Martin Maier SJ
Blessed rather than Beatified
It is possible that the ecclesio-political course is linked with beatifications. The beatification (1992) and canonization (2002) of Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975), which took place in record time, has been understood in this sense. An interesting counterexample is Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was shot during a Eucharistic celebration on 24 March 1980 - so 30 years ago - because of his firm commitment to justice and faith in El Salvador. This commitment brought the originally conservative bishop, who was close to the Opus Dei, in the neighbourhood to the theology of liberation. Behind his murder was Roberto D'Aubuisson, who was in charge of the military intelligence and of the death squads.
Already immediately after his assassination something like a spontaneous canonization of Romero by the people of El Salvador took place. If you ask ordinary people what he means for them, the answers point always in the same direction: Like Jesus, he has told the truth and defended us - that's why he was killed. In his famous poem "St. Romero of America" the Brazilian Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga has expressed this fact. There it says, "Poor Shepherd and Martyr - nobody will silence your last sermon." Even though on the part of the government one tried until recently to pretend Romero doesn't exist, he became nevertheless a national figure of identity: His picture is found in many huts and houses. His bust stands on a central square in the capital San Salvador at a prominent place. At the day of his death each year a commemorative procession takes place, attended by thousands of people. It ends in a large Eucharistic celebration in the square outside the cathedral, where at his funeral the army created a bloodbath. Today Archbishop Romero is a role model also for young people in El Salvador.
In 1990 an official beatification process was opened for Romero, which was completed in 1996 at the diocesan level and forwarded to Rome. The then Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas was confident that his predecessor would be beatified in 2000 at his tenth death anniversary. This is supposed to have been the personal wish of Pope John Paul II. But by different parties obstacles are put in the way of Romero's beatification. The members of the upper class who have clinked champagne glasses at the news of his assassination are still living in El Salvador! In the environment of D'Aubuisson also those who are responsible for the murder, the brains of the operation are still alive.
After Romero's opponents had failed in preventing the beatification process, they tried to distort his image.
On that occasion they mingled his commitment and his statements during his time as archbishop with those before his conversion. They declared him to be a "pious, heroic, considerate bishop." The obvious intention was to focus on his charitable care for the poor and to ignore his prophetic denunciation of injustice.
From 1988 to June 2009 the ultra-right ARENA party, which was founded by D'Aubuisson, formed all governments. In August 2009 Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez surprisingly clearly said about their role in torpedoing the beatification that they had "inhibited in a discretionary manner by all means the process of beatification of Archbishop Romero." But with the change of government under the new President Mauricio Funes of the FMLN party, which has its origin in the former guerrilla, a new situation was given. "We hope that things are changing now, because the whole world knows Archbishop Romero; the people have canonized him already, and only the word of the Church is still lacking."
Even within the Church and the Vatican the opinions differ. It is said that Alfonso López Trujillo, cardinal of the Roman curia († 2008) had up to the end vehemently spoken against Romero's beatification. By contrast, John Paul II expressly insisted that Romero was mentioned by name at a great commemorative ceremony for the Christian martyrs in the jubilee year 2000. The Pope, who at the beginning of his pontificate (1978) had critically and skeptically seen Romero's commitment, had obviously changed his mind regarding the estimate of his person.
What is Pope Benedict XVI's standpoint in this issue? During his plane ride to Brazil in May 2007 he said to journalists, "Archbishop Romero was certainly an important witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship, and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Consequently, his death was truly "credible", a witness of faith. The problem was that a political party wrongly wished to use him as their badge, as an emblematic figure. How can we shed light on his person in the right way and protect it from these attempts to exploit it? This is the problem. It is under examination and I await confidently what the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will have to say on the matter."
For his former Vicar General Ricardo Urioste, Oscar Arnulfo Romero is still the most beloved and most hated man in El Salvador. "He is loved by the poor and the needy, by those who feel that he has served them; He is hated by the powerful, by those who possess economic, political and other power. For this reason I believe that it will take some time before he is beatified. Perhaps, he would be beatified sooner if it were the other way round: if not the poor but the powerful would love him." Does in this sense perhaps exist a difference between being beatific and being beatified?