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Salvadoran pilgrimage to mark centennial of Blessed Romero’s birth

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By Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Salvadorans plan to walk more than 90 miles in three days to mark the centennial of Blessed Oscar Romero’s birth.

People participate in a late-March procession to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the killing of Blessed Oscar Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador. A pilgrimage to celebrate the slain archbishop's 100th birthday will be held Aug. 11-13, with pilgrims walking from San Salvador to Ciudad Barrios, where he was born. (CNS photo/Rodigro Sura, EPA)

People participate in a late-March procession to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the killing of Blessed Oscar Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador. A pilgrimage to celebrate the slain archbishop’s 100th birthday will be held Aug. 11-13, with pilgrims walking from San Salvador to Ciudad Barrios, where he was born. (CNS photo/Rodigro Sura, EPA)

Participants will leave the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador Aug. 11 and are scheduled to arrive in Ciudad Barrios, the eastern city where Blessed Romero was born, Aug. 13.

The pilgrimage, “Caminando hacia la cuna del Profeta” (“Walking toward the prophet’s birthplace”), will go through four dioceses — San Salvador, San Vicente, Santiago de Maria and San Miguel.

Blessed Romero was born Aug. 15, 1917, and that centennial date will be marked by a Mass at San Salvador’s cathedral. Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzatti of Santiago, Pope Francis’ special envoy to the celebration, will be the main celebrant.

Masses also are scheduled in other parts of the country. On Aug. 12, in the western Santa Ana diocese, Archbishop Leon Kalenga Badikebele, apostolic nuncio to El Salvador, will deliver the homily at a commemorative Mass, while Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, a close friend of Blessed Romero, is scheduled to give a presentation on the archbishop’s life and work.

When it announced the activities July 31, the Salvadoran bishops’ conference stated that, as far back as three years ago, it “invited all the worshippers, Salvadorans and of the world, to prepare for this centennial to remember Blessed Romero as a man, a pastor and a martyr.”

The murdered priest was beatified May 23, 2015, in San Salvador. In a letter to the gathering, read before an estimated 250,000 people gathered for the event, Pope Francis described Blessed Romero as “a voice that continues to resonate.”

Ordained April 4, 1942, in Rome, the Salvadoran religious leader was appointed archbishop of San Salvador Feb. 23, 1977, and was gunned down after Mass at a hospital chapel March 24, 1980, a day after a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers to obey what he described as God’s order and stop carrying actions of repression.

The archbishop’s March 30 funeral at the cathedral, attended by more than 200,000 mourners, was interrupted by gunfire that left 30-50 people dead.

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Pope names new cardinals from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos, Salvador

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis announced he will create five new cardinals June 28; the new cardinals-designate come from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador.

Unusually, the group of prelates announced by the pope May 21 includes an auxiliary bishop whose archbishop is not a cardinal; he is Cardinal-designate Gregorio Rosa Chavez, 74, the current auxiliary bishop of San Salvador.

Cardinal-designate Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, pictured in a 2015 photo, is one of five new cardinals Pope Francis will create at a June 28 consistory. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

Cardinal-designate Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, pictured in a 2015 photo, is one of five new cardinals Pope Francis will create at a June 28 consistory. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

The other churchmen who will receive red hats are: Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, 67; and Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73.

After briefly talking about the day’s Gospel reading, leading the crowd in St. Peter’s Square in reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer and greeting various groups present, instead of wishing everyone a good Sunday and a good lunch, the normal procedure at the noon prayer, Pope Francis made his announcement.

The five new cardinals coming from “different parts of the world demonstrates the catholicity of the church spread across the globe,” Pope Francis said. And the practice of assigning to each of them a church in Rome “expresses that the cardinals belong to the Diocese of Rome,” which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch explained, “presides in charity over all the churches.”

Pope Francis said that June 29, the day after the consistory and the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the new cardinals would concelebrate a Mass with him, the entire College of Cardinals and new archbishops from around the world.

“We entrust the new cardinals to the protection of Sts. Peter and Paul,” Pope Francis said, praying that with St. Peter they would be authentic servants of communion in the church and that with St. Paul they would be “joyful proclaimers of the Gospel.”

