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President Higgins leads Ireland's tributes as Archbishop Oscar Romero becomes a saint

Higgins also visited the tomb of murdered Catholic archbishop while in El Salvador.

People hold pictures of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador.
People hold pictures of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador.
Image: Salvador Melendez/PA Images

MURDERED ARCHBISHOP OSCAR Romero and the reformist Pope Paul VI have both joined the church’s highest rank today after being elevated to sainthood.

The Pope put Paul VI on the path to sainthood by beatifying him in October 2014, while Oscar Romero was likewise elevated to the status of “blessed” in May 2015.

Romero, murdered in 1980, was beatified in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador in Central America, in front of 200,000 worshippers.

Today, Pope Francis wore a blood-stained rope belt which belonged to Romero, who was murdered at the altar, as he led the ceremony in front of tens of thousands of pilgrims from across the world in the Vatican.

The pontiff also used a chalice and pastoral staff belonging to Paul VI, in a canonisation being seen as a reminder of Francis’s call for “a poor church for the poor”.

Both men have been hailed by Francis for their courage in turbulent times and their dedication to social justice and the downtrodden.

Romero was a popular figure in Ireland and the late former Bishop of Galway Eamonn Casey represented the Irish Catholic Church at Romero’s funeral in San Salvador.

President Michael D Higgins also visited the tomb of murdered Catholic archbishop Oscar Romero on the final day of his visit to El Salvador.

Speaking today, Higgins praised Romero for his commitment to human rights. 

“As President of Ireland I have conveyed, on behalf of the people of Ireland, warmest greetings to the President and people of El Salvador on the occasion of the canonisation of Archbishop Óscar Romero – their great defender of Human Rights, advocate for peace and opponent of the oppression of the poor,” Higgins said in a statement.

On his death the people of El Salvador described him as: ‘El obispo que anda con los pobres’ (The bishop who walks with the poor). It is a day of celebration for all defenders of Human Rights.

The men’s giant portraits hung on Saint Peter’s Basilica along with those of five other new saints, including an orphaned youth and a German nun.

“Paul VI spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue, a prophet of a Church turned outwards, looking to those far away and taking care of the poor,” Francis said.

“It is wonderful that together with him and the other new saints today, there is Archbishop Romero, who left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people,” he added.

Romero stood up for peasant rights in the face of a right-wing backlash which painted him as a radical supporter of “liberation” theology in his small, impoverished central American nation.

On March 24, 1980, the man dubbed the “voice of those without voice” was shot in the heart, killed by a single bullet as he prepared communion. His killing came at the start of a bloody civil war which claimed some 75,000 lives.

No one was ever convicted of Romero’s killing, but a UN-sponsored truth commission later concluded it was carried out by a right-wing death squad under the orders of a former army officer who died the year the war ended.

Relics of each new saint were carried to the altar — part of a bone for Romero and the shirt Paul VI was wearing when he was stabbed in an assassination attempt at Manila airport in 1970.

Vatican Saints The tapestries of both men from a balcony at the Vatican. Source: Andrew Medichini/PA Images

‘Gave his life’

Overnight, hundreds of pilgrims from across Central America celebrated the impending canonisation in El Salvador’s capital.

The visitors, many in clothes printed with Romero’s face, gathered in front of his tomb, in the crypt of San Salvador’s central cathedral, and at the Hospital of Divine Providence chapel, where he was assassinated.

“We are arriving here to honour the memory of Monsignor Romero, who took his faith to the point of giving his life for what he believed was right,” said Francisco Navarro, a 51-year-old Honduran, at the chapel along with some 30 of his compatriots.

“Since before he was killed, he defeated his killers by forgiving them. Because he knew they were going to kill him,” added university professor Julia Lainez.

For a long time, efforts to recognise Romero met with heavy opposition from conservative Catholics and the Salvadoran right, who saw veiled Marxism in his sermons.

But Francis — the first Latin American pope — beatified Romero as a “martyr” in 2015, to popular acclaim.

© – AFP 2018 with reporting by Rónán Duffy

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