JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
Now that Pope Francis has authorized the miracle that allows Blessed Oscar A. Romero to be declared a saint, the date and place of his canonization remain to be determined. Three options have been put forth—Rome in October of the current year; El Salvador in January 2019; or Panama that same month—but the Vatican will have the last word. Surveys by Super Martyrio, neither scientific nor (much less) binding, show results like the ones seen in the graphic (from Twitter: El Salvador-63%, Rome-31% and Panama-6%). But, seriously, here is a rundown of the options, one by one, and finally a few brief observations.
In general, canonizations take place in Rome for two related reasons. First, it is the exclusive province of the Roman Pontiff to recognize new saints, and the canon (the official list) is kept in Rome. In second place, a saint is a model for the universal Church, and therefore his or her inclusion in the martyrology is declared from the head of the Church so that all the other sees (dioceses) accept it. Some followers of Romero think that to settle for another option would be to accept a lesser alternative.
In the case of Archbishop Romero, there are three additional aspects that favor Rome as the canonization venue. First, in Rome in October, Archbishop Romero would be canonized alongside Pope Paul VI, and given the closeness between the two, it lends a dramatic value to this option. In addition, linking Paul VI with Romero would raise Romero's renown, since he would be compared to a pope. Second, related to this, the canonizations in October will take place during a synod of bishops, a prestigious occasion, with the presence of a significant number of Church hierarchs from all over the world (and possibly the Pope Emeritus). Finally, the fact that Romero lived six years in Rome and that he was ordained a priest there makes it fitting that he be canonized there.
Notwithstanding, the participants in our survey were not entirely convinced by this option, voting it second. Obviously, Romero's Latin American followers would like him to be canonized on his native continent.
The episcopal conference of El Salvador sent a letter to Pope Francis, imploring him to travel to El Salvador to canonize Romero in his own country. The letter was personally delivered to the pontiff by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Leon Kalenga on February 2 of the current year. According to Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, “we have not received a response yet, so there exists a possibility.”
According to the current Archbishop of San Salvador Jose Luis Escobar Alas, the Salvadoran prelates argued that, because Archbishop Romero is “the bishop of the poor,” he should be canonized among the poor of his land. The Salvadoran Church also wishes for the Pope to venerate at Romero’s Tomb, and to visit other sites associated with the first Salvadoran saint. Finally, it is no secret that the bishops would like to have a papal visit as consolation for a population beleaguered by violence and social conflict.
However, Vatican analyst Luis Badilla points out that these are “more or less the same arguments as the Indian bishops when they requested that Mother Teresa be canonized in India,” which did not convince the authorities in that case. For the analyst, these are “serious arguments, heartfelt and relevant from a national and regional point of view, but not from a global perspective.” Moreover, the Roman procedure takes local interest into account when it allows for beatifications to be held at the local level. In this sense, the Romero beatification was larger than many canonizations, with something between 250,000 and 500,000 faithful in attendance, including a hundred bishops. Finally, nothing would prevent Francis from visiting El Salvador at a later date.
Perhaps the fatal argument for El Salvador is that if the pope travels to El Salvador, he could steal attendees from World Youth Day in Panama. The trip to Panama has been planned for a couple of years as a privileged event and regional agreements have been established to favor it. All of this could be upset with this modification.
In our survey, the Panamanian option has the least support. Indeed, it is not clear if it is a real option or if journalists misunderstood the Salvadoran bishops asking that it be in El Salvador as an extension of the trip to Panama (but not necessarily in Panama). It is not clear who is really asking for this option.
Panama certainly has its logic. First, Romero is one of the patron saints of the World Youth Day that will be celebrated in January 2019, which is why the pope will be in the country on that date. With the Pope already there, the canonization can be held in Central American lands without having to do almost anything else to make it possible.
But is it true that there would be no alteration? The gathering is supposed to be for young people, not a general gathering of the faithful, and adding a canonization runs the risk of distorting the character of the entire event. The Panamanian option does not seem to "add" anything, since Panama would have the presence of the pope without the canonization, and will also have Romero as patron saint. In addition, the poor from El Salvador would have difficulty traveling to Panama as they would to Rome. Worse yet, Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa, a Romero devotee, dismisses the possibility that Romero should be canonized during WYD.
All speculation and assertion of facts on this subject—including everything preceding in this blogpost—must be taken with a grain of salt. In the end, this is basically a state decision that rests with the highest Vatican authorities. One must differentiate and discard what is conjecture or lobbying by interested figures. Apart from an information leak by someone who has access to the highest levels (the Pope's trusted aides, the Vatican Secretariat of State), the information will only be made official when there is a consistory of cardinals convened by the pope in the next few weeks, and which is expected to be held in April or May. The announcement of its convening will be made known in advance, and that will probably be the next fact we will know—the date of the meeting at which the date will be made known.