Rowan Williams leads Anglican delegation to Rome for the canonization of Oscar Romero

Anglican bishop of El Salvador states his diocese “in our prayers thank God for giving us the gift of Saint Romero, our brother.”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams led an Anglican delegation to the Vatican this weekend for the canonisation of Oscar Romero. The current Archbishop, Justin Welby, sent a letter to Pope Francis in which he described the former Archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated as he celebrated Mass in March 1980, as “a true example to all Christians, and particularly to our fellow bishops.” The weekend’s service at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, also saw the canonisation of Pope Paul VI and five other saints: Francesco Spinelli, Vincenzo Romano, Maria Catherine Kasper, Nazaria Ignazia of Saint Teresa of Jesus, and Nuncio Sulprizio.

In his letter to Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin said of Oscar Romero: “as a champion of peace and justice he stood up against oppression and was consistently on the side of the poor, the underprivileged and the marginalised. In this he emphasised and demonstrated the love of Christ himself.

“Your Holiness, Blessed Oscar is held in great esteem in the Church of England. He is commemorated in our liturgical calendar and his statue appears as one of the martyrs of the twentieth century on the West Front of Westminster Abbey. May his example of courage and commitment be a model for us all.”

Bishop Rowan led a delegation of 10 Anglican bishops at the service, which included the suffragan Bishop in Europe, David Hamid. “In my time as Mission Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Anglican Church of Canada during the years of the civil wars in El Salvador and other Central American countries, I made many visits to the region, most often in support of those seeking to defend the human rights of the poor and exploited, including many priests and pastors in El Salvador,” Bishop David said in a blog postafter the service.

“I recall meeting so many who were inspired by Oscar Romero to continue the struggle for justice for the poor of the region”, he said. “In the hearts of the people of Latin America Romero was already considered a saint; ‘San Oscar de las Américas’ they acclaimed him, almost right after he was assassinated. On the occasion of his canonisation, for the poor of the Americas this is a moment of great joy to have his martydom officially recognised by the Church. I never imagined I would be present to witness this event.”

Pope Paul VI was the first Pope to receive an official visit by an Archbishop of Canterbury since the Reformation, when, in 1966, he welcomed Archbishop Michael Ramsey to the Vatican, famously giving him his episcopal ring.

During the service, Pope Francis used three symbolic and historic elements, including the Pope Paul VI’s favourite chalice and pastoral cross. He also wore the blood-stained cincture that Romero was wearing when he was murdered.

Following the service, Pope Francis delivered his weekly Angelus address to some 70,000 pilgrims in St Peter’s Square. During this, he gave a special welcome to Bishop Rowan and the Anglican delegation, expressing his “deep gratitude” that they were there representing Archbishop Justin Welby.

Romero was assassinated on the eve of Archbishop Robert Runcie’s installation in Canterbury Cathedral on 25 March 1980. In response, Archbishop Robert made a point of going to the spot in the Cathedral at which Archbishop Thomas Becket was martyred eight centuries earlier to offer prayers during the installation liturgy in an act of solidarity following the killing.

In a statement, the Anglican Bishop of El Salvador, Juan David Alvarado Melgar, said that the diocese “in our prayers thank God for giving us the gift of Saint Romero, our brother.”

He said: “We take on the commitment to follow his legacies, how to recognise the presence of Christ in human beings, in the poor and vulnerable; to fight for their human and divine dignity, with very concrete actions; to work for the Kingdom of Love of the Gospel.”

He began his statement by saying: “Saint Romero was assassinated coldly and with planning, because he had a passion for defending women and men who were exploited, mistreated, victims of human rights violations. He pointed out those who were responsible and he asked for their conversion to Christ.

“He had the clarity that God was revealed, incarnated in those malnourished, sick people, who had difficulty living with miserable, inhuman and starving income. It was a scandal for the saint, that the Son of God, present in the poor, would continue to be crucified for the greed and sin of the false Christian worshipers of idols, usurpers of the earth and its fruits.”

He added: “Saint Romero leaves us as a legacy the commitment to work together in the construction of peace and to follow the path to the kingdom of God. Peace has a radical ingredient, and it is justice.”

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