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Slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero to be beatified May 23

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Slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the murdered prelate of the people whose sainthood cause languished under previous popes but has been fast-tracked by Pope Francis, is to be beatified May 23 in San Salvador.

News of the date of the ceremony -- which puts Romero one step away from sainthood -- was first made in a report Wednesday morning by the Italian daily Avvenire, which is published by the country's bishops' conference.

The ceremony will be in Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo, Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the chief promoter of the archbishop's sainthood cause, said at a news conference Wednesday in San Salvador. The archbishop said Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, would celebrate the Mass.

Paglia called the beatification a gift for the world, but particularly for the people of El Salvador.​

Romero was archbishop of San Salvador during the bloody and tension-filled time leading up to his country's 1979-1992 civil war. Shot dead while celebrating Mass in 1980, the archbishop has long been considered a saint by many in Latin America, but the official Vatican process of sainthood had lingered for years.

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Some had speculated that there was unease among church prelates -- including Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI -- because of Romero's embrace of liberation theology, a type of Christian theology that posits that Christ did not just seek liberation from sin but every type of oppression.

Wednesday's Avvenire report said the announcement of the date of the beatification ceremony was made by Paglia himself during a visit to El Salvador this week.*

Avvenire speculated that the choice of date to make the announcement of the beatification, March 11, was significant as Romero contemporary Salvadoran Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande was murdered on March 12, 1977.

The death of Grande, who was noted for forcefully speaking against injustices suffered by the Salvadoran people, is known to have had a deep influence on Romero's life.

Paglia, who also leads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, announced in February that the Vatican has also opened a sainthood process for Grande.

"It is impossible to know Romero without knowing Rutilio Grande," Paglia said then.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, paved the way for Romero's beatification in February when he formally decreed that the prelate was assassinated as a martyr for the Catholic faith.

While in the sainthood process beatification normally requires that a miracle be proven to have been caused by the deceased person, martyrs of the faith do not have to meet that requirement.

In February, Paglia declared that Romero was "a martyr of the church of the Second Vatican Council."

The Salvadoran's murder, Paglia said then, was part of a "climate of persecution against a pastor that followed the evangelical experience, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, of Medellin [and] had chosen to live with the poor to defend them from oppression."

"Romero was killed because he chose this perspective," Paglia said, adding that the Salvadoran wanted to combat a government and a type of oppression "that leaves the poorest without life."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac. Catholic News Service contributed to this report.]

*The original version of this story gave the incorrect date for Romero's death.

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