Salvador. In fact, he signed the removal order on the morning of March 24. In some ways, I'm grateful that Romero never lived to hear that dreadful news. His martyrdom became a spiritual explosion that continues to transform the church and the world.

Today, we remember Oscar Romero as a saint and a martyr, as a champion of the poor and prophet of justice. He calls us to live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, to think with them, feel with them, walk with them, listen to them, serve them, stand with them, become one with them, and even die with them. In that preferential solidarity, he summons us to carry on his prophetic pursuit of justice and disarmament......


At this time, Archbishop Romero is a Servant of God with his Beatification and Canonization progress stalled in the water.  Some say this is because there are questions about his connections with liberation theologians, others because of full investigation for Beatification would embarrass certain Salvadoran families and right wing politicians. And still others say his cause is too political and would be used by the wrong kind of Catholics to further their dissension with the "True Church".  In any event, the cause for Romero has come to a dead standstill under Pope Benedict.

In my mind it's most like the fact that Archbishop Romero was converted from an obedient Roman Catholic prelate into primarily a Christian Catholic who happened to be an Archbishop.  That's the kind of thing that doesn't exactly further one's ecclesiastical career--living or dead.

This is just a fun aside, but if readers have the time, go back and get a mental picture of some of our most ROMAN CATHOLIC bishops and cardinals, then picture them engaging in the acts I have in bold in the article.  It's pretty tough to picture some of them any where near a garbage dump, much less traipsing around on one looking for dead bodies because relatives can't take the risk.  Oh, and then there is that cathedral thing.


  1. Well, I suppose the only thing to do is start praying to Oscar Romero. Isn't that how Saints ought to start?

    btw, what is a Christian Catholic, exactly?

  2. Well, not the ONLY thing, but I mean, insofar as a Saint ought to be proclaimed through popular esteem.

  3. If it were left to the people of El Salvador and central America, Romero would have been proclaimed a saint "through popular esteem" the day of his martyrdom. That was enough in the ancient church, where saints were proclaimed by their local communities, without necessarily being known through the wider church. Today, of course, 'sainthood' is manipulated by a central authority for carefully chosen political purposes, using the tools of pop star culture to inculcate popular miasma. What popular esteem brought Jose Escriva to the altars? I don't mean to be cynical, but I consider it an honor that someone of Romero's stature has not been touched (sullied) by this system, but remains a pure witness on the margins. It is still an injustice, however.

  4. "using the tools of pop star culture to inculcate popular miasma."

    That's a great line Jayden. There is a great deal of research about the effects of crowds on the individual thought processes and the disassociation in the mind they create. Ergo "mob mentality".

    JD, a Christian Catholic identifies as a Christian first and a Catholic second and acts accordingly. It is not necessarily an ideologically based attitude in that I have met people I would define as Christian Catholics in both conservative and progressive Catholics.

  5. Honestly, if the worldwide church was more like Romero's vision, there would be no shortage of young people packing the pews. Getting young people to support the status quo and the priveledge of the rich is a much harder sell, and it isn't working.

    Emperor Lew I

  6. Great article and it does make me wonder why there is a discrepancy.
    I don't know if there are open channels where these questions can be asked or even who to ask.
    It's the same with Merton. He should be Blessed or whatever but then labels seem less important to me some days.

  7. Thanks for keeping the issue of Romero in front of us, Colleen. Just another example of the glaring hypocrisy and double standard in the Catholic Church. I especially appreciate the comparison between "godless communism" and "godly fascism." Well said!!

  8. If anyone deserves to be "santo subito" it was Oscar Romero, certainly not Marcial's buddy JPII. I guess this reveals the politicizing and watering down of the whole canonization process.

  9. The Anglican Church honored Romero in 1998 when Westminster Abbey placed his statue alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in commemoration of 20th century martyrs.

    "In May 1979 he visited the Pope in Rome and presented him with seven dossiers filled with reports and documents describing the injustices of El Salvador. But his friends sensed his isolation in the church, while the threats and dangers against him mounted outside it. On 24 March 1980 he was suddenly shot dead while celebrating mass in the chapel of the hospital where he lived."

    Meanwhile from 2007 we have the Catholic News Agency reporting: "Romero was killed several days later during the Celebration of the Mass, one day after calling Christian Salvadorans to obey the law of God, even if it’s contradictory to government orders. Today, the Vatican is debating whether or not the archbishop was a martyr for the church, or an assassinated hero for the political left."

    *emphasis added


  10. It is sad and sobering that Pope John Paul II had little use for Archbishop Romero and if I read this correctly even wanted him removed. At the same time he was loyal to and protective of Father Maciel.

  11. bobfet11, you read this correctly. While JPII was protecting Maciel and appointing Sodano, who collaborated with Chilean dictator Pinochet, he was signing a declaration to remove Romero.

    I will write it again. JPII was a quintessential 20th century Vatican thinker. There was no godly fascist they wouldn't cooperate with, and no godless communist they wouldn't fight. Meanwhile people suffered equally under both political systems, the only real difference is the Vatican had power with and in the fascist systems. Jesus weeps--a lot.

  12. From now on I will call Thomas Merton, Blessed Thomas Louis Merton and AB Romero as Blessed AB Romero. I know in my heart, mind and soul that Jesus led me to Thomas Merton and he in turn led me to Jesus Christ, and probably many others too and that he is saint-worthy. He helped lead me out of the darkness of depression and hopelessness. He was a real light in the darkness. He was honest and truthful, a man of God.

    AB Romero had the change of heart for him to see the injustice of greed and worldly power and bloody treachery of oppression upon poor and unmercifully victimized peoples, Christian Catholic and God loving people. AB Romero, was like a St. Paul in that he persecuted before conversion, by blindness and ignorance and by true Christian conversion he got rid of the "old man" in himself which created a new man, doing away of his former "old man" ways of seeing in darkness and being as if in the Light of Christ. The Holy Spirit truly was living in him as his final Acts support him, as well, the Gospels attest to AB Romero to being in Christ Jesus, a true Christian Catholic.

    If one is led to Jesus, one receives the Peace of the Lord, which is worth more than all the gold in the world.

    A Christian Catholic
    I'm all for this notion of a parallel Church. It is the only way WE will have PEACE and have a place to grow in Christ, in wisdom and in truth. This would be a Transcending Christian Catholic Church that is merciful, has compassion, can forgive or be in the process of forgiveness for themselves and their neighbor, can heal, can pray, be holy or be in the process of becoming holy and create peace, love and joy in the world and in their communities and homes and businesses and governments and nations and states as people firmly committed to such intention and purpose. A Church that will value the gifts given by the Holy Spirit to males and females alike and be able to recognize those gifts, accept that people have differences and that everyone should be treated with respect instead of rejecting hypocritically or in ignorance or in immaturity or blindness and prejudice which is what we currently have had for way to long.

  13. In the early church, anyone who was martyred was considered immediately a saint for laying down his/her life for the gospel - no canonization process, no miracles - their ultimate sacrifice was miraculous enough.

    We don't need the Magisterium to tell us who is or is not a saint. The truest saints seep up from the hearts and memories of the masses of the faithful such that the Institution finally Has to recognize their sanctity.

  14. He is on several Anglican calendars as a Saint. And that is a good deal.