People’s hero named Church’s newest saint

Pope Francis officially recognised one of the towering figures of the 20th century Catholic Church when he canonised martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, at St Peter’s Square on 14 October this year.

 In front of more than 70,000 faithful, including delegates from the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis singled out Archbishop Romero as a man who rejected wealth and devoted his life to helping the poor, reported the Associated Press.

According to Caritas Australia, Romero was born into a large family on 15 August, 1917 in El Salvador. Romero’s parents couldn’t afford to send him to school after the age of 12. Instead he became an apprentice carpenter but was already determined to become a priest.

 He entered the seminary at just 14 and was ordained a priest in 1942 aged 25. In 1977, Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador, the capital city. The political situation in El Salvador was deteriorating rapidly and Romero refused to remain silent.

 The military were killing the Salvadorian people - especially those demanding justice such as teachers, nuns and priests – including Romero’s good friend, Fr Rutilio Grande. Thousands of people were disappearing.  Romero demanded that the President of El Salvador thoroughly investigate the killings, but he failed to do so. The number killed in 1979 alone, rose to over 3000 a month.

Continuing to speak out, Romero became known as a champion of the poor and a crusader for justice. On 23 March, 1980, after reporting the previous week’s deaths, Romero spoke directly to the soldiers and policemen: “I beg you, I implore you, I order you... in the name of God, stop the repression!” The following evening, while saying Mass in the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital, Romero was assassinated.

Pope Francis has cited Romero as a source of inspiration on many occasions and during the canonisation ceremony he wore the bloodstained rope belt Romero wore when he was gunned down.

More than 30 years after his death Romero remains a powerful symbol of hope in a country that has suffered poverty, injustice and violence. His elevation to saint of the Catholic Church was long overdue.

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