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El Salvador CELEBRATES its first SAINT, a long-venerated leader.

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR Near the end of his homily at a Mass just prior to St. Oscar Romero's canonization, Jesuit Fr. Jose Maria Tojeira yelled to the crowd outside the Metropolitan Cathedral: "Viva Monsenor Romero!" "Long live Bishop Romero!"

The overflow crowd lustily yelled back, "Que Viva!" "Long live!"

"We're not venerating a body," Tojeira said, "rather someone who is alive, together with God and in the hearts of all Christians that want to continue with the reality of the Gospel."

During the Oct. 14 ceremony at the Vatican--early morning in El Salvador--Salvadorans gathered in the square outside the cathedral to watch the ceremony on big screens; others watched in their parishes.

Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass March 24, 1980. His legacy of showing a preference for the poor and promoting peace lives on in his native El Salvador, where, even in death, he plays an outsized role in the country's public life and occupies a special place in its collective consciousness.

He becomes El Salvador's first saint. But his current role in the country transcends religion. He also has assumed the status of national hero, whose words sound prophetic almost four decades after his death.

"He still is the most venerated and respected leader of the last 100 years, certainly the last 50 years," said Rick Jones, youth and migration adviser for Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador.

Romero's slaying came as the country was on the cusp of civil war, which roared through the 1980s. His canonization comes as the country convulses with violence, much of it attributed to gangs preying on populations living in barrios under their control.

As archbishop of the national capital San Salvador, Romero accompanied the poor at a time when some two-thirds of the population lived in poverty He also voiced people's demands for better wages and criticisms of the "oligarchy"--as the elites were caustically called--at a time when his critics considered such talk "communist." He also called for a suspension of U.S. military assistance.

The poverty and inequality Romero spoke out against are still rife in 2018. Many Salvadorans also still flee the country to escape the violence and indignities, causing his words to resonate with younger generations and even some evangelicals and atheists.

"What he said is still valid. His words still carry enormous weight," said Douglas Martinez, a vendor in San Salvador.

Canonization was never certain for Romero, though some in the country have long considered him a saint.

"For me and for many people in the country--a good number of people with a social commitment--Bishop Romero has been a saint since his martyrdom, and now it's going to be the formal act," said Gabina Dubon, coordinator of the transformational social ministry in Caritas El Salvador.

Romero served only three years as archbishop, but left a legacy via homilies that were broadcast nationwide.

Participants in a procession to the cathedral held signs with quotes from his homilies. "It's necessary to call injustice by its name," read one sign.

The celebrations carried political overtones for some. A U.N. truth commission named Roberto d'Aubuisson, an ex-army officer and founder of the conservative ARENA alliance, as the intellectual author of the murder. He died of cancer in 1992.

Fr. Neftali Ruiz carried a banner castigating ARENA, but saying of Romero, "The people made him a saint."

The Romero canonization showed how time had changed in the country and church though, in an interview, Tojeira quipped of Romero's critics, "They used to say 'communist.' They now have a little more civilized discourse but continue being similar."

Church observers expressed hope Romero's canonization could bring unity to a country with polarized politics.

"He presents a figure for reconciliation," Jones said, "and a different way to move forward other than... just the left or the right."

By DAVID AGREN Catholic News Service

--CNS/Reuters/Jose Cabezas

Caption: People carry a banner of St. Oscar Romero during an Oct. 13 procession in San Salvador, El Salvador.

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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT; Oscar Romero
Author:Agren, David
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:2ELSA
Date:Nov 2, 2018
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