The pope also prayed that “with their witness and their counsel,” the new cardinals would “support me more intensely in my service as bishop of Rome, pastor of the universal church.”

With five new cardinals, the College of Cardinals will have 227 members, 121 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. The number of electors exceeds by one the limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI. The next cardinal to turn 80 will be Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, who will celebrate his birthday Feb. 3.

The Vatican released brief biographical notes about the five who will be inducted into the college in June:

  • Cardinal-designate Zerbo was born Dec. 27, 1943, in Segou and was ordained to the priesthood there in 1971. He earned a license in Scripture studies from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and then returned to Mali as a pastor and professor at the seminary in Bamako.

Ordained a bishop in 1988, he served first as auxiliary bishop of Bamako and then was named bishop of Mopti. He has led the Archdiocese of Bamako since 1998.

According to the Vatican, “he played an active role in the Mali peace negotiations” and has worked for solidarity and reconciliation among the nation’s citizens.

  • Cardinal-designate Omella was born in the small town of Cretas April 21, 1946, and did his seminary studies in Zaragoza as well as Louvain, Belgium, and Jerusalem. He was ordained in 1970. In addition to parish work in Spain, he spent a year as a missionary in then-Zaire, now Congo.

Ordained a bishop in 1996, he served as auxiliary bishop of Zaragoza and later as bishop of Barbastro-Monzon, then bishop of Calahorra and La Calzada-Logrorio. Pope Francis named him archbishop of Barcelona in 2015.

He has long been a member of the Spanish bishops’ commission for social questions and served two terms as commission president. He is a member of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

  • Cardinal-designate Arborelius hosted Pope Francis’ visit to Sweden in October as part of an ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Born in Sweden Sept. 24, 1949, he joined the Catholic Church at the age of 20. A few years later, he entered the Discalced Carmelites, took vows in 1977 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1979.

Ordained bishop of Stockholm in 1998, he became the first native Swedish bishop in Sweden since the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, according to the Vatican.

  • Cardinal-designate Mangkhanekhoun was born April 8, 1944, in Laos. The Vatican did not say in what city, but did say he was educated and did seminary studies in Laos and Canada.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1972 by the apostolic vicar of Vientiane, he was instrumental in training catechists and was known for his pastoral visits to remote mountain villages.

In October 2000, he was named apostolic vicar of Pakse and was ordained a bishop six months later. Since February, he also has served as apostolic administrator of Vientiane, which currently is without a bishop.

  • Cardinal-designate Rosa Chavez was born Sept. 3, 1942, in Sociedad, El Salvador. He studied at San Jose de la Montana Seminary in San Salvador, earned a degree in social communications and studied at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 in San Miguel and served overlapping and sometimes simultaneous terms as the bishop’s secretary, pastor of a parish and director of the diocesan radio station. From 1977 to 1982, he served as rector of San Jose de la Montafia Seminary in San Salvador, a position that brought him into regular contact and close collaboration with Blessed Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.

He was named auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1982. Currently, in addition to his duties as auxiliary bishop, he serves as pastor of the Church of St. Francis in the capital, president of Caritas El Salvador and president of Caritas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Texas parish welcomes immigrant children ‘with a lot of love’

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Catholic News Service

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Almost every Sunday, more than 100 immigrant children under 18 years of age attend Mass at San Felipe de Jesus Church in Cameron Park.

Carmen Alvear and other parishioners from San Felipe de Jesus Parish in Brownsville, Texas, prepare a special meal for unaccompanied children from Central America who attend Mass at their church July 10. (CNS photo/Rose Ybarra, The Valley Catholic)

Carmen Alvear and other parishioners from San Felipe de Jesus Parish in Brownsville, Texas, prepare a special meal for unaccompanied children from Central America who attend Mass at their church July 10. (CNS photo/Rose Ybarra, The Valley Catholic)

The children, who are mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, entered the United States unaccompanied and are housed in shelters, or “centros de refugio,” for several weeks while arrangements are made to reunite them with relatives living in the United States or back in their country of origin.

