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Murder at Mass shows Archbishop Romero was killed in ‘hatred of the faith’, says Vatican official

A boy takes part in a commemoration of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero near the 30th anniversary of his death March 20 in San Salvador (CNS)

It’s clear that Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed “in hatred of the faith” because he was shot dead while celebrating Mass, a Vatican official has said.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who also serves as postulator of the Cause of Archbishop Romero, made the comments during a media briefing at the Vatican on Wednesday.

Pope Francis officially recognised Archbishop Romero as a martyr yesterday, after a Vatican panel ruled that the Salvadoran leader was killed in odium fidei – the Latin term for “in hatred of the faith” – rather than for political reasons. The Pope cannot declare a candidate a martyr unless they were killed chiefly because they professed the Catholic faith.

Archbishop Paglia noted that Archbishop Romero was “killed on the altar” on March 24 1980.

He said: “[His killers] wanted to attack the Church that flowed from Vatican II. His death – as shown by the careful examination of documentary evidence – was caused by not only political reasons, but by hatred for a faith that that was not silent in the face of injustice.

“The killing on the altar had a symbolism that sounded a terrible warning to anyone who wanted to go on that road. St John Paul II, who knew the two other saints killed on the altar, St Stanislaus of Kraków and Thomas Becket of Canterbury, said: ‘They killed him right in the most sacred moment… It was the murder of a bishop of the Church of God who was carrying out his sanctifying mission by offering the Eucharist.'”

Archbishop Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass in El Salvador in 1980. His murder came a day after he had said in a homily that soldiers should obey God’s commands and put down their guns.

His Cause was opened at the Vatican in 1993, but was delayed for years as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied his writings, amid wider debate over whether he had been killed for his faith or for taking a political stand against the Salvadoran government and against the death squads that were operating in his country. As head of Archdiocese of San Salvador from 1977 until his death, he grew increasingly outspoken in defence of the country’s poor and oppressed.

Vatican theologians and cardinals voted unanimously in favour of recognition of Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom, Archbishop Paglia said.

During the media conference, Archbishop Paglia said that the beatification ceremony would take place within a year, and “hopefully within a few months”, according to the Catholic News Service.

Archbishop Paglia said that Archbishop Romero was “clearly familiar with the documents of Vatican II” and that he was “a man of God, a man of prayer, obedience and love for people”. He added that the Pope’s recognition of the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero was “an extraordinary gift to the whole Church”.

He said: “It is for all Christians, as shown in the attention of the Anglican Church that has placed the statue of Romero in the facade of Westminster Abbey next to that of Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and also to the same human society that sees in him a defender of the poor and peace.”

Archbishop Paglia also thanked Benedict XVI for unblocking Archbishop Romero’s Cause and said that the Cause of many potential Salvadoran martyrs now under initial study.