VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican official spearheading the case to make slain Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador a saint said Tuesday the process is moving forward under Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, after years of delay under previous popes.
Separately Tuesday, an Italian religious affairs magazine reported that a panel of Vatican-appointed doctors had moved Pope John Paul II a step closer to possible sainthood by signing off on a second miracle attributed to his intercession.
Pope Francis has already shown that he is keen to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors by approving candidates for possible sainthood: In his first such decision March 28, Francis cleared dozens of martyrs from the Spanish civil war to be beatified, the key milestone toward being canonized.
Francis' election as the first Latin American pope has given hope to many that Romero would finally be declared a martyr for the faith and beatified.
"Pope Francisco always had great admiration and total conviction that Romero was a martyr, that he was a saint," said Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador.
"There is an overwhelming majority of bishops who are in favor of (Romero's) canonization and the Pope knows that this decision brings immense joy for the whole church," he added.
Romero was gunned down in 1980 while celebrating Mass after stridently defending El Salvador's poor and denouncing the government's violence. His killing was one of the triggers that set off a civil war that left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing over the next 12 years.
The Italian prelate spearheading Romero's case, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, said the process had been "unblocked," the ANSA news agency and Panorama news magazine reported.
Paglia, who heads the Vatican office for families and met with Francis on Saturday, was speaking on the sidelines of an event marking the anniversary of the death of another prelate who is also being considered for possible sainthood.
"Today ... the beatification cause of Monsignor Romero has been unblocked; tomorrow I can resume saying that these martyrs help us to live," Paglia was quoted as saying.
Romero's beatification cause languished under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI over the Vatican's opposition to liberation theology, the belief that Christ's teachings justify fights against social injustices.
Both John Paul and Benedict however spoke of Romero as a martyr; such a designation by the Vatican would mean he can be beatified without the Vatican confirming a miracle attributed to his intercession.
"This is the best gift they can give us Salvadorans," said Maria Teresa Sanchez, a 65-year-old street vendor in San Salvador. "Romero is a saint, and now the Pope is going to ratify that."
John Paul's case is different: The Polish born pope has been on the fast track for possible sainthood ever since he died in 2005. Soon thereafter Benedict waived the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the investigation into his life and virtues to begin. He was beatified in 2011 before a crowd of 1.5 million people.
Credere, a magazine published by a religious order, said a panel of doctors convened by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints had determined that someone had been inexplicably cured thanks to John Paul's intercession. No details of the cure were provided.
A panel of theologians must now ascertain that the cure was the result of John Paul's intercession. Cardinals, bishops and Francis himself must then confirm the decision. For months, there has been speculation that John Paul could be beatified this year. October marks the 35th anniversary of his election.
Associated Press writer Marcos Aleman in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this report.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield