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Holy See

Interview: “May Pope Francis Promote Romero as a Pastoral Model of Leadership for the Entire Church”

“It is impossible to separate hatred for the faith from the political context where a martyr has died, an Oscar Romero expert says, the University of Notre Dame’s Fr. Robert Pelton, C.S.C, who has traveled to Rome (at age 96!) to attend canonization Mass and related activities. He is attending with the Salvadoran delegation.

On Sunday 14 of October 2018, in st. Peter square, Pope Francis is scheduled to proclaim saints the Predecessor Pope Paul VI and the Blessed martyr Oscar Romero (1917-1980),Archbishop of San Salvador. As he spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture, he was assassinated while offering Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence. Though no one was ever convicted for the crime, there is strong evidence extreme-right wing politician and death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson had given the order, in the context of the civil war in El Salvador.

According to Fr. Pelton, “in El Salvador there are deep wounds still in existence in that suffering country. I pray that this canonization of both Romero and Paul VI will start this process of needed healing”.

Fr. Pelton is the author of several books on Romero and the producer of the award-winning documentary Monseñor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero. In addition to Romero’s life and legacy, he has expertise in liberation theology and martyrdom in Latin America more broadly.

***

The Church has beatified – and often even canonized – an innumerable host of martyrs, lived not only in antiquity, but also in fairly recent times. Many are the martyrs of Nazism, of Communism, there are few martyrs of the Romero age (70s of the 20th Century) and of that geographical area, Latin America. Why?

The Latin American Catholic Church has only recently assumed prominence in the global Catholic Church, and that is from the time of the Conference of Medellin (1968). At this time, the Church of Latin America looked at itself in the context of the Lumen Gentium document, “The Church in the Modern World” (Lumen Gentium) and this was a significant move for the Church.

Who was the Bishop Romero? How would you describe this figure briefly to those who do not know him?

He was a simple Parish priest when the Latin American Church began to understand its role in the larger Catholic Church, in the light of the teachings of Vatican II. He was strongly influenced by his theological formation in Rome. He grasped a newer sense of evangelization from Pope Paul VI. From a pastoral point of view, he was moved by the pastoral example of his friend Fr. Rutilio Grande (Jesuit priest of El Salvador, killed in 1977, the first priest assassinated before the civil war started. His death changed the Archbishop Romero’s attitude toward the Salvadorian government, NDR).

To speak of martyrdom, the laws of the Church require that the martyr be killed ‘in odium fidei’, by explicit hatred, that is, towards the Christian faith professed by the martyr. Is this really the case of Romero?

This is correct. However, it is impossible to separate hatred for the faith from the political context where this “martyr” has died. John Paul II broadens this understanding when issuing the martyrology of the year 2000 when he included the name of Oscar Romero. (This was before the formal cause of Romero was presented.)

The cause of beatification and then canonization of Romero has had a long and very troubled process. The history of his ‘martyrdom’ has often been read and interpreted through ideological and political categories, which have created controversy and opposition. But was Romero really a bishop who was a politician?

Romero was a Bishop and martyr who finally understood his reality through the help of Paul VI and Fr. Rutilio Grande. Blessed Romero in written communication with Pope John Paul II said that he persevered because of his pastoral fortitude.

The impression is that it was Pope Francis, after a long period of time, to impress the decisive turning point in the cause of beatification and then canonization … is that so?

Yes, I do agree since in many ways Pope Francis and San Romero underwent similar conversions. I would say that Pope Francis “unblocked” the entire process.

Pope Francis also comes from Latin America … Is there a connection between this fact and Romero’s canonization?

I believe that there is a connection; both experienced a change of heart in the midst of a new type of Church.

The magisterium (teaching) of Francis insists a lot on issues of Social Doctrine of the church such as poverty, development, corruption, an equitable distribution of wealth. Does this canonization contain a message in this sense?

I hope that it does. May Pope Francis promote Romero as a pastoral model of leadership for the entire Church.

The civil war in San Salvador created deep divisions in the Church and in Salvadoran society. Is there a risk that this canonization reopens some old wounds?

There are deep wounds still in existence in that suffering country. I pray that this canonization of both Romero and Paul VI will start this process of needed healing. May the martyrs of the world call us to much more profound changes of heart and pastoral action.

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