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Vatican Hopes Romero Beatification Can Reconcile Salvadorans

FILE - An undated file photo of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was gunned down while giving Mass in a San Salvador church on March 24, 1980.

Salvadorans should see the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered by a right-wing death squad in 1980, as an opportunity to seek reconciliation in their violence-plagued country, a Vatican official said on Wednesday.

Pope Francis on Tuesday ruled that Romero, who became an icon for progressives in the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America after he was killed, had died as a martyr and will be beatified - the last step before sainthood.

At least 75,000 people were killed in a 12-year civil war before it ended with a peace agreement in 1992 and El Salvador is still suffering high levels of violence.

"I think Romero can help unite sectors of society that are still in contrast with each other," Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the official who is the postulator, or chief promoter of the cause to make Romero a saint, told a news conference.

Monsignor Jesus Delgado, who was Romero's assistant when he was shot while saying Mass, said he hoped the beatification would inspire "all Salvadorans to overcome every political, social and economic division."

With criminal gangs running out of control, El Salvador has the world's third-highest murder rate, with 41.2 murders per 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.

According to one study, around 73,000 people have died in El Salvador since the end of the civil war - almost the same number as those killed during the fighting. The beatification ceremony is expected to take place in the next few months in the capital, San Salvador.

The pope has excluded the possibility that he would travel there to preside over it, saying it would be carried out by a Vatican official.