So far, in 2016, more than 26,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America have been apprehended according to figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors have crossed into the United States in the last five years.

Marist Father Anthony O’Connor, pastor of San Felipe de Jesus Church, which is in the Brownsville diocese, said most of these children are fleeing from poverty and violence in their home countries. They come to the United States in search of a better life, but that journey is fraught with its own dangers.

“Most of them face some sort of difficulty on the way,” said Father O’Connor, who visits four different centros de refugio to hear confessions and visit with the children. “They often pass through moral and physical danger to get here.

“These kids have had to grow up fast,” he told The Valley Catholic, Brownsville’s diocesan newspaper.

“What they have been through, we can’t even imagine,” said Barbara Martinez, a parishioner of San Felipe de Jesus Church.

Father O’Connor and his parishioners have responded to the call to make the children feel welcome. A section of the church is reserved for them as they have to be seated together. The children have been attending Mass here for about a year.

“Everybody respects that space,” said parishioner Miguel Lopez, who serves as an usher. “People will stand in the back of the church rather than sit there.

“We are not afraid to admit we give them special treatment because we want them to feel special. … I see some of them crying as they pray. We know they are going through a lot. We feel their pain.”

“They are received with a lot of love and you can feel the presence of God’s love when they are here,” said parishioner Yolanda Castillo. “We feel blessed to have them be a part of our community.”

The immigrant children attending Mass at San Felipe de Jesus Church for the first time also receive a small gift of welcome, said parishioner Sergio Martinez.

“They are provided with a cross to hang around their necks and they wear them every week when they come to Mass,” he said. “I think it is remarkable how they come here with an open spirit.”

At Christmastime, the parishioners hosted a posada for the children and in July, they invited them over for a special meal featuring dishes from their home countries. Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores was present for the meal and celebrated Mass.

Carmen Alvear, one of the cooks, researched the cuisine from Central America, hoping to, “get it right.” She said some of the children cried tears of joy and sadness when they saw the food.

“They told us they were happy and moved that we took the time to prepare the foods they like but it also made them miss home and their families,” she said. “I’ll admit, we cried with them.”

Guadalupe Gonzalez, another cook, said the children really enjoyed the food and many of them had “seconds and thirds.”

“The food is made with a lot of love,” said Claudia Gutierrez, a volunteer cook. “We wanted them to eat as much as they wanted.”

“I feel very happy and honored to be part of this community of faith,” said parishioner Francisca Rodriguez. “We’ve always been a very united community and having the children here has brought us even closer together because we all want the children to feel at home and we are doing everything we can for them.

“We know they are suffering and we hope hearing the word of God carries them through the week ahead.”

“We put ourselves in their shoes,” said parishioner Guillermo Castillo. “All their worries, all the obstacles they have overcome, their fears about living in a new country, missing their family … it is a sad reality, but we support them as best as we can by giving them love and understanding.”

Parishioner Marcos Garcia is relatively new to San Felipe de Jesus Church, having only joined the parish about four years ago.

“I am in awe of this community, of how generous and welcoming everyone is and I believe it comes from Our Lord, first of all and also from Father Tony,” he said. “He inspires us to serve and we pray for him constantly, that he will continue to have the strength to minister to these children.”

When asked if they had any reservations about the children joining them for Mass, the parishioners all replied, “No,” in unison.

“This is the house of God,” parishioner David Gomez said. “Everyone is welcome. On the rare occasion the children don’t come to Mass, we really miss them. We feel like a part of us is missing.”

 

Ybarra is assistant editor of The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.

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Rally outside White House seeks end of family detention

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Addressing about 100 people standing outside the White House March 28, Beatriz Mejia, a native of El Salvador, called on the United States to recognize that the thousands of mothers and children like her who have fled Central America in search of safety pose no threat to America.

