Archbishop Oscar Romero

The stage has been set for the beatification of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, as Pope Francis approved a martyrdom declaration after decreeing Tuesday that the Priest was killed back in 1980 out of hatred for his Catholic faith.

Oscar Romero, an avid human rights campaigner who raised his voice against the repression of the Salvadoran army at the beginning of the country’s 1980-1992 civil wars between the right-wing government and leftist rebels, was gunned down by right-wing death squads while celebrating Mass on the 24th of March, 1980, and his death presaged a conflict that killed nearly 75,000.

Before Francis, who happens to be the first Pope of Latin America, approved the saintly decree honoring the hero of Latin American Christians, Romero’s sainthood consideration had suffered stagnation for years over the Vatican’s opposition to liberation theology – the belief that Christ’s teachings justify fights against social injustices – something he (Romero) had been associated with.

Pope Francis, although equally opposed to liberation theology, “unblocked” Romero’s sainthood cause, after saying over the summer that it had been “blocked out of prudence” by the congregation.

Throwing his weight behind Francis’ decree, Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chávez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, said “there is an overwhelming majority of bishops who are in favor of (Romero’s) canonization and the Pope knows that this decision brings immense joy for the whole church.”

Also, several Latin American Catholic faithful have expressed joy over the ratification of Romero as a saint.

Maria Teresa Sanchez, a street vendor in San Salvador said “this is the best gift they can give us Salvadorans. Romero is a saint, and now the Pope is going to ratify that.”

Traditionally, strictly following Vatican guidelines on Martyrdom, only people who were killed out of hatred for the Catholic faith could be designated a Martyr, but in discussing Romero’s cause this past summer, Francis suggested that the definition of martyr could possibly be expanded to include those who were killed because of their actions doing God’s work.

“What I would like is that they clarify when there’s a martyrdom for hatred of the faith — for confessing the faith — as well as for doing the work for the other that Jesus commands,” Francis said. The decree signed Tuesday by Francis makes clear that Romero was a martyr in the classic sense, killed out of hatred for the faith.

Beatification is the step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church, and unlike regular candidates for beatification, martyrs can reach the first step to possible sainthood without a miracle attributed to their intercession. A miracle is needed for canonization, however.

Although no particular date has been fixed so far for the beatification of Romero, the Pope has pointed out that it would be up to the head of the saint-making office, Cardinal Angelo Amato, and the prelate who for decades has spearheaded Romero’s cause, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, to decide who would get the honor.

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