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VATICAN LETTER Jul-29-2005 (740 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxi

Reading the signs: Archbishop Romero's backers are smiling in Rome

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a city where small signs often are read as serious signals, supporters of the canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar A. Romero were smiling this summer.

In mid-July, the Vatican newspaper published a review of a new Italian biography of the archbishop of San Salvador, murdered as he celebrated Mass in 1980 in a small hospital chapel.

The newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, dedicated two-thirds of a page to the positive review of "Primero Dios: Vita di Oscar A. Romero" ("God First: The Life of Oscar A. Romero") by Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, a professor of contemporary history in Rome.

But, even more promising to supporters of the cause, the review highlighted Morozzo's position that Archbishop Romero was not a communist, that he had not embraced a form of liberation theology so heavily focused on earthly realities that it ignored the spiritual, and that he always was faithful to the teaching of the popes.

The review was accompanied by a photograph of Pope John Paul II praying at the slain archbishop's tomb during a visit to San Salvador in 1983.

The Vatican newspaper's review was important, Morozzo said.

"It was not a book that would have been reviewed automatically because the memory of Romero is not totally positive in every sphere of the church," he told Catholic News Service July 27.

"And it was a serious review," he said. "The space given was significant and it underlined the fact that he loved Rome and felt deeply his obligation to remain faithful to the popes."

Elisabetta Lomoro, spokeswoman for the Italian bishop officially charged with promoting Archbishop Romero's cause, called the publication "further proof" that "after a stall the process is picking up again."

The postulator of the cause, Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni, Narni and Amelia, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. But Lomoro said Bishop Paglia had informed the bishops of El Salvador that the cause "had passed the first phase of verification in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where it had been since 2000. Now it is moving forward again in the Congregation for Saints' Causes."

Officials at the doctrinal congregation said they do not comment on individual causes they are asked to review. However, one said, it is normal practice for the congregation to review the homilies and written work of candidates for beatification and canonization.

When the material is voluminous, focused on faith and morals and controversial -- as in the case of Archbishop Romero -- the congregation usually asks outside experts to conduct the initial review of the material, the official said.

Morozzo said the transcripts of Archbishop Romero's homilies alone run about 3,000 pages; in the last year of his life it was not unusual for him to preach for up to two hours at Sunday Mass.

"The doctrinal congregation has lifted all doubts about his orthodoxy," Morozzo said, "and so the process has begun moving again in the Congregation for Saints' Causes."

The next big hurdle for the cause would be the resolution of the continuing question: Was Archbishop Romero martyred for his faith or murdered because of his political stand?

"I maintain that they killed him because of his public positions, which were expressions of his faith," Morozzo said. "They hated the faith of Romero, a faith which called for love, charity and justice.

"It was faith alone that led him to speak publicly. He was a pastor, and when his priests and 'campesinos' were being killed, when people were disappearing, he had to speak out," the professor said.

If politics had been the main motive, he said, they would have gone after the leaders of the opposition parties first.

"They saw that the faith of Romero was enlightening the nation, and they could not stand it. They hated it. They killed him out of 'hatred for the faith,'" Morozzo said, using the traditional description of martyrdom.

The book review in L'Osservatore described the Salvadoran as "the archbishop-martyr, assassinated for the faith at the altar."

Morozzo said a big, persistent problem is "the political use of Archbishop Romero."

He said in Latin America he had seen T-shirts picturing Archbishop Romero and Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary.

"If his (Archbishop Romero's) figure is seen as political, it is a problem for the church," Morozzo said. "They do not want a saint sharing a T-shirt with Che Guevara."


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