El Salvador in high spirits as Romero beatification draws near

(Photo: REUTERS / Jose Cabezas)People look at a picture of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero at the national cathedral in San Salvador February 3, 2015. Pope Francis on Tuesday ruled that Romero, who was murdered by a right-wing death squad in 1980 and is an icon of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America, had died as a martyr and will be beatified, the Vatican said.

El Salvador is eagerly awaiting the scheduled beatification of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero on May 23, as government and church authorities complete the final touches for the event.

San Salvador, the country's capital, is in a jovial mood, with Catholics eagerly awaiting Romero's beatification, approved by Pope Francis this year when he declared his death in 1980 as an act of martyrdom.

"We have waited 35 years", one woman told Fides news agency in an interview as she took part in a Mass celebrated at Romero' tomb.

Even the media was swept up by the excitement, which is expected to peak this week as the event draws near.

"El Salvador prepares the most important days of its history," one headline read.

Also, authorities were putting in place a complex security system, "never before seen in the capital," given the interest of people in the beatification ceremony.

Various parish communities and church groups are making preparations to celebrate the occasion. Pilgrims are expected to go first to the cathedral on May 22 and then head to the chapel of Romero's tomb.

The following day, about 1,100 priests will gather at the seminary where Romero studied.

Some 250,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony at Plaza Las Americas, Fides reported.

At least 12 heads of State have indicated that they will attend the beatification, which had been stalled for nearly two decades after theologians feared the consequences of Romero's beatification.

Romero's adherence to liberation theology was seen as dampening his track to sainthood as conservatives within the church insisted that the idea shied away from the church's core mission.

(Photo: Photo courtesy of the Archbishop Romero Trust)A youthful Father Oscar Romero with Salvadorans (Photo courtesy of the Archbishop Romero Trust)

Liberation theology had been perceived as a hybrid between Christianity and communism.

Francis snuffed misgivings when he approved Romero's beatification early this year. He had always expressed admiration for the San Salvador archbishop, whom assassins gunned down while celebrating Mass.

News of Romero's beatification came as a surprise as the diocesan community was starting the groundwork for the celebration of the martyr's birth centenary in August 2017.

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