Thousands of Salvadorans celebrated the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero Sunday, who became the first saint of El Salvador and Central America after being assassinated for his preaching in favor of the dispossessed and poor during the most violent years of the country.
As the rhythm of the bells of Catholic churches throughout the Central American country rang out simultaneously, Romero's adherants celebrated by praying and supplicating themselves before the now saint to ask for blessings for their loved ones.
"We are grateful to Pope Francis because he recognized Romero's pastoral work," said Manuel Candray, a 56-year-old auditor, holding a candle in his hands.
After several decades of discussion about whether Romero's message adhered to the doctrine of the Catholic Church or impelled the left, Pope Francis declared him a saint Sunday, along with six other blessed people, including Pope Paul VI, who appointed Romero archbishop of San Salvador in 1977.
Guadalupe Mejía, an activist searching for missing persons, recalled that in November of 1977 she came in anguish before Romero to ask him to help her with the disappearance of her husband by the security forces.
Romero denounced the disappearance and motivated Mejía, now 75 years old, so that, together with other relatives of victims of human rights violations, they would organize to seek justice. "I feel happy and content (...) we are going to have a saint we have met and talked with him," she said, moved.
Hundreds of followers observed the canonization ceremony through giant screens placed in the square in front of the Cathedral of San Salvador, where Romero delivered his homilies.
Lying on the floor and singing, the parishioners stayed for hours waiting for the main act in the Vatican, which occurred during the early morning..
The followers and fans applauded, threw balloons and fireworks when Pope Francis made Romero a saint.
"It was a great emotion, a great joy, it is a feeling that can not be explained, it is something very nice that Monsignor is already in the book of the Saints," said Jaqueline Urrutia, a 45-year-old artisan, who attended, accompanied by one of his sisters in a wheelchair.
From the pulpit, "San Romero de América," as he is known in the rest of the region, denounced the violence and poverty in which thousands of Campesinos were immersed — a message that earned him numerous enemies, especially from conservative sectors of both politics and Church.
On the afternoon of Mar. 24, 1980, a sniper shot him in the chest while officiating a mass in San Salvador.
Even before his canonization, Romero's fame crossed borders: he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and, after his death, his crypt became a place of pilgrimage where former President of the United States Barack Obama arrived, along with members of the Iron Maiden band.
The leftist FMLN party, which came into power in 2009, decided to name a highway, an airport and a hall of the Presidential House with his name.