In spite of controversy, Oscar Romero stood by his motto, "To be of one mind with the Church."
Today, 34 years after his assassination at the altar and 17 years after Pope St. John Paul II approved his cause for canonization, bestowing upon him the title “Servant of God,” the Church has decided that Romero was indeed “of one mind with the Church.”
During his plane ride home from South Korea on August 18, Pope Francis confirmed that he had lifted a prudential block on Romero’s cause, paving the way for his beatification in the near future.
“There are no doctrinal problems and it is very important that it is done quickly,” said the Holy Father. “For me, he is a man of God.”
Pope Francis was actualy confirming news that had come out last year, though that may have not been noticed by most of the Catholic world. In April 2013, during a Mass honoring the 20th anniversary of the death of Bishop Antonio "Tonino" Bello, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, prefect of the Pontifical Council for the Family and postulator of Romero’s cause, declared that, “Just today … the cause of the beatification of Monsignor Romero has been unblocked.”
A few months later, in July, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), announced that an examination of Romero’s doctrinal orthodoxy had been completed and that the CDF had no objection to the cause moving forward.
“I see Oscar Arnulfo Romero as a great witness of the faith and a man who was thirsty for social justice,” said Cardinal Müller at the time, noting that as early as 2007 Pope Benedict XVI said he thought Romero “worthy of beatification.”
These developments are of particular importance to Catholics in Central and South America, especially the poor, who view Romero as a champion of their cause for social, political and economic justice. Devotion to Romero has flourished among El Salvador’s poor since his assassination, and he is frequently referred to throughout Latin America as San Romero de América: Saint Romero of America.
Romero was born in 1917 in El Salvador’s district of San Miguel. He was educated in a minor seminary in San Miguel, the Salvadoran national seminary in San Salvador, and at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he was ordained in 1942. For the first 25 years of his priesthood, Romero served in ordinary roles, mostly in the Diocese of San Miguel: parish priest, pastor, and seminary rector. He also served as secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of El Salvador, and editor of the archdiocesan newspaper, Orientación in San Salvador.
But in 1970, with his appointment as an auxiliary bishop, Romero’s life and priestly career got on the fast track. In 1974, he was appointed as bishop of Santiago de Maria, a remote diocese in an impoverished rural part of the country. Then, in 1977, Romero was made Archbishop of San Salvador. At the time, his elevation was cheered by elites, who viewed him as a traditional cleric likely to defend their political and economic domination of the country. It is easy to see why El Salvador’s power elites were inclined to trust Romero. He had staked out a reputation as a traditional churchman who avoided direct involvement in politics and vigorously defended the magisterial teaching of the Church.
But the murder of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, a friend of Romero’s who had been working to organize the rural poor, changed something in Romero. Grande was shot and killed along with two others less than a month after Romero assumed the chair of San Salvador. An official statement put out by Romero’s Archdiocese said, "The true reason for his death was his prophetic and pastoral efforts to raise the consciousness of the people throughout his parish. Father Grande…was only slowly forming a genuine community of faith, hope and love among them, he was making them aware of their dignity as individuals … It is work that disturbs many; and to end it, it was necessary to liquidate its proponent.”