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

 Looking Ahead to Upcoming Canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero, & Speculation of Papal Trip to El Salvador in January

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

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.

On Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in St. Peter’s square, Pope Francis will make canonized saints one of his predecessors, Blessed Pope Paul VI, and Blessed martyr Oscar Romero (1917-1980), Archbishop of San Salvador. As he spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture, Archbishop Romero 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 extremely right-wing politician and death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson had given the order, in the midst of the civil war in El Salvador.

On Sunday, as decreed in a May 19 ordinary consistory, Blesseds Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI will be canonized along with Blesseds Maria Caterina Kasper, German religious sister and founder of the Institute of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ; Nazaria Ignazia of Saint Teresa of Jesus, founder of the Congregation of the Misioneras Cruzadas de la Iglesia Sisters; Francesco Spinelli, diocesan priest and founder of the Institute of the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament; and Vincenzo Romano, Italian diocesan priest.

During a press conference tonight in the Holy See’s Press Office on the canonization, Cardinal Rosa Chavez affirmed that Pope Francis has expressed the idea of going to El Salvador. The Archbishop of San Salvador confirmed to press present that Salvadoran bishops will ask Pope Francis on Monday whether he will visit El Salvador. There is speculation is the Pope would visit the Latin American nation when he visits Panama for the occasion of the World Youth Day in January of 2019.

Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, noted that Pope Emeritus Benedict is not expected to attend Sunday’s Canonization, as “he is not as agile as he was a few months ago.”

“In El Salvador,” Fr. Pelton tells Zenit in the interview, “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.”

Here is Fr. Pelton’s interview with ZENIT about soon-to-be canonized saint Oscar Romero:

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The Church has beatified – and often even canonized – innumerable martyrs, who lived not only in the far past, but also in fairly recent times. Many are martyrs of Nazism, of Communism, there are few martyrs of the time of Romero (1970s of the 20th Century) and of the geographical area of 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 Archbishop 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’, (‘in hatred of the faith’) 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 bring to fruition 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 teachings of Pope Francis greatly insist 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.

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is a Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in four languages). She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight, and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, EWTN and Salt & Light. For 'The Other Francis': https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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