Human Face

Sainthood for Archbishop Oscar Romero

While many Filipino Church leaders are now on the campaign trail to openly and blatantly discredit candidates whom they consider “antilife” and anti-Catholic because these candidates went against the official Church stand on the Reproductive Health Law and supported it, I don’t see a groundswell that would spell the ultimate doom of these pro-RH candidates in the May 13 polls. Meaning, candidates will rise or fall not on RH issues.

A backlash may even result from Negros Bishop Vicente Navarra’s divisive “Team Patay-Team Buhay” campaign tack of separating the heaven-destined from the hell-bound. I know some scandalized Catholic voters who plan to vote only for those that the Church has officially maligned in order to boost their chances of winning.


What these powerful male bishops and their zealous followers do not know is that the more they divide, the less likely they will conquer. For those Catholics they have scandalized (including me), the issue is not so much about whether one is pro- or anti-RH as about their crass manner of dividing this country. What experts in division and alienation. They have reduced everything to pro-RH and anti-RH. They even “up yours-ed” the Comelec by cutting in half their oversized campaign posters. A lesson on how to go around the law.

What these powerful male bishops and their zealous followers do not know is that many religious women and lay workers who have made it their business to immerse among the poor (the “laylayan ng lipunan,” as President Aquino referred to those in the margins of society) are secretly pro-RH (not proabortion, for heaven’s sake). As one of them so succinctly quipped and turned the RH issue on its head: “We are not against reproduction and we are not against health.”


I have long suggested that to rid themselves of the prochoice=antilife mislabeling, they should go a step farther than the prolife=anti-RH and work on being “proquality life.”

What many anti-RH, natural-family-planning-only advocates do not know is that the Iglesia ni Cristo, known for its solid-voting style, is in fact against natural family planning. The INC considers natural family planning unnatural and morally unacceptable. So if the INC voters will base their voting choices on the RH issue only (and I hope this is not the case), they will, of course, be pro-RH candidates. A great balancing force against the anti-RH Catholics, who do not comprise the majority anyway.

Once more with feeling: As one who values her Catholic beliefs, I am absolutely scandalized by the divisive maneuverings of the male hierarchy and their zealous followers. I do not want to use strong offensive adjectives to describe them and their actions because otherwise, their agenda to divide wins.

* * *

While this election side show is going on, there are developments in the Church that deserve to be noticed. Among them is the reopening of the “long-stalled” canonization of martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Gunned down in 1980 while celebrating Mass, Romero was openly sympathetic to “liberation theologians” and those who fought political repression and injustice.

Wrote David Gibson for Religion News Service: “But the news that Pope Francis, just six weeks on the job, has cleared the way for the long-stalled canonization of [Romero] is a stunner that sends another important signal about the new pope’s priorities.”

Gibson quoted Jesuit theology professor Fr. Harvey Egan: “Sainthood is often as much about politics and image as anything else. It’s not surprising to me that this present pope, being from South America, having the same inclinations as Romero, would unblock the process and say, ‘Push his cause through,’ and I think rightly so.”


Romero championed the poor and human rights during the bloody war in El Salvador. A right-wing death squad gunned him down while he was at the altar. There is a famous black-and-white photo that shows Romero slumped on the floor, surrounded by nuns. Being proliberation had its price.

Although Romero was instantly hailed as a martyr, his cause did not sail smoothly, partly, it is surmised, because then Pope John Paul II and his doctrinal enforcer Josef Cardinal Ratzinger (who would later become Pope Benedict XVI) were not too fond of left-leaning liberation theology.

In the 1980s, here in the Philippines where many militant clergy, religious and Church workers fought against the excesses of martial rule, Romero was an icon. He was an inspiration to priests, nuns and bishops who strode the fine line. And then the name Romero seemed to have vanished in the Church firmament.

The good news is that two weeks ago, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, a Vatican official who is in charge of Romero’s cause, announced that he and the Pope had met on the matter and that Romero’s case was now “unblocked.” In other words, proceed.

Martyrdom, in Church parlance, means dying for one’s faith and not for some ideological or political reasons. Martyrdom can be a fast path to beatification (the process before canonization). The usual requirements can be waived and only one miracle—instead of two—is required for sainthood.

There is no Catholic San Oscar yet, but there is a Saint Ansgar (German for Oscar).

If there is “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, there is “The Last Sermon” by Romero, a bloody one, I must say, because he spoke of actual cases that happened within that month that he was himself killed.

This line is worth remembering: “[T]he Church, the people of God in history, is not attached to any one social system, to any political organization, to any party. The Church does not identify herself with any of those forces because she is the eternal pilgrim of history…”

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