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Pope decrees Salvadoran archbishop Romero died as a martyr

Pope Francis has ruled that the Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero was killed out of hatred for his faith. By approving a martyrdom declaration, he paved the way for Romero's beatification.

Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was killed by right-wing death squads in 1980 while celebrating Mass. He was an outspoken critic of the military regime in El Salvador at the beginning of the country's civil war between the right-wing government and leftist rebels that lasted from 1980 to 1992.

Pope Francis approved the decree on Tuesday. Unlike regular candidates for beatification, martyrs can reach the first step to possible sainthood without a miracle being attributed to them. However, a miracle is needed for canonization.

The Catholic Church traditionally restricted the martyr designation to people who were killed out of hatred for Catholicism. Romero's case lagged for many years because the Vatican debated the question whether he was killed for his faith or for his politics in support of the poor. Some members of the Catholic Church were also concerned that he had Marxist ideas.

The decree signed by the first Latin American pope makes clear that the archbishop was a martyr in the classical sense, having died for his faith. No date for beatification has been set yet.

People from all over the world visit Romero's tomb in the metropolitan cathedral of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. In March 2011, US President Barack Obama paid tribute to the archbishop's tomb.

das/rc (AP / EPD)