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The martyr priest, now Saint Romero, challenged the power in El Salvador



SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – In 1980, the day after he called on El Salvador's military to stop a series of abuses that would spark a 12-year civil war in the impoverished country, Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot dead.

A statue of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who is declared a saint by the Catholic Church on October 1

4, is to be seen on 4 October 2018 in the church of Dolores in Izalco, El Salvador. REUTERS / Jose Cabezas

His sermons had shaken up the US-backed military's dictatorship while solidarizing with the poor, making him a Latin American human rights icon.

On Sunday he will become Roman Catholic in the Vatican.

Romero was considered for canonization decades ago, but his nomination stopped worrying that he was overly political.

His reputation is recovering in 2015, when Pope Francis, a fellow Latin American advocate for the defense of the poor, proclaims him a martyr killed for hating faith.

The artist Nestor Hernandez works in a statue of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, declared sanctuary by the Catholic Church on 14th October in San Salvador, El Salvador. REUTERS / Jose Cabezas

Romero criticized the military government and armed left-wing groups alike. This brought him hostilities from both sides before a civil war that lasted until 1992. Around 75,000 people died and thousands of Salvadorans fled to the United States.

In 1980 he found a bomb on a church altar, which was to take his life.

"Persecution is needed in the church Do you know why, because the truth is always persecuted," he said then.

Two weeks later, undisturbed by death threats, the man, distinguished by his bushy eyebrows and thick lenses, spoke directly to the soldiers.

"I pray you, I implore you, I command you in the name of God: Stop the oppression," he said.

The next day, a sniper killed the 62-year-old when he delivered the mass in a hospital chapel in the capital. The main suspect is a former soldier.

Slideshow (18 pictures)

Romero's assassination was one of the most shocking of the long conflict between a number of US-backed governments and left-wing rebels, in which right-wing and military death squads killed thousands.

CARPENTRY TO SAINTHOOD

Romero was born in 1917 as the second of eight brothers in a small coffee town in Honduras. As a boy he trained as a carpenter before attending the seminary and studying theology in Rome.

In 1943 he returned to El Salvador as pastor until he became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. The murder of the military, the kidnapping and the arrest of priests supporting the workers' rights made him a staunch critic of the regime.

The Vatican said that the miracle that cemented His Holiness was Cecilia Flores' survival in 2015, when her husband prayed to Romero when she was about to die in pregnancy.

"Doctors told my husband … only a miracle will save your wife," Flores said. After her husband began to pray, she immediately recovered and gave birth to a healthy son, she added.

Salvadoran Cardinal Jose Gregorio Rosa said that Romero's sanctity will serve as a model for both religious leaders and believers.

"It's the greatest thing a human can achieve, an incredible joy," he said.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Letter from Daina Beth Solomon; Edited by Richard Chang

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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