A child holds a sign in Washington near the White House March 28 during a demonstration calling on the Obama administration to put an end to the detention of immigrant families. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

A child holds a sign in Washington near the White House March 28 during a demonstration calling on the Obama administration to put an end to the detention of immigrant families. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

“We have come here from an unjust situation,” said Mejia, the mother of a 7-year-old son, who spent months in one of the family detention centers open since mid-2014 in the Southwest U.S. but now lives in the Washington area awaiting a hearing on her case. “Many of us have lost our loved ones because of the violence we are experiencing.”

She said through an interpreter that she was the victim of an attempted murder in her homeland and the incident caused her to flee northward.

“We are here to seek opportunities in this country and we are not a threat,” she said of the families who have seen family members and friends beaten or killed as Central America experiences periodic waves of violence.

Mejia’s testimony came at a rally planned by the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Representation and Advocacy Project as President Barack Obama hosted the annual White House Easter Egg Roll for hundreds of children. Rally organizers said they chose the day and the site to highlight how children being held in the detention centers did not have the freedom to participate in any Easter celebration.

Several speakers called on Obama and Congress to close the detention centers, alter policies in order to keep families together and to enact comprehensive immigration reform for the estimated 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

“There are children here (in detention) who would like to be there,” Sister Eileen Campbell, a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, told Catholic News Service as she pointed to the White House. “It’s a human rights issue, not a terrorist issue. If we are as good as we say, we ought to be sharing. If we’re this country with great resources, the greatest security, I don’t think we should be afraid of women and children.”

The group included several people holding posters and signs calling on the White House and Congress to end the practice of detaining families for weeks or months until they are processed. Some of the signs had images of immigrant children who had been held in the detention centers.

The centers opened in 2014 in response to waves of immigrants, many of them unaccompanied children, from throughout Central America who made their way to the U.S. border and were discovered state or federal authorities. Five baskets of brightly colored plastic Easter eggs were placed on the ground in front of the sign holders.

In addressing the gathering, Sister Eileen said she wanted to let the detained families to know that women religious throughout the country stood with them and were joining the call for new policies in how the country handles immigrant families.

She called the detention of families “immoral and unjust.”

Attorney Isabel Saavedra worked with the CARA project from July through November in the 2,400-bed South Texas Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and now works for the Archdiocese of Washington, helping families who have been released and have relocated. She said she found people living in “inhumane conditions” including a lack of adequate health care and facilities that were too cold for people accustomed to warmer temperatures.

Housing children in what amounts to prison is not sound policy, Saavedra said. “Family detention is not the answer or how we should be treating refugees,” she said.

Other speakers called for a policy that upholds human dignity and provides adequate shelter, food, education, health care and other services to the immigrants who have fled traumatic settings.

The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Representation and Advocacy Project was formed a year ago by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, American Immigration Council, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and American Immigration Lawyers Association in response to Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s expansion of family detention and the opening of three facilities to detain women and children in New Mexico and Texas. It provides no-cost legal service to detained families and advocates for the end of family detention legislatively and in the courts.

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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In El Salvador, families say work of murdered U.S. churchwomen continues

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Catholic News Service

SANTIAGO NONUALCO, El Salvador — North Americans and Salvadorans gathered Dec. 2 at the precise spot where four churchwomen were killed 35 years ago to emphasize that their work for the country’s poor remains alive. Read more »

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Blessed Romero ‘another brilliant star’ belonging to church of Americas

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Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Some thought this day would never arrive. Others hoped and some always knew it would.

On May 23, the Catholic Church, beatified Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass, just a day after pleading and ordering soldiers to stop killing innocent civilians.

Priests carry the blood-stained shirt of Archbishop Oscar Romero during his beatification Mass at the Divine Savior of the World square in San Salvador May 23. (CNS photo/Lissette Lemus)

Priests carry the blood-stained shirt of Archbishop Oscar Romero during his beatification Mass at the Divine Savior of the World square in San Salvador May 23. (CNS photo/Lissette Lemus)

“Blessed Romero is another brilliant star that belongs to the sanctity of the church of the Americas,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, during the ceremony in San Salvador. “And thanks be to God, there are many.”

While those who persecuted him have died or are in obscurity, “the memory of Romero continues to live in the poor and the marginalized,” Cardinal Amato said.

