The role of the Catholic Church in Central American politics is often overlooked by casual students of Latin America. Regardless, the legacies of clergymen such as Guatemalan Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera and Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero are alive and well today in the region. Both of these men spoke out against the violent and repressive governments that dominated their countries in the latter half of the 20th century, acts for which they both lost their lives.
The Pope is due to officially canonize the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in the Vatican this coming Sunday.
“On Sunday in the Vatican, Pope Francis will officially make Romero a saint nearly four decades after he was martyred by an assassin’s bullet to the heart. But for many Salvadoran Roman Catholic devotees who already know him as “Saint Romero of the Americas” that will only formalize something they have long known in their hearts.
“He was a great man. He already was a saint,” said Jose David Santos, 73, in a recent interview before traveling to Rome along with 5,000 other Salvadorans to be present for the canonization.
“He was a great example of humility,” added Santos, clad in a white shirt with Romero’s face imprinted on it. “He professed love for the poor man. He denounced injustices. He defended victims. He criticized the violence of the military and of the guerrillas.”
Romero was slain March 24, 1980, a day after he implored the military dictatorship to “cease the repression” against civilians as the country spiraled toward a 12-year civil war.
At the time — and still today — some in conservative sectors loathed him as a “guerrilla in a cassock” for sympathizing with leftist causes. But he was and remains broadly popular among the poor and working class, whom he passionately defended, and many began lionizing him almost immediately.
“A real man of the people. … And so even prior to his canonization, even shortly after his martyrdom, we see this almost kind of folk-saint, popular-saint devotion springing up,” said Andrew Chesnut, chair in Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.“