A few weeks ago I wrote in this space about the beatification of John Paul II and talked not only about his deep faith and considerable personal holiness but also the consternation in some circles over the perceived rush of his canonization process.
There are many other people who I hope are soon named as saints and to whom I pray regularly. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the charismatic superior general of the Society of Jesus between 1965 and 1983, is one. Father Arrupe, among other accomplishments, invited Jesuits to redouble their efforts to attend to the needs of the poor and marginalized in response to the church’s “preferential option for the poor.” Also, I would submit (you can see my bias) the names of the Jesuits of the University of Central America, along with their companions, who refused to leave the poor with whom they ministered (in the same way the Algerian Trappists portrayed in the film “Of Gods and Men” remained at their posts) and who were killed in 1989. There are also the four churchwomen, Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U., Maura Clarke, M.M., Ita Ford, M.M., and Jean Donovan, murdered in El Salvador as a result of their advocacy for the poor, in 1980. More recently, there is Dorothy Stang, S.N.D.deN., who worked with the landless poor in Brazil and was killed in 2005 as she recited the Beatitudes in the presence of her assassins. Each is, I believe, already, and will one day be declared, a saint.
In fact, a martyr does not need a miracle for beatification; the Vatican can dispense with the requirement. Thus, all those mentioned above (except Servant of God Pedro Arrupe) could be declared “martyrs of faith.” Or the pope could use the relatively new category of “martyr of charity,” first applied to St. Maximilian Kolbe in 1982: someone who dies while administering Christian charity.
But one “cause” outstanding for its delay is that of a man whom both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have already declared a “martyr of faith.” The foot-dragging in this case is almost unbelievable. That man is Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
It is hard to imagine a more clear-cut case for the beatification of a “martyr of faith.” Romero was a man whose faith moved him from being a tool of the wealthy to a champion of the poor, a priest committed to ending violence, a church leader dedicated to reconciliation and a bishop unafraid to interpose himself between violence and his flock. In a sermon addressed to repressive elements within his country’s military, he said: “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression!”
The following day, March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass at a small chapel called La Divina Providencia, Archbishop Romero was assassinated as he held aloft the chalice. His own blood was spilled with the blood of Christ on the altar.
In some Vatican circles Romero is seen, unfairly I believe, as an overly “political” figure. But that is an odd charge given our most recently beatified cleric: John Paul II supported the Solidarity movement in Poland, worked with world powers to end the cold war and regularly conferred with political leaders. Still, the delay continues. In 2006, en route to Latin America, Pope Benedict told reporters, “Romero as a person merits beatification.” But Vatican officials later removed that phrase from the official transcript, retaining only the pope’s praise of the slain prelate as a “great witness to the faith.”
The haste to beatify John Paul II was deemed by the journalist Michael Walsh in The Tablet of London “unseemly.” Unseemly to me is the slowness of the beatification of Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Santo immediatamente!