By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The martyrdom of Blessed Oscar Romero did not end with his death because he continued to be slandered even by his fellow priests and bishops, Pope Francis said.
Speaking off-the-cuff to a group of pilgrims from El Salvador Oct. 30, the pope said that he, too, witnessed the Salvadoran archbishop’s reputation tarnished by “misunderstandings and slander.”
“I was a young priest and a witness to this — he was defamed, slandered, his memory tarnished, and his martyrdom continued, including by his brothers in the priesthood and in the episcopate,” the pope said. “This is not hearsay; I heard those things.”
Despite the fact that Blessed Romero is “a man who continues to be martyred,” the pope said his example is still an inspiration.
“This gives me strength,” he said. “Only God knows the histories of those people who have given their lives, who have died, and continue to be stoned with the hardest stone that exists in the world: the tongue,” he said.
The Salvadoran faithful were in Rome for a pilgrimage in thanksgiving for Blessed Romero’s beatification May 23 in San Salvador. Blessed Romero was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in the chapel of a local hospital, one day after calling on the government to end their violation of human rights against the population.
The pope told the pilgrims that a martyr is not a “beautiful image that adorns our church and whom we remember with a sense of nostalgia,” but someone who “continues to accompany us” and shows what it means to be an earthly pilgrim “with our sufferings, our anguish.”
The people of El Salvador, he said, “have a series of difficult tasks ahead” and are in need of those who give witness to an authentic Christian life that promotes and develops “a true justice, an authentic peace and heartfelt reconciliation.”
Recalling the life of martyred priest and friend of Blessed Romero, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, as well as those who died for the faith during the country’s civil war, the pope said that El Salvador had gained “intercessors for your people before the living God.” The Vatican announced Feb. 4 that the canonization process of Father Grande was formally opened.