It was 1983. A papal trip to Central America was being planned, and some of the top leaders of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) explicitly asked John Paul II not to visit the grave of Archbishop Romero, since he was still considered too politically charged a figure. Those who were present marveled at the vehement reaction of the Pope. He gestured in a manner he had never done before. His fist hit the table, as in an almost angry voice, he said: “No! No! The Pope must go!” And then he went. Upon his arrival in El Salvador, despite the fact that the government had barred the door of the cathedral, the Pope went in to pray at the tomb, and uttered deeply moving words about the ministry of the bishop whom, he said, “was martyred.”
Another insult to the martyrdom of the Archbishop of San Salvador has been recorded. His was a martyrdom that clearly occurred in odium fidei, i.e. out of hatred for the way Romero lived the Gospel. And yet, someone demagogically turned it into a “political” martyrdom, into a martyrdom flowing from his “class commitment” to the people.
Afterwards, an utterly distorted history of Romero was reconstructed, especially regarding his relationship with John Paul II. It was as though the Pope, through his lack of understanding, had brought the Salvadoran prelate to tears. And not instead, as was the case: Wojtyla supported him, and then was shocked to learn of his assassination.
Furthermore, during the Jubilee Year 2000, for the ceremony at the Colosseum dedicated to the martyrs, Pope John Paul II inserted the name of Archbishop Romero into the prayer for Christians who had given their lives for love of Christ and their brothers and sisters in America.
And now — precisely as the first Latin American Pope is sitting on the Chair of Peter — the great moment has arrived. On Saturday, May 23, the solemn beatification of Archbishop Romero will take place in San Salvador. It is to be hoped that finally seeing acknowledged the exemplary nature of Oscar Arnulfo Romero’s witness to the Gospel will help everyone to remember and venerate him for what he really was: a gift from God, a good man, a generous and courageous priest and bishop, and an authentic witness of Christ and his Gospel.
Gian Franco Svidercoschiwas sent as a journalist by ANSA to Vatican II, and has served as vice-director of the “Osservatore Romano”. He is considered to be the official biographer of John Paul II, with whom he co-wrote the book, “Gift and Mystery”. One may write to him at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org