When Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero is beatified May 23, he will be one step closer to sainthood.
The 62-year-old archbishop was gunned down at the altar in the chapel of a San Salvador hospital on March 24, 1980. On Feb. 3, Pope Francis declared him a martyr killed because of hatred of the faith, setting the stage for his beatification.
Catholics in Chicago can join in the celebration with a special Mass May 23 at 10 a.m. at Holy Name Cathedral. Archbishop Cupich will be the main celebrant of the Spanish-language liturgy.
Vincentian Father Guillermo Compuzano said he hopes that Catholics will follow the example of Archbishop Romero’s life rather than putting him on a pedestal where he can be safely admired and ignored.
“His faith was a faith of action,” said Compuzano, an adjunct professor in the School of Public Service at DePaul University. “He was a pious man, a man of faith, but his faith was in his feet, in his hands and in his voice.”
While Compuzano has no doubt that Archbishop Romero was a martyr for his faith — an opinion he has held since the archbishop’s death — he was killed not for saying that he believed in Christ, but for saying that his faith required him to work for justice.
The number of Catholics who understand the need to work for justice is far too small, Compuzano told the Catholic New World.
“I hope that the recognition of his life, or his martyrdom, will give all of us encouragement not just to look at him as another hero, but to embrace his cause.”
His cause was justice for the farmers and laborers among his people, and the human rights workers, including priests and nuns, who were being killed and tortured with impunity by government- sponsored death squads. During the last several years of his life, he demanded accountability from the government and sought international intervention on behalf of his people. His life was threatened repeatedly, and archdiocesan property was bombed before he was assassinated.
Catholic Theological Union and the archdiocese have partnered for the last 20 years to form Latino lay ministers who will continue Archbishop Romero’s mission.
The Oscar Romero Scholars Program offers Latino laypeople who already work in ministry to earn a graduate degree in theology, pastoral studies or ministry. It was created at a time when the changing face of the church in Chicago was apparent, as was the need for Latino leadership, said Marco Lopez, the program’s director.
So far, about 28 men and women have completed the program, most taking one class at a time as they continue to work in parishes or for the archdiocese. In some cases, they have secular jobs and volunteer their time in ministry, Lopez said.
Students participate in a formation program along with their academic program, Lopez said, and this’s year’s formation has centered on gaining an understanding of Archbishop’s Romero’s life and ministry.
“Today we continue to form our students to be agents of Catholic social teaching, as was Archbishop Romero,’ Lopez said. “We want them to embody his commitment to social justice, his concern for the poor.”
That concern for the poor has been emphasized again and again by Pope Francis, Lopez said. That message resonates especially strong in the United States, with its growing gap between the rich and the poor, he said.
“Here, there is so much possibility for people,” Lopez said. “Yet there are so, so many of us who are poor, who are undereducated, who are marginalized in so many ways. His message speaks to everyone. Oscar Romero believed firmly in the Gospel message and he was willing to die for it.”
The Vatican’s Congregation for Saints officially opened the cause for his beatification in 1993, but it was reportedly delayed for years because of concerns that the assassination was political and not religious.
Compuzano said that’s a false distinction, because Archbishop Romero, who was seen as a conservative for most of his ministerial career, came to understand that his faith required him to speak out against politically motivated violence.
“His commitment was a process of personal conversion,” Compuzano said. “He was a human being, and his sanctity goes with his humanity, even with his mistakes. Sanctity is not perfection.”
When Catholic Theological Union opened its doors in Hyde Park in 1968, the world — and the church — looked quite a bit different than they do now. It’s no wonder that the graduate school of theology founded after the Second Vatican Council also has undergone a series of transformations.
Cardinal Cupich was the main celebrant during the 50th anniversary celebration of Catholic Theological Union on May 5, 2019, held at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hyde Park.
Carrying Pope Paul VI’s pastoral staff and wearing the blood-stained belt of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, Pope Francis formally recognized them, and five others, as saints of the Catholic Church.