His homilies often pleaded for better conditions for the poor, for a stop to the escalating violence in the country and for brotherhood among those whose divisions ultimately led to a 12-year conflict.

He’s not a symbol of division but one of peace, Cardinal Amato said.

In a message sent Saturday on the occasion of the beatification, Pope Francis said that Archbishop Romero “built the peace with the power of love, gave testimony of the faith with his life.”

Proof of that is the shirt he died in, soaked in blood, after an assassin’s single bullet took his life. Eight deacons carried the blood-stained shirt, now a relic, to the altar in a glass case. Others decorated it with flowers and candles during the Saturday ceremony. Several priests reached out to touch the case and later made the sign of the cross.

In a time of difficulty in El Salvador, Archbishop Romero knew “how to guide, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole church,” the pope said in his message. “His ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the poor and marginalized. And at the time of his death, while celebrating the holy sacrifice, love and reconciliation, he received the grace to be fully identified with the one who gave his life for his sheep.”

The event, at the square of the Divine Savior of the World in the capital city of San Salvador, saw the attendance of four Latin American presidents and six cardinals including: Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, of Honduras; Leopoldo Brenes, of Nicaragua; Jaime Ortega, of Cuba; Jose Luis Lacunza, of Panama; Roger Mahony, of the U.S.; and Italian Cardinal Amato, as well as Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, postulator of Archbishop Romero’s cause.

Their excitement couldn’t have been greater than that of those like Father Estefan Turcios, pastor of El Salvador’s St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Soyapango and national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in El Salvador. Before El Salvador’s conflict, Father Turcios was imprisoned for defending the rights of the poor. Archbishop Romero helped free him.

“There have been people inspired by Romero for 35 years. How do you think they feel right now?” asked Father Turcios.

But just as he has devotees, Archbishop Romero has had detractors.

After his death, the Vatican received mounds of letters against Archbishop Romero, Archbishop Paglia, has said. And that affected his path toward sainthood, which includes beatification. But three decades after his assassination, Pope Benedict XVI cleared the archbishop’s sainthood cause.

In February Pope Francis signed the decree recognizing Archbishop Romero as a martyr, a person killed “in hatred of the faith” which meant there is no need to prove a miracle for beatification. In general two miracles are needed for sainthood — one for beatification and the second for canonization.

Father Turcios said by studying Blessed Romero’s life, others will discover all the Gospel truths that led him to defend life, the poor and the church, and do away with untruths surrounding his legacy.

During the country’s civil war that lasted from 1979 until 1992, some Salvadorans hid, buried and sometimes burned photos they had taken with or of Archbishop Romero, because it could mean others would call them communists or rebel sympathizers and put their lives in danger.

Though he still has some detractors, Father Turcios said, the beatification can help others understand the reality and truth that others have known all along: Archbishop Romero “was loyal to God’s will, was loyal to and loved his people and was loyal to and loved the church,” he said.

 

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Blessed Oscar Romero was ‘a good priest, a wise bishop and a virtuous man,’ cardinal says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero’s preferential love for the poor “was not ideological, but evangelical,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

The cardinal, who was delegated by Pope Francis to preside over Archbishop Romero’s beatification May 23 in San Salvador, told Vatican Radio the martyred archbishop “was, in fact, a good priest and a wise bishop, but most of all, he was a virtuous man.”

People carry large portraits of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero during a rally in March in San Salvador to pay tribute to the late archbishop, who was assassinated 35 years ago. Archbishop Romero, who wase beatified in San Salvador May 23, has become a symbol of Latin American church leaders' efforts to protect their flocks from the abuses of military dictatorships. (CNS photo/Roberto Escobar, EPA)

People carry large portraits of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero during a rally in March in San Salvador to pay tribute to the late archbishop, who was assassinated 35 years ago. Archbishop Romero, who wase beatified in San Salvador May 23, has become a symbol of Latin American church leaders’ efforts to protect their flocks from the abuses of military dictatorships. (CNS photo/Roberto Escobar, EPA)

“He loved Jesus and adored him in the Eucharist, he loved the church, he venerated the Blessed Virgin Mary and he loved his people,” Cardinal Amato said.

