With a Mass, processions, and fellowship, about 800 people, mostly immigrants, gathered at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington on Oct. 14 to celebrate the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero; a modern-day Salvadoran martyr who advocated for the poor and oppressed. He was one of seven saints canonized by Pope Francis just hours before the gathering.

“This is a great honor, he is a saint who comes from the poorest places where he accompanied those who suffered,” said Maria Quintero, from Hyattsville, Maryland.

The entrance procession for the Mass included people carrying flags to the altar representing about two dozen countries, mostly from Latin America, reflecting the diversity of the parish community and the world reach of St. Oscar Romero’s message.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Urbano Vázquez, a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart who presided the noon Mass in Spanish, reminded parishioners that “Monseñor Romero,” as he was popularly known in El Salvador, was “someone who left all earthly possessions to follow God and receive eternal life.”

He was also an evangelizer, as Pope Francis calls all Catholics to be, the priest noted. “He visited the sick, the suffering, those in the slums,” Father Vázquez said.

He went on to say that St. Oscar Romero faced death for speaking the truth of the Gospel and speaking up against injustices, particularly after the assassination of his friend, Father Rutilio Grande, who also defended the poor and greatly influenced him.

The violence and oppression of El Salvador’s civil war claimed the lives of about 70,000 people. St. Oscar Romero stirred controversy for his defense of the poor and vulnerable based on Catholic social teachings.

By speaking up against injustices he was able to convince and move hearts but also stir waters which cost him his life, but his death was not in vain, said the Salvadoran priest.

“The blood of martyrs are seeds for more Catholic Christians, that’s why the Catholic Church flourishes,” Father Vázquez said. 

The priest concluded his homily by urging them to continue following St. Oscar Romero’s example by advocating on behalf of those without an immigration status. 

Jean Johnson was one of about a dozen parishioners of Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown who walked in procession to Sacred Heart in solidarity with those in their sister parish, Maria Madre de los Pobres in El Salvador, which held a procession to the Cathedral in San Salvador to mark the historic date.

Although Johnson’s group were not Salvadorans, they have been touched by the ministry they share with their sister parish located in one of the poorest, most violent areas in El Salvador.

“The whole community there is 100 percent energized, transformed, empowered in the example of Monseñor Romero,” said Johnson. “When you see what they can do with the few resources that they have, you come back and say, why couldn’t we make Washington a more humane city with more affordable housing, and people living with more dignity, education and job training?”

The ambassador of El Salvador in Washington, Claudia Ivette Canjura de Centeno, led a small delegation present in support of the Salvadoran community in the area. 

Maria Martinez, a parishioner, knew St. Oscar Romero since he was a priest. He would go out and evangelize with her group, and also helped them establish a parish, she recalled.

“He was always with us, if we had to sit on the floor to eat, he would sit with us. He would say, ‘Why would I sit at a table and not you, we all have to eat together because we’re all equal,’” Martinez told the Catholic Standard.

The festivities included marimba and mariachi music, as well as dishes from Central America. Many also shared their experiences on how St. Oscar Romero influenced their lives before becoming a saint, and the young adults group performed a play about the first miracle attributed to him.

A group of parishioners from Sacred Heart were part of an estimated 10,000 Salvadoran pilgrims from around the world who traveled to Rome and witnessed the canonization; however, those unable to travel were able to see it in a big screen and with their parish community.

An estimated 400 people joined the celebration after the Mass, from the very young to the elders; and many non-Salvadorans who have been inspired by the life and legacy of Saint Romero, like Anahí Lopez, a young adult from Mexico, who has learned about the new saint at Sacred Heart.

“I’m really proud that now El Salvador has a saint that fought for the rights of the poor,” Lopez said.

“I hope that the new generations of priests follow his example because they are the ones who will be an example to our children,” said Edgar Carreto, an immigrant from Guatemala who also volunteers as a catechist.

St. Oscar Romero was fatally shot while celebrating Mass at a hospital chapel on March 24, 1980. Only three years earlier, in 1977, Saint Paul VI, who was one of the seven saints canonized, named him the archbishop of San Salvador. 

Alba Canales, a parishioner and Salvadoran immigrant who has lived in Washington for 26 years, shared in Spanish that although she never met “Monseñor Romero” in person, she loved hearing him speak because he was inspiring and spoke the truth without fear.

“He would inspire confidence to the parishioners, to the people, and he was an example of holiness,” Canales said. “He is a living example that people must defend the rights of others.”