Latin America & Caribbean

Oscar Romero beatification draws huge El Salvador crowds

Media captionThe shirt Oscar Romero was wearing when he was killed was displayed as a religious relic

Oscar Romero - the Roman Catholic archbishop murdered during the 1980-92 civil war - has been beatified at a ceremony in El Salvador attended by huge crowds.

At least 250,000 people have filled the streets of the capital San Salvador for the ceremony.

It is the last step before Archbishop Romero is declared a saint.

He was shot dead by a sniper as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel on 24 March 1980.

No-one has been prosecuted for the murder.

The beatification ceremony was presided over by Vatican envoy Cardinal Angelo Amato, who made a call for forgiveness.

"His preference for the poor was not ideological, but evangelical. His charity extended to his persecutors," he said.

Image caption Worshipers came from several countries to attend the ceremony in San Salvador
Image caption Many Salvadoreans refer to the archbishop as "Saint Romero" and attribute miracles to him

"Archbishop Romero's spirit remains alive and gives comfort to the marginalised people of the world," added Cardinal Amato.

'Proper reconciliation'

About 80,000 people died and 12,000 disappeared during the war in the Central American nation.

In a letter to the Archbishop of San Salvador, Luis Escobar Alas, Pope Francis said the beatification of Archbishop Romero created "a favourable moment for true and proper reconciliation.

"In this day of joy for El Salvador and also for other Latin American countries, we thank God for giving the martyr archbishop the ability to see and feel the suffering of his people," said the Pope in his letter.

At the scene: Katy Watson, BBC News

People started arriving overnight, keen to get a spot to watch what many people think is a long overdue recognition of a regional hero.

The people of El Salvador, carrying banners and chanting songs, were joined by people across the continent and further afield.

His supporters are not just those who lived through the civil war but younger generations too, who have listened to their homilies and say that his message was one of truth-telling and denouncing evil.

Oscar Romero is still a controversial figure in this divided country, though. There are those who feel he was more guerrilla than man of God. But they are not out in the crowds today.

Oscar Romero: Latin America’s martyr and hero

The event began with a procession from the cathedral - where Archbishop Romero's remains lie in a crypt - to Saviour of the World square in the centre of San Salvador, several kilometres away.

Giant TV screens were placed across the capital so that those away from the stage can watch the ceremony.

'Stop the repression'

Archbishop Oscar Romero was not just a churchman. He took a stand during El Salvador's darkest moments, the BBC's Central America reporter Katy Watson says.

Image caption The shirt Archbishop Romero was wearing when he was killed was displayed as a religious relic
Image caption El Salvador formally apologised for the murder of Archbishop Romero in 2010

When the US-backed Salvadorean army was using death squads and torture to stop leftist revolutionaries from seizing power, he was not afraid to speak out in his weekly sermons, she says.

"The law of God which says thou shalt not kill must come before any human order to kill. It is high time you recovered your conscience," he said in his last homily in 1980, calling on the National Guard and police to stop the violence.

"I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression."

That was a sermon that cost him his life. A day later, while giving mass, he was hit through the heart by a single bullet.

Several conservative Latin American cardinals in the Vatican had blocked his beatification for years because they were concerned his death was prompted more by his politics than by his preaching.

Pope Benedict XVI finally reversed this in 2012.

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