“His martyrdom was not an improvisation,” the cardinal said, “but had a long preparation,” which went all the way back to Archbishop Romero’s preparation for priestly ordination in 1942 when he consecrated his very life to God.

The Vatican Radio reporter asked about what many people refer to as Archbishop Romero’s “conversion” from being rather quiet and focused on internal church affairs to being more outspoken in defense of the poor and the victims of his country’s military dictatorship.

“A change in his life of being a meek and almost timid pastor” was the murder in 1977 of Salvadoran Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, who had left his university position to be a “pastor of the farmworkers, the oppressed and emarginated,” Cardinal Amato said. The murder “was the event that touched the heart of Archbishop Romero, who mourned his priest like a mother would her own child.”

While his public words became much sharper and more focused on the lived reality of his people, he said, “his words were not an incitement to hatred and revenge, but were the heartfelt exhortation of a father to his divided children, calling them to love, forgiveness and agreement.”

For Cardinal Amato, Pope Francis summarized “the priestly and pastoral identity of Romero when he called him ‘bishop and martyr, pastor according to the heart of Christ, evangelizer and father of the poor, heroic witness of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice, brotherhood and peace.’”

Archbishop Romero, he said, “is another bright star shining in the American spiritual firmament.”

Citing saints from North, Central and South America, he said there are “many American saints and martyrs who pray to the Lord for their brothers and sisters still on the earthly pilgrimage. Blessed Oscar Romero belongs to this impetuous wind of holiness that still blows over the American continent, a land of love and fidelity to the good news of the Gospel.”

 

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In El Salvador, women who miscarry can end up charged with abortion

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Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) — Guadalupe Vasquez is one of many women who have experienced the consequences of strong anti-abortion laws in El Salvador.

In this Central American country of 6.3 million inhabitants, a poor woman who has a miscarriage and goes to a hospital seeking medical help often ends up in jail. Read more »

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Archbishop Romero to be beatified May 23 in El Salvador

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Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified in San Salvador May 23, said Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator or chief promoter of the archbishop’s sainthood cause.

The ceremony, which moves the murdered archbishop a step closer to sainthood, will be in Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo. The archbishop said Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, would celebrate the Mass.

A nun kisses the forehead of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador at the Hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador. The archbishop was taken to the hospital with bullet wounds in the chest after being shot by four unidentified gunmen as he celebrated Mass in a chapel March 24, 1980. (Scan of CNS file photo)

A nun kisses the forehead of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador at the Hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador. The archbishop was taken to the hospital with bullet wounds in the chest after being shot by four unidentified gunmen as he celebrated Mass in a chapel March 24, 1980. (Scan of CNS file photo)

“Romero, from heaven, wants every Salvadoran to walk the path of peace and justice,” Archbishop Paglia said March 11 at a news conference in San Salvador.

The archbishop called the beatification a gift for the world, but particularly for the people of El Salvador.

While Archbishop Romero’s sainthood cause began in 1993, it continued for years as church officials combed through thousands of documents related to his life. The effort began moving forward under Pope Benedict XVI. In May 2007, he said: “Archbishop Romero certainly was a great witness to the faith, a man of great Christian virtue.”

The process advanced rapidly with the election of Pope Francis in 2013, the first Latin American pope in history. From the first moments of his papacy, he showed interest in declaring Archbishop Romero a saint.

Pope Francis signed the decree recognizing Archbishop Romero as a martyr, which meant there was no need to prove a miracle for his beatification. However, a miracle is ordinarily needed for canonization as saint.

Archbishop Romero, an outspoken advocate for the poor, was shot and killed March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a hospital in San Salvador during his country’s civil war. Archbishop Paglia said in early February that the two decades it took to obtain the decree were the result of “misunderstandings and preconceptions.”

During Archbishop Romero’s time as archbishop of San Salvador, from 1977 to 1980, “kilos of letters against him arrived in Rome. The accusations were simple: He’s political; he’s a follower of liberation theology.”

