The beloved Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was beatified El Salvador this weekend amid both celebration and what one critic calls skewed media reporting on the martyr's life. San Salvador's Federico Hernandez Aguilar, an expert on the history of the new blessed, debunked what he views as common misconceptions surrounding Romero — voicing his hope that the truth about the archbishop would emerge. Hernandez, former minister of culture and current executive director of the El Salvador's Chamber of Commerce, spoke to CNA about the diocesan priest who became archbishop of San Salvador in the period prior to the civil war. Beginning in 1980 and lasting 12 years, the war pitted leftist groups assembled in the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) against the Armed Forces of El Salvador, connected to an extreme right-wing government. Amid the conflict, Archbishop Romero was brutally assassinated on March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass. In February of this year, Pope Francis recognized the death of the Salvadoran prelate as having been for hatred of the faith — martyrdom — and approved his beatification. According to Hernandez, when he began to study the biographical documents of Romero, he realized that he “didn't have portrait, but a caricature” of the archbishop. “And I believe that this is what has happened to Salvadorans over the last 35 years.” “After his assassination in 1980, he began to be very manipulated, above all by the more radical left of the country, and this also weighed in against his image for many Salvadorans,” he said. “We are children of a civil war that polarized the country and still remains very polarized,” he added, listing out both factual errors and little-known details about the late archbishop. 1. Romero wasn't Marxist — he was convinced of the Gospel Hernandez says he's studied the diary of Archbishop Romero — along with pastoral letters and eight volumes of homilies — in which he says you can find “an integral dimension of the person, the things that he really said.” “Archbishop Romero embodied an evangelical calling, embodied this call that Jesus made to us to care for the poor, to watch over others, not to lock ourselves inside our own navels." Unfortunately, he said, “there are people who thing that he only criticized the violence of the army, which of course he criticizes, and very strongly, but he also criticized the violence that at that time the guerrillas began.” Archbishop Romero, he added, was also “very emphatic, first in saying that he was not in favor of Marxism, but also that the radicalized violence from Marxist ideas didn't lead to anything good.” The blessed was also a man of profound prayer and “faithful to the Catholic Church until the last day.” Romero “consulted everything with the Magesterium” with a special obedience to the Pope, “whom he recognized as Christ on earth.” 2. Romero had a deep love for Saint Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei Hernandez also highlighted Romero's deep affection for the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei. “There is a relationship, throughout the entire life of Archbishop Romero, of love for the Work (Opus Dei),” he noted, and recalled “a meeting that he had with the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva, in Rome.” “On one occasion, when he was already an archbishop, an order was received in Rome by St. Josemaria for the people of (Opus Dei) to treat him well, so that he could rest and be calm, because they saw him nervous, they saw him tense because of what was happening in El Salvador.” In 1975, after the death of the Opus Dei founder, “one of the first bishops in the world who sent letters to the Pope asking for his beatification was precisely Archbishop Romero,” Hernandez said. “Later, who was his successor in charge of Opus Dei, Mons. Alvaro del Portillo, now a Blessed too proclaimed by Pope Francis, they (Romero and Portillo) had a very affectionate correspondence.” 3. Romero never said: “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” Hernandez also emphasized that Archbishop Romero never pronounced one of the most popular phrases that is attributed to him. He pointed to Roberto Morozzo della Roca, an Italian researcher, who conducted a detailed investigation on the life of Archbishop Romero which was included inside of the process of beatification. In it, Hernandez said, it's clear “that the phrase is apocryphal.” “Morozzo della Roca make a very thorough investigation and discovered that a Guatemalan journalist published an interview that was allegedly given by phone between him and Mons. Romero, but published it just days after his murder. Archbishop Romero could not defend himself against it.” Morozzo della Roca also found “that the journalist already had a history of having lied in other interviews” and even years before attributed to himself “a very similar phrase to that which years later he attributed to Archbishop Romero.” On the contrary, “if one reads the spiritual notes of Archbishop Romero days, weeks before his assassination, one does not discover this messianism in Archbishop Romero.” “Archbishop Romero himself was afraid to die, he realized that his death was going to be violent also, and he had a natural fear,” Hernandez said, stressing that “it's clear that a phrase so messianic was not able to be said a few days before his death.” Archbishop Romero, he reiterated, “was very misrepresented. He himself...said, 'don't distort my words, please record the things that I said and how I said them.'” If “those who manipulated Archbishop Romero stop manipulating him — realizing that they destroy his message and and become murderers of his message, as others were to his person — this is going to help the country to finally reconcile,” he said.
Catholic News Agency was founded in 2004, in response to Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “New Evangelization." It is an apostolate of EWTN News.