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By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters)

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, a champion of the poor who became a human rights icon in Latin America when he was killed by a right-wing death squad in 1980, will be made a Roman Catholic saint

The Vatican said in a statement on Wednesday that Pope Francis had given final approval to several sainthoods, including for Romero, and the late Pope Paul VI, who reigned from 1963 to 1978. Francis personally announced Pope Paul’s canonisation last month.

 

A municipal worker stands by a painting of slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in San Salvador
A municipal worker stands by a painting of slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

Romero‘s path to sainthood had stalled under two previous popes, reflecting concerns by some that he was overly political. It was revived by Francis who is also from Latin America and has made defence of the downtrodden a hallmark of his five-year pontificate.

 

Catholic school students participate in a mass in the honour of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero at La Divina Providencia Chapel in San Salvador
Catholic school students participate in a mass in the honour of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero at La Divina Providencia Chapel in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

Romero, who had often denounced repression and poverty in his homilies, was shot dead on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador, the capital of the impoverished Central American country of El Salvador.

 

Catholic school students participate in a mass in the honour of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero at La Divina Providencia Chapel in San Salvador
Catholic school students participate in a mass in the honour of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero at La Divina Providencia Chapel in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

“The long delay in recognising the obvious fact that Romero was obviously a martyr was shameful,” said Father James Martin, a U.S. author and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, adding that many saints had not been understood in their own times.

 

Martin, writing on Twitter, called the pope’s decision “an immense step forward for the Church”

Romero’s murder was one of the most shocking in the long conflict between a series of U.S.-backed governments and leftist rebels in which thousands were killed by right-wing and military death squads.

 

A man prays by the grave of slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in San Salvador
A man prays by the grave of slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

El Salvador’s government, headed by a former leader of the leftist guerrillas, said in a statement that Romero had left an “invaluable legacy” of work for the neediest and that the canonisation was a tribute to his devotion and sacrifice.

The civil war claimed some 75,000 lives before it ended with a peace agreement in 1992.

 

Newly elevated Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez prays at the grave of Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero upon his return at the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador
Newly elevated Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez prays at the grave of Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero upon his return at the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador, El Salvador, July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

No one was ever brought to justice for his killing but last year a Salvadoran judge reopened the case. The main suspect is a former soldier whose case was reopened after the country’s constitutional court repealed a previous amnesty.

Romero was beatified, or declared a “blessed” of the Church, in 2015 after a ruling that he was a martyr killed in hatred of the faith. That ceremony in San Salvador brought together former Marxist guerrillas and their former enemies.

 

Newly elevated Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez prays at the grave of Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero upon his return at the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador
A man prays as he waits for the newly elevated Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez at the grave of Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero upon his return at the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador, El Salvador, July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

Francis ruled that Romero could be declared a saint after a Vatican theological and medical commission approved a miracle attributed to him.

The Church teaches that only God performs miracles but that saints who are believed to be with God in heaven intercede on behalf of people who pray to them. A miracle is usually the medically inexplicable healing of a person.

No date was given for the sainthood ceremony, which is expected to take place this year, most likely at the Vatican.

 

(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Susan Fenton)

 

 

A man prays by the grave of slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in San Salvador
A man prays by the grave of slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

A man prays by the grave of slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in San Salvador
A man prays by the grave of slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador
Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador
Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador
Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador
Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

 

Catholic school students visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador
Catholic school students wait to visit the museum at the house of slain archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero after a mass in his honour in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
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