Pope, Salvador president, discuss beatification of slain archbishop

Thu May 23, 2013 9:15am EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The president of El Salvador met Pope Francis on Thursday to urge his fellow Latin American to put Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered by a right-wing death squad in 1980, on the road to Roman Catholic sainthood.

The sainthood process for Romero was effectively stalled under former popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI because they saw him as too close to Liberation Theology, a radical movement which emphasized helping the poor and opposing injustice.

President Mauricio Funes said before leaving for Rome the main purpose of his visit was to appeal to the pope to move forward with Romero's beatification, the penultimate step before sainthood.

Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was shot dead on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated mass in a hospital chapel. He had often denounced repression and poverty in his weekly homilies.

The murder was one of the most shocking of the long conflict between a series of U.S.-backed governments and leftist rebels in which thousands of people were killed by right-wing and military death squads.

No one was ever brought to justice for the murder although former army major Roberto D'Aubisson, who died in 1992, is generally believed to have been behind it.

Previous right-wing Salvadorean governments frowned on the possibility that Romero, an icon for Latin American liberation movements, could become a saint. But the leftist Funes made a state apology for the assassination on the 30th anniversary in 2010.

On Thursday, Funes gave Pope Francis an ornate reliquary holding a piece of the vestment Romero was wearing when he was shot. The reliquary, with the fragment of the blood-stained garment, read: "Oscar Romero, spiritual guide of Salvador".   Continued...

Pope Francis speaks with El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes (L) after receiving the gift of a cross from him during a meeting at the Vatican May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi