Pope Francis received a bloodstained relic of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero as a gift from El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes Cartagena.
Funes had told the media before his Thursday meeting with the Pope that the aim of his visit to the Vatican was to express his gratitude that the archbishop’s canonisation process had been “unblocked” and to encourage the sainthood process moving forward.
The Vatican said the Pope and Funes talked about Archbishop Romero and “the importance of his witness for the whole nation” of El Salvador.
The two leaders also talked about the Church’s work in fostering peace and reconciliation; providing education and charity, and in fighting poverty and organised crime, the Vatican said in a written statement.
Upon meeting the Pope outside the papal library, Funes told the Pontiff he was “very honoured” to be there. Pope Francis and he then spoke privately for 12 minutes, followed by an exchange of gifts.
Funes presented the Pope with a large gold-colored reliquary containing a faded white bloodstained piece of the vestment Archbishop Romero of San Salvador was wearing when he was gunned down March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters that there was “clearly a bloodstain” in the middle of the cloth.
The reliquary was a gift from the sisters of the Congregation of Missionary Carmelites of St Theresa who run the Divine Providence Hospital where the archbishop had lived and was killed.
The president’s visit came one month after Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator for the archbishop’s sainthood cause, said the process to beatify and eventually canonise the slain Salvadoran archbishop has been unblocked.
The Congregation for Saints’ Causes authorised the opening of his cause in 1993, but many people working for Archbishop Romero’s cause described the congregation’s standard review of the candidate’s writings as being “blocked” from 2000 to 2005.
Pope Benedict XVI told reporters in 2007 that the archbishop was “certainly a great witness of the faith” who “merits beatification, I do not doubt.” However, he said even though work on the sainthood cause was proceeding, problems had been created when some groups unjustly tried to co-opt Archbishop Romero as a political figure.
Father Lombardi told reporters after the president’s meeting with the Pope that Archbishop Romero’s “cause is going forward in the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, according to church rules” and that it is solely up to the congregation “to inform us” about the status of the process.
The next step in the process is a formal papal declaration that Archbishop Romero died a martyr, that he was killed because of his faith. A miracle is not needed for the beatification of a martyr.