In the 1980s, it was hard to find a scarier place than El Salvador. Crushing poverty and right-wing death squads. Civil war and left-wing guerrillas.
The flashlight in that darkness was Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero.
In his last Christmas Eve homily, Romero urged El Salvador’s reactionary oligarchs to find the infant Jesus on the nation’s streets — among the hundreds of thousands of children “who go to bed with nothing to eat, who sleep covered by newspapers in doorways.”
That’s the sort of Christmas card you expect from a priest. But the powers that be deemed it communist subversion. Three months later, on March 24, 1980 — a day after he called on the army to stop terrorizing the population — Romero was shot dead as he celebrated Mass.
Then, after the goons had gunned down Romero’s body, Vatican conservatives assassinated his character. They branded Romero a Marxist instead of a martyr. For decades they blocked his beatification, which is the first step to canonization, or sainthood.
But last week Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, finally ledged a fast-track beatification for Romero. Let’s hope his canonization comes just as quickly, because Romero’s sainthood is a spiritual and social tonic that El Salvador and Central America desperately need.
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