Newly-beatified Archbishop Oscar Romero closer to sainthood

(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.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose advocacy for the poor and marginalized cost his life, has moved closer to sainthood after being beatified.

Over the weekend throngs of El Salvadorans marked the historic event with joyous celebration.

Nearly a quarter of a million people descended on San Salvador, the country's capital, to Plaza Las Americas.

There the beatification rites drew influential political and church leaders from Latin America, reported

"Blessed Romero is another brilliant star that belongs to the sanctity of the Church of the Americas," said Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican's saint-making body.

He led the ceremony on behalf of Pope Francis.

The pontiff sent a message to San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Alas, saying Romero "knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church."

"His ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the most poor and marginalized," Francis wrote in his message, which was read during the beatification ceremony.

"And in the moment of his death, while he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of love and reconciliation, he received the grace to identify himself fully with He who gave his life for his sheep."

The Pope noted that Romero's mission remains relevant as it serves to "remind us that the Church ... is the family of God, in which there should be no division."

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit tweeted, "The beatification of Oscar Romero is a sign of the Spirit of truth; a martyr for justice and peace. Pentecost!"

Pope Francis said, "Faith in Jesus Christ ... generates communities of that are builders of peace and solidarity.

"This is what the Church in El Salvador is called to today, in America and in the whole world: to be rich in mercy and to convert into the leaven of reconciliation for society."

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

U.S. President Barack Obama joined world leaders in welcoming the beatification of Romero.

In a press statement, Obama said Romero's lasting legacy has brought El Salvador out of the shackles of dictatorship and onto the path of democracy.

"El Salvador has come a long way in the last 35 years. Those who once fought on the battlefield now compete for votes and negotiate in the National Assembly," Obama said.

"But we and the Salvadoran people recognize there is much more to do. Today in El Salvador, and all of Central America, the United States is guided by the vision of Archbishop Romero," he added.

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