Irish Franciscans vindicated for solidarity with Romero

Irish Franciscans vindicated for solidarity with Romero A banner of newly canonised, St Oscar Romero hangs from the facade of St Peter's Basilica.

Irish missionaries who supported St Oscar Romero during his time as Archbishop of San Salvador have welcomed the martyred bishop’s canonisation, feeling their constant support for him has been vindicated.

“The feeling among the people is of quiet pride and satisfaction,” Fr Ciaran Ó Nuanain told The Irish Catholic. “The minority of us who supported Romero since the beginning, among who were the Irish Franciscans, feel that history has shown we were right.”


St Oscar Romero, who became archbishop of the Salvadoran capital in February 1977 just weeks before the murder of his friend Fr Rutilio Grande and two years before a military coup saw the country taken over by a right-wing military junta, became an iconic figure through speaking up for the powerless victims of violence in his country’s civil war.

He was assassinated while saying Mass on March 24, 1980, but his canonisation cause was long held up due to suspicions that he was linked with Marxist-influenced Liberation Theology.

The cause was unblocked by Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis beatified the martyred bishop three years ago, before canonising him along with six others on Sunday, October 14.

“The canonisation was at 2am Salvadoran time, so there was a vigil carried out in all the churches as well as in the square in front of the cathedral, which was packed,” Fr Ó Nuanain said, adding: “In our own Franciscan parish in San Salvador, called San Antonio de Padua, some 400 stayed up all night.”

Describing the Salvadorans as “a pragmatic people”, Fr Ó Nuanain said even Arena, the political party founded by Roberto D’Aubuisson, who planned St Oscar’s murder, now accept that he is a saint. “The two most popular newspapers in the country, which are also right wing, have devoted pages to Romero and his canonisation,” he added.

It is unlikely, however, that St Oscar’s killers will face justice,  Fr Ó Nuanain said, noting that while the amnesty law passed by the Arena government in 1991 was thrown out by the country’s supreme court in 2016, the court has refused a Spanish extradition request for the suspected killers of six Jesuits. “Although the people know who were responsible for the murder of Romero, it is doubtful whether they will ever be brought to justice,” he said.

Pointing out that many thousands of ordinary Salvadorans were killed during the civil war, Fr Ó Nuanain said his office – originally supported by Trócaire – has recorded about 500 people who would constitute martyrs according to the Church’s criteria. San Salvador’s current archbishop, José Luis Alas, has said that when the office has finished its work, the Church must formally begin reviewing the testimonies with a view to opening the causes of Salvador’s other martyrs.