There was a lot of debate as to why it had taken the Catholic Church so long to do this, especially as he had been recognised by the Anglican Communiion. Some people blamed the previous two Popes, sugggesting that they ( without any evidence) considered his death to be political rather than religious. Certainly he was murdered by the death squads for speaking out against the Salvadorean Government on behalf of the poor and marginalised in his country. But Popes did support him. Benedict XVI told reporters in 2007 that the archbishop was “certainly a great witness of the faith” who “merits beatification" and Pope Francis saw him as a man of God. It was this present Pope who cleared the way for his beatification by declaring him a martyr. Normally the formal recognition of sainthood requires a miracle as proof of heroic virtue but the courage of someone who dies for what he belives, for witnessing to his faith, bypasses this requirement. Once Romero was acknowledged as a martyr the journey to canonisation was open.
Martyrdom is a feature of many religions and the willingness to die for one's faith recognised as the height of fidelity and commitment. The Sikh Khalsa is founded on this willingness. According to Sikh tradition Guru Gobind Singh ordered Sikhs to attend a fair, during which he appeared from a tent carrying a drawn sword and demanding the head of one of his loyal followers. He repeated the command until one of his followers volunteered. He was taken behind a screen, there was the sound of the swish of a sword, Gobind Singh then reappeared, his sword dripping blood, and demanded a second victim. He too was escorted behind the screen, and again the sound of the sword could be heard. In this manner five loyal Sikhs agreed to offer their lives. When Guru Gobind Singh had apparently dispatched the fifth, the screen was removed, and all five were seen to be very much alive. The five were then initiated into the khalsa through the amrit ceremonty, the same one perforomed for all Sikhs who wish to be baptised. This ceremony, initiated as it was following this demand for self - sacrifice shows the foundational attitude that Sikhs are meant to have. " No greater love ...........
The Baha'is too have their martyrs. Their founder Baha'ullah was exiled, imprisoned and taken before a firing squad for for refusing to compromise his beliefs, an event which will be remembered next week on 9th June. Buddhism has the idea of the Bodhisattva as one willing to lay down his or her life for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. To lay down one's life for one's friend is the highest ideal for Christians in their following of Jesus. And many people have done this but so too many people have lived their lives for their family and friends, And sometimes this has led to conflict and even to death - history is full of such examples. People like the sister in my own community, Dorothy Stang, who was shot down at gun point for defending the land rights of the poor in Latin America, just as Archbishop Romers died because of his solidarity with the poor and the marginalised.
But what about the suicide bombers that we hear so much about today? Are they martyrs? Certainly they are willing to lay down their lives for their beliefs in the attempt to impose these beliefs on others or eliminate those who are different from them. This has been described as an active martyrdom, compared to the more passive kind of martyrdom in a religion like Christianity. For the prophet dying in a battle to defend Islam was seen as martyrdom and the Qur'an tells us
"That you believe in Allah and His Messenger, and that you strive hard and fight in the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives, that will be better for you, if you but know! (If you do so) He will forgive you your sins, and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow, and pleasant dwelling in Gardens of Eternity, that is indeed the great success
( Surah 61:11-12 ).
For some today dying fighting those they see as the enemy of Islam is following this injunction but others would debate it and see it as terrorism and inimical to true Islam which is the way of peace and has its own conditions for a just war. But how does one convince these suicide martyrs that others are not the enemy but fellow human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, brothers and sisters with the same hopes and joys, sorrows and struggles as they have? There's no easy answer but an answer needs to be found for the sake of our future. We all have a part to play in finding it.