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El Salvador Arch Bishop Moves Closer To Sainthood


Crowds are gathered in San Salvador to be present for the beatification of the former archbishop, Oscar Romero. That crowd includes of officials from the Vatican, clergy from throughout Latin America and visitors from around the world. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now from that crowd in San Salvador.

Carrie, what are you seeing?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Well, I hope you can hear me. It's quite a party; it's quite a celebration here on a major street in San Salvador in front of the huge stage that they've set up for the beatification. We've been listening to priests and clergy from all over the world and musicians. The crowds are still coming in. And they're selling everything you could think of with Monsignor Romero's face on it. And it's quite a celebration. This country has waited 35 years for this day, and they seem to have come out in a lot of strength. And there's people from all over the world. I've met people from all over the U.S., from Canada, Ireland. And I met this woman, Theresa Young (ph), who's 26 years old. She works with youth - immigrant youth in - near Orlando, Fla. And she really had the sentiment of the crowd here. She said she's heard so much about the work of Romero and just really wanted to be here.

THERESA YOUNG: And just share this moment in history and what Monsignor Romero means for El Salvador and for Central America and for all of the Americas and for the world. It's just really amazing, his life and the work and how it continues to inspire the people to keep fighting.

SIMON: Carrie, for those who aren't familiar with Oscar Romero's story and image, what made him controversial at the time?

KAHN: Well, think back to when he was the archbishop of San Salvador here - was in the late 1970s. It was a time of great repression, and a terrible time in El Salvador moving up to the war here, the civil war. And he - as he was the archbishop and traveled around the country and saw the repression by the military and the right wing that was in power here at the time, he would discuss it, he would denounce the oppression. And his weekly homilies on Sundays, he would read a litany of atrocities that were perpetrated by the people in power here; and the church did not like that, and the people in power did not like that. And Monsignor Romero, in 1980, was assassinated by a member of a right-wing death squad, who killed him while he was saying mass. And that was 35 years ago, and it's been a long wait for people here in El Salvador to this day where he will be beatified.

SIMON: Carrie, help us understand El Salvador today. You have the - the former leftist rebels have been the government for the last seven years, but the country is beset by violence, gang warfare, organized crime, drugs.

KAHN: It is a very difficult situation in El Salvador. They are on a path to have the highest murder rate - one of the highest in the world. There are 30 homicides a day on average. And as you said, it stems from gang violence, drug trafficking, the corruption here in this country. And it's a very difficult situation, and many are hoping that this ceremony, this outpouring and this remembering of Monsignor Romero and his work and his words against oppression and the poor will be listened to, and maybe it will inspire some sort of change in the country right now.

SIMON: NPR's Carrie Kahn in San Salvador, thanks very much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.