As I mentioned a few days ago, on his plane ride home from Korea, Pope Francis had some fascinating things to say about a number of different subjects. Among them was the canonization cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero:
The process was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, blocked “for prudential reasons”, so they said. Now it is unblocked. It has been passed to the Congregation for Saints. And it is following the usual procedure for such processes. It depends on how the postulators move it forward. This is very important, to do it quickly. What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour. And this is a task for the theologians. They are studying it. Because after him [Romero] there is Rutilio Grande, and there are others too; there are others who were killed, but none as prominent as Romero. You have to make this distinction theologically. For me Romero is a man of God, but the process has to be followed, and the Lord too has to give his sign … If he wants to do it, he will do it. But right now the postulators have to move forward because there are no obstacles.
This is a fascinating subject, and few if any news sources picket up on it (it was lost in all the trumpeting over how the Pope supposedly “supports” liberation theology.” Yet it goes to the heart of the question the Church asks about a potential saint, or in this case, potential martyr. Here’s some elucidation, at least as I understand it:
The expression in odium fidei means “hatred of the faith,” and for a person to qualify as a martyr, it has to be shown that the person or persons who killed him hated the Christian faith, and killed him or her for that reason. But in some cases, while the Christian faith and love of the person who is killed might be perfect, the “hatred of the faith” might be lacking in the killers, or might not be the actual reason he was killed.For instance, Joan of Arc was killed unjustly by people who hated her, but bad as they might have been, they didn’t hate the Christian faith. They were all Catholics, after all. And they would have said they were upholding the faith by excommunicating her and killing her. Deceiving themselves no doubt, because they also had political motivations. . . quite a tangle. I believe that’s why Joan, while she was perfectly willing to die for all she believed, and while she is certainly a saint, and honored as one, has not been declared a martyr by the Church.
An even more interesting case is Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. His arrest by the Nazis was clearly motivated not only by his opposition, but by his religious opposition, to the regime. Yet his death was different because he volunteered to die.For those who don’t know, or don’t remember, Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz, where he certainly endured a lot of beatings because he was a priest, something which seemed to arouse a particular hatred in the Nazis. But one day after a prisoner had escaped, the Commandant declared that ten men had to die in retaliation. He was just pulling them out of the line at random, and one man who was chosen cried out “my wife and children!” Fr. Kolbe immediately volunteered to go in his place. It was all the same to the Commandant, who was in a hurry, so he put Kolbe in with the other condemned men. He was starved for ten days with the others, and eventually killed with an injection of carbolic acid. . .
This was a bit of a problem for Kolbe’s canonization, I think, because hatred for the faith didn’t directly cause his death. But John Paul II declared that he was “a martyr of charity,” because his death was for love of neighbor and such a perfect imitation of Christ’s sacrificial death.
Now with Romero, we have a similar question. The men who killed him, given that this was central America, were probably Catholic. They might have been devout Mass-goers. As members of a right-wing regime, they would have had a very different interpretation of that faith than Romero, just as the liberation theologians had a different interpretation than Romero’s. They would certainly have hated him for political or ideological reasons, but religious? Since I don’t think the killers were ever identified, it would be hard to come up with a complete or certain answer.
I think that Pope Francis is saying that there are two possibilities in considering martyrdom, whether it’s a) someone professing the Creed in spite of hatred for it (“Renounce Christ or die!”) or b) someone killed because their love of neighbor led to their death — as with Romero’s concern for protecting the people of his flock from violence. He consciously ran the risk, knowing his enemies would be coming after him, knowing what would happen, even as he spoke out more insistently. I wouldn’t be surprised if he too, was declared a martyr of charity.
Of course, these are just my own ideas. I could always simply call Pope Francis up and ask him. If I get one of his famous phone calls in reply, it would be worth it!