All of the complaints, Archbishop Paglia said, slowed the sainthood process.

However, promoters of the cause, he said, collected “a mountain of testimony just as big” to counter the accusations and to prove that Archbishop Romero heroically lived the Christian faith and was killed out of hatred for his words and actions as a Catholic pastor.

“He was killed at the altar,” Archbishop Paglia said, instead of when he was an easier target at home or on the street. “Through him, they wanted to strike the church that flowed from the Second Vatican Council.”

The archbishop announced the date of the beatification on the eve of the anniversary of the assassination of a close personal friend of Archbishop Romero: Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, the first priest executed by death squads, March 12, 1977.

Father Grande was a fiery champion of the poor and oppressed and used the pulpit to denounce actions of the government, death squads in his country, violence from the outbreak of civil war and military occupation of churches. His death had a profound impact on Archbishop Romero, who later said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I, too, have to walk the same path.’”

 

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Pope Francis recognizes martyrdom of Archbishop Romero

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Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY — After decades of debate within the church, Pope Francis formally recognized that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed “in hatred of the faith” and not for purely political reasons. Pope Francis signed the decree Feb. 3, recognizing as martyrdom the March 24, 1980, assassination of Archbishop Romero in a San Salvador hospital chapel as he celebrated Mass. The decree clears the way for the beatification of Archbishop Romero. The postulator or chief promoter of his sainthood cause, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, was scheduled to brief the press Feb. 4 about the cause.

People look at a painting of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero at the cathedral in San Salvador Feb. 3. (CNS photo/Jose Cabezasi, Reuters)

People look at a painting of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero at the cathedral in San Salvador Feb. 3. (CNS photo/Jose Cabezasi, Reuters)

Archbishop Romero’s sainthood cause was opened at the Vatican in 1993, but was delayed for years as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied his writings, amid wider debate over whether he had been killed for his faith or for taking political positions against Salvadoran government and against the death squads that were operating in his country.

As head of the San Salvadoran Archdiocese from 1977 until his death, his preaching grew increasingly strident in defense of the country’s poor and oppressed.

Pope Benedict XVI told reporters in 2007 that the archbishop was “certainly a great witness of the faith” who “merits beatification, I do not doubt.” But he said some groups had complicated the sainthood cause by trying to co-opt the archbishop as a political figure.

Seven years later, Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, told reporters that “for me, Romero is a man of God.” However, he said at the time, “the process must go ahead, and God must give his sign. If he wants to do so, he will.”

During his general audience Jan. 7, Pope Francis quoted words that Archbishop Romero had spoken at the funeral Mass of a priest assassinated by Salvadoran death squads: “We must all be willing to die for our faith even if the Lord does not grant us this honor.”

Although not seen as exercising any pressure to move the cause forward, St. John Paul II made it a point of praying at Archbishop Romero’s tomb in the San Salvador cathedral during visits to the city in 1983 and again in 1996. During his first visit, he told people gathered in the cathedral, “Within the walls of this cathedral rest the mortal remains of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a zealous pastor whose love of God and service to his brothers and sisters led to the very sacrifice of his life in a violent way as he celebrated the sacrifice of forgiveness and reconciliation.”

When Pope John Paul returned 13 years later, he told the people that he wanted to pray again at the tomb of Archbishop Romero, “brutally assassinated while he offered the sacrifice of the Mass.” The pope said he was pleased that the archbishop’s memory “continues to live among you.”

An official decree of martyrdom removes the beatification requirement of a miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession.

Generally, a miracle after beatification would still be needed for canonization.

The same day that Pope Francis formally recognized Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom, he also signed a decree recognizing the martyrdom of two Polish Conventual Franciscans and an Italian missionary priest who were murdered by Shining Path guerrillas in Peru in 1991. Franciscan Fathers Michal Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strzalkowski and Father Alessandro Dordi, a diocesan priest from Bergamo, were killed in separate incidents in August 1991. Dates for the beatification of Archbishop Romero and the Peru martyrs were not announced immediately.

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