Bob McKeon


June 15, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a group who had gathered at Providence Centre to celebrate the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero. We were able to watch a live broadcast of the beatification liturgy from San Salvador on a large screen TV.

Many in the group had immigrated to Edmonton from El Salvador, fleeing from the persecution and the violence of a harsh military dictatorship.

As the lengthy liturgy progressed, it became increasingly clear that we in Edmonton were not observers of a television program, but rather active participants in an historic celebration that touched all of us, whether we were born in El Salvador or another part of the world. We shared the excitement with over 250,000 people assembled in the square in San Salvador.

A pilgrim holds a portrait of Archbishop Oscar Romero during the beatification Mass in San Salvador May 23.


A pilgrim holds a portrait of Archbishop Oscar Romero during the beatification Mass in San Salvador May 23.

The broadcast was entirely in Spanish, and my high school Spanish from many years ago proved totally inadequate. During the homily, a bilingual man sat with a small group of us and provided a simultaneous translation.

The translation came with a commentary and faith-filled witness of one whose family had lived through the persecution that killed Romero.

In the beatification ceremony, led by a cardinal from the Roman Curia, Romero was transformed from a Salvadorian martyr to a soon to be canonized saint of the universal Church. His faithfulness to God, and his courageous life witness of Christian charity and justice was presented as model of holiness for all of us to seek to follow.

Caritas Internationalis, the global federation of Catholic development agencies that includes Development and Peace in Canada, has named Blessed Oscar Romero as an international patron, along with St. Martin de Porres and Mother Teresa.

Romero's life and legacy was controversial in his time and remains so today. His canonization cause was blocked for many years in the Vatican.

Pope Francis, whose life and ministry in Argentina is similar in many ways to Romero's, pushed the canonization cause forward by redefining what is meant by Christian martyrdom.

Romero was not murdered because he was Catholic, but rather because he lived out the radical Gospel call of charity, justice and peace in a courageous and faithful way. His canonization will open the doors for canonization for many others who shared a similar fate in Latin America in the years after Vatican II.

How can Romero speak to us today in Canada? Pope Francis speaks of the "globalization of indifference" as a response by many to the suffering and injustices of today's world.

Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras, said, "Romero was not indifferent. He felt the pain of his people. He fought for them. We must all follow his path to achieve social justice."

In recent years, we often hear about the preferential concern for those who are poor contained in Catholic social teaching. Pope Francis speaks often of a church that is poor and is with and for the poor. Romero presents a model of what this can look like.

Robert Foliot, a Canadian Jesuit, tells how Romero allowed himself to be changed in his ministry as a bishop: "He allowed himself to be exposed to the poor. He listened to them tell how their sons were made to disappear, their daughters raped, and their crops and houses burned to the ground."


"He brought all these cries of the poor to long hours of prayer, and then responded with homilies that were transmitted by radio to people in very little villages across the country. He became the voice of the voiceless."

What might it mean to become the "voice of the voiceless" in Canada today?

Many commentators have pointed out how Romero's spiritual life and style of ministry was transformed during his years as archbishop. Biographers point to a similar transformation in the life of Pope Francis in his difficult years as a Jesuit leader and later as an archbishop in Argentina.

Foliot observes that "in Oscar Romero we see change, growth and conversion is possible for each of us" though prayer, ongoing reflection and truly opening ourselves to the needs and hurts of others.

I am thankful for members of the local Salvadoran community for inviting me on that historic day to make the spiritual gift of Blessed Oscar Romero present in my life. May I be open to the "change, growth and conversion" that is possible for me and the communities of which I am a part.

(Bob McKeon: