On December 11th the Salvadoran Army killed more than 800 civilians in a massacre that took place in and around the village of El Mozote, in Morazán department. Many lesser-known massacres occurred at this time.
On March 6th Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit to El Salvador and, although it had not been included in the prepared schedule, he demanded to be taken to pray at Romero’s tomb in the Cathedral.
The film “Romero,” starring Raul Julia as Archbishop Romero, was released. It made Romero familiar to many in the English-speaking world.
On 16 November at their residence on the campus of the Catholic University (UCA), six Jesuit priests - Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquín López y López, Juan Ramón Moreno, and Amando López - plus their housekeeper, Elba Ramos, and her daughter, Celina, were taken from their beds and summarily executed by a uniformed patrol of the Atlacatl Battalion.
At a massive celebration of the 10th anniversary of Romero’s martyrdom on March 24th, Archbishop Rivera Damas announced that he would open the process for Romero’s canonisation. To mark the occasion the archdiocese published the full texts of all Romero’s homilies and the transcription of his tape-recorded diary.
The Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed and brought a close to the Salvadoran civil war.
On March 5th the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, established under the auspices of the United Nations, issued its report on the human rights abuses that had taken place during the war. Whilst unable to identify the marksman, it named Roberto D’Aubuisson as ordering the killing of Archbishop Romero which a death squad that he led carried out. Soon after the report’s release, the Salvadoran government passed an Amnesty Law foreclosing the prosecution of war crimes in El Salvador.
With the necessary authorisations secured and the preparatory work completed, the diocesan process for Romero’s beatification was formally launched on May 12th.
Archbishop Rivera Damas died
Pope John Paul made a second visit to El Salvador, where he once again visited Romero’s tomb. He told catechists there that he was pleased that Romero’s memory was still alive among the people.
The diocesan process was formally closed and, with the blessing of the new archbishop, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle, the documentation was sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome with the positive recommendation that Romero be considered for beatification – Mgr Vincenzo Paglia being designated as Postulator of the Cause.
The statues of ten modern martyrs, including Archbishop Romero, were unveiled over the West Door of Westminster Abbey, London, in a religious ceremony with Queen Elizabeth and many leaders of the Anglican Communion present.
One of the highlights of the millennium jubilee year celebrations was a solemn ceremony at Rome's ancient Colosseum where Pope John Paul II paid tribute to the Christian martyrs of the 20th century, singling out for particular mention Archbishop Romero. Soon afterwards the Cause for Romero’s Beatification was brought to a halt and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican set up a panel to investigate Romero’s orthodoxy as evidenced in his homilies and pastoral statements.
John Paul II died; and Joseph Ratzinger was elected to succeed him, taking the name Pope Benedict XVI.
On May 9th in a press conference aboard the flight to Brazil to attend the CELAM Meeting in Aparecida, Pope Benedict responded to a journalist’s question about Romero as follows: “That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt.” These words were removed from the Vatican website’s transcription of the remarks.
Pope Benedict told Mgr Paglia, the Postulator of Romero’s Cause, and Archbishop Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that Romero’s Cause could move forward.
Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February and Jorge Bergoglio was elected in March as the first Latin American-born Pope, taking the name Francis.
Pope Francis gave fresh momentum to the paralysed beatification Cause with the announcement that the Cause which had been blocked (in Pope Francis’ words, “for prudential reasons”) was now definitively ‘unblocked’.
The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Müller, confirmed that there was no longer any doctrinal reservation standing against Archbishop Romero. The CDF had given their ‘nihil obstat’ or approval of his cause for beatification.
Pope Francis told reporters during an airborne papal press conference that, “For me, Romero is a man of God.” He noted that “The postulators must move now because there are no impediments.”
On January 8th a panel of nine theologians advising the Vatican's Congregation for Causes of the Saints voted unanimously to recognize Oscar Romero as a martyr in odium fidei (out of hatred of the faith). This confirmed that no miracle was necessary prior to beatification.
The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints at its plenary meeting on February 3rd accepted the advice of its theologians and recommended Romero’s beatification. The same day Pope Francis issued the Decree for the Beatification.
Romero’s beatification took place in the Plaza Salvador del Mundo in San Salvador on Pentecost Saturday, May 23rd, with 100 cardinals and bishops, 1400 priests, and around half a million lay people in attendance. A solar halo appeared round the sun at the moment that the decree of beatification was formally declaimed.
Blessed Oscar Romero – pray for us!
In moving towards his canonisation, for which a verified miracle is required, details of three extraordinary cures attributed to the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero were sent to Rome for examination by the medical and theological panels which advise the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. However, it was felt that they were unlikely to fulfil the demanding conditions laid down for a miracle.
The San Salvador diocesan process of the Cause for Beatification of Fr Rutilio Grande, begun in 2015, reached its final stages, having encountered no significant obstacles. Given Pope Francis’ unmistakable support for the Cause, Fr Anton Witwer, the appointed Postulator in Rome, stood ready to move the Cause forward as speedily as possible. In 2017 Fr Witwer was replaced as postulator by fellow Jesuit, Fr Pascual Cebollada.
A potential miracle was identified which seemed likely to meet the criteria for a canonisation miracle. Mrs Cecilia Maribel Flores de Rivas from San Salvador, diagnosed as fatally ill during pregnancy, made a rapid and complete recovery after seeking the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero. A diocesan tribunal was set up to investigate the case, and it reported positively early in 2017.
The potential miracle was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome with all the corresponding medical records and documentation. There was an understanding that the Cause would be dealt with by the Congregation as a matter of urgency.
San Salvador's auxiliary bishop, Gregorio Rosa Chavez, was appointed a cardinal by Pope Francis in an extraordinary affirmation of Archbishop Romero and his legacy. Bishop Rosa Chavez had worked closely with Archbishop Romero and for thirty five years had doggedly kept the cause for Romero's beatification alive. Many interpreted the appointment as the equivalent of making Romero himself a cardinal.
The centenary of Blessed Oscar Romero’s birth was an occasion for joyful celebrations worldwide. Cardinal Rosa Chavez led a huge pilgrimage on foot from Romero's tomb in San Salvador to his birthplace in Ciudad Barrios, a walk of 157 kilometres. Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the Archbishop of Santiago in Chile, went to El Salvador as the special envoy of Pope Francis for the celebratory masses on 15 August, Romero's 100th birthday.
Westminster Abbey hosted a special Romero Evensong on Saturday, 23 September, attended by bishops and archbishops of the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches, and leaders of other churches, with a congregation of some 1300. Emeritus Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, preached. The service was the occasion for the first performance of a specially commissioned work by James MacMillan, entitled 'A Special Appeal'. This anthem brought together words from Psalm 31 with extracts from Romero's penultimate homily. You can listen to a recording of the service HERE.
On 6 March, Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree concerning the miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero. This is the final stage before Romero is officially recognised as a saint. The date of his canonisation is expected to be announced shortly.