The Salvadoran martyr, Oscar Romero, was beatified in San Salvador on May 23, kicking off another wave of rumors about his supposed affiliation with liberation theology and Marxism, none of which are based in fact.
CNA/EWTN News is reporting on the beatification Mass which was presided over by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The service drew hundreds of thousands of the faithful on Saturday who wished to remember a courageous defender of the poor who was gunned down while saying Mass on March 24, 1980 by enemies of the Church.
Pope Francis declared from the Vatican that the martyr’s feast would be celebrated every year on March 24, the day “in which he was born into heaven.”
In a fascinating interview with Monsignor Ricardo Urioste, who served as Vicar General while Romero served as archbishop of San Salvador, CNA laid to rest many of the rumors that have surrounded Romero in the decades since his death.
Msgr. Urioste, who currently heads up the Archbishop Romero Foundation, said that during the time the martyr lived, whenever “he preached, spoke, was a pastor, they accused him of being communist, Marxist, a politician, and a thousand things.”
Unfortunately, many of these accusations stuck, in spite of the fact that after 12 years of extensive study on the life and writings of the archbishop, the Vatican was unable to substantiate any of these claims.
Perhaps the most stubborn of these accusations concerns the archbishop’s alleged involvement in liberation theology, which is considered to be religious movement which combines Marxist politics with a theology of salvation as liberation from injustice, a concept that was partially condemned by the Vatican.
However, according to Msgr. Urioste, Romero “never had a Marxist thought or Marxist ideology in his mind. If there had been, the Vatican, which has studied so much, would not have beatified him, if they had found that he had Marxist interests.”
Rather, the archbishop’s love for the poor and marginalized was drawn from the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.
“He was a servant of the Gospel, he never read anything from Liberation Theology, but he read the Bible,” Urioste said, and noted that the archbishop’s library “had all these books from the early Fathers of the Church, from the current Magisterium of the Church, but (he) never even opened any of the books from Liberation Theology, or Gustavo Gutiérrez, or of anyone else.”
He also confirmed that three years after the archbishop was shot to death on the altar of a chapel in a San Salvadoran hospital, his remains were found to be incorrupt.
Msgr. Urioste said that he went to the hospital immediately after the killing took place and told the sisters who were about to embalm his body that they should “please be careful not to drop his insides anywhere” and to bury them in a certain place.
Three years later, when Pope John Paul II visited the country, the nuns set about the task of erecting a monument to the Blessed Mother in the place where Romero’s internal organs were buried.
“When they were digging they ran into the box and the plastic bag where they had placed the insides, and the blood was still liquid and the insides didn’t have any bad smell,” he revealed.
“I don’t want to say that it was a miracle, it’s possible that it’s a natural phenomenon, but the truth is that this happened, and we told the archbishop at the time (Arturo Rivera y Damas), ‘look monsignor, this has happened and he said ‘be quiet, don’t tell anyone because they are going to say that they are our inventions,’” Urioste said.
When John Paul arrived in San Salvador, the first thing he did was go to the cathedral to pray at the tomb of Archbishop Romero.
“The cathedral was closed, they had to go and look for someone to open it so that the Pope could enter and kneel before the tomb of Archbishop Romero.”
The pope, who was given a vial of his blood, was said to have lamented the way in which Romero had been “politicized”.
“The left had politicized him, putting him as their banner. And the right politicized him, saying things that are untrue about the bishop, that are purely false, they denigrated him,” Urioste said.
Instead, he remembers Romero as being a very hard-working man who devoted himself to his flock. His homilies always included three reflections on the Eucharist and whenever he preached, he always made frequent reference to the Church Fathers and Church teaching as well as to the country’s current reality.
He also recalled the dire political situation in the country during the time in which Romero lived, describing it as “a ferocious military dictatorship, which had ‘national security’ as its theme.”
Anyone who, like Romero, sided with the poor “was accused of being communist, they were sent to be killed without thinking more. There were 70 thousand deaths like this in the country at that time,” Msgr. Urioste said.
He believes Romero’s beatification is “a triumph of the truth.”
It is a triumph, he said, of the truth of “who Archbishop Romero really was, what he did, how he did it, from the Word of God, from the Magisterium of the Church, in defense of the poor, who were the favored ones of Jesus Christ and who were also the favored ones of Archbishop Romero.”
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