Former rebels, devout cheer as murdered archbishop beatified in El Salvador

Sun May 24, 2015 7:47am EDT
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By Nelson Renteria

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified on Saturday, the final step before sainthood, 35 years after he was gunned down at the altar by a right-wing death squad for denouncing the oppression of the poor by the military dictatorship.

Roman Catholics from around the world mixed with former Marxist rebels from El Salvador's brutal civil war as over 250,000 people gathered in the capital to celebrate the country priest who confronted the U.S.-backed government.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, sent by Pope Francis, officiated the ceremony that followed decades of debate over whether Romero had rejected Church doctrine by embracing radical, left-wing rebels.

The bloodied shirt he died in was paraded through the crowd, thousands of whom had camped out since Friday. Many hoped Romero's beatification would inspire peace in El Salvador, which has been plagued by gang violence since the war ended in 1992.

"I would take his hand and embrace him every Sunday after mass," said 87-year-old Virginia Sanchez, once a member of Romero's congregation. "Now we are happy, because he will pray for us and this violence we are living through."

Romero's path to sainthood stalled under popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but Pope Francis re-started the process in 2013 and declared him a martyr this year.

"Romero, who built peace with the power of love, bore witness to the faith in the extreme by offering his life," Francis wrote in a letter published on Saturday.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement he was "deeply moved" when he visited Romero's tomb in 2011.   Continued...

Catholic faithful attend the beatification ceremony of the late Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Arnulfo Romero at El Salvador del Mundo square in San Salvador, May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez