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Salvadoran Cardinal and Longtime Friend Says Blessed Romero Will Be The ‘Saint of Four Popes’

Blessed Oscar Romero is seen in an undated photo. (Photo: Catholic News Service/Octavio Duran)

By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent 

LOS ANGELES – While Pope Francis may be the one who finally canonizes Blessed Óscar Romero, Cardinal José Gregorio Rosa Chávez – his one-time close friend – says he believes the late El Salvadoran martyr will be known as “the saint of four popes.”

Cardinal Rosa, who was named El Salvador’s first ever cardinal last June by Pope Francis, said that there are elements of Blessed Romero’s life that were shaped by, or influenced by, Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis.

His remarks came in an interview with The Tablet during the 2018 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, where the cardinal spoke on justice and forgiveness – themes that have defined much of the Romero legacy since he was assassinated while celebrating Mass in 1980.

As Archbishop of San Salvador, Blessed Romero was an outspoken social justice advocate who championed the poor and denounced government corruption. He has long been held as a hero in his homeland and beyond for serving as a voice for the marginalized.

Yet due to what some perceived as a political abuse of his legacy, his path to sainthood was slowed down or blocked at various points.

In 2012, however, Pope Benedict XVI cleared the way for his cause for canonization, noting that he had no doubt that Blessed Romero deserved it, and soon after his election in March 2013, Pope Francis fast-tracked the cause

“Each one of  [the four popes] had a very important part in the process,” Rosa told The Tablet.Pope Francis just pushed it forward. Blessed Romero is the icon of the Church that Pope Francis wants to be, and the type of pastor he wants.”

Since the pope’s announcement earlier this month that Blessed Romero is to be made a saint, there’s been much speculation as to when and where the canonization will take place.

By some accounts, the logical time is a dual canonization with Pope Paul VI this coming October in Rome following the Synod of Bishops, when many of the world’s prelates will already be in Rome for the occasion, though combining a pope with someone who wasn’t a pope would perhaps be seen as bad form in some quarters.

Others have pushed for the pontiff to do it when he travels to Panama in January 2019 for World Youth Day, perhaps by adding a stop in El Salvador. 

Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez greets inmates during a pastoral visit to the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow, N.Y., in 2017. In addition to the jail visit, Cardinal Rosa Chavez celebrated Masses at two parishes and two high schools and visited a Catholic Charities immigration center during a three-day trip to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y. (Photo: Catholic News Service/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

Cardinal Rosa told The Tablet that since there’s been no official announcement, the El Salvadoran church is expecting it to take place in October – yet they have also made a request for Pope Francis to stop by El Salvador en route to World Youth Day so that it can take place on Romero’s home turf.

At the five-year mark of Pope Francis’s papacy and on the eve of his friend’s canonization, Cardinal Rosa is still marveling at this unexpected turn of events, both for himself personally and for the Church at-large.

Cardinal Rosa, who ran the diocese of San Salvador’s communications office under Blessed Romero and was later named an auxiliary bishop of the diocese in 1982, never expected that he would one day receive a red hat, especially since he was the first auxiliary bishop ever to be given one.

When he was named cardinal, he dedicated his appointment to Blessed Romero, who he believes continues to watch over his beloved homeland.

He told The Tablet that Blessed Romero’s intercessions have been critical in the country’s ongoing peace efforts. Due to a civil war from 1979 to 1992, the country has been left bitterly – and violently – divided, but Blessed Romero has been a means of a much sought-after peace for many Salvadorans.


“There’s a new phenomenon of trying to reconcile through and with Romero,” Cardinal Rosa said. “People go ask for forgiveness to the priest and then they go to the tomb to ask for forgiveness to Romero, so I call him a spiritual earthquake.

That description of a “spiritual earthquake” is one he’d also apply to the man who made him cardinal, for whom he has nothing but praise to offer.

“He’s an exceptional man, he’s a man of peace, a free man, and he knows where the Church should be going and he goes forward in that route,” Rosa told The Tablet. “It’s like Jesus coming down to earth.”