By Edgardo Ayala, Catholic News Service     2/14/2015

SAN SALVADOR (CNS) — Seated beside the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Daysi Iraheta shows enormous joy at the Vatican announcement of his beatification.

It’s a feeling shared across the small Central American country.

“I had faith that this day would finally come,” Iraheta, 77, told Catholic News Service, in the crypt of the Cathedral of San Salvador, where the archbishop is buried. “I did not want to die without living this great moment. I’m so excited.

“For me he was already a saint, and I even have an image of him carved in wood in my nightstand. But it’s nice that the Vatican has made it official,” she said, recalling how she met the archbishop in 1955 in San Miguel, where he was a parish priest. Friends managed to take a picture of the two during a confirmation ceremony.

While Archbishop Romero’s sainthood cause began in 1993 , it continued for years as church officials combed through thousands of documents related to his life. Salvadorans, meanwhile, patiently waited for news of progress. The effort began moving forward under Pope Benedict XVI. In May 2007 he said: “Archbishop Romero certainly was a great witness to the faith, a man of great Christian virtue.”

The process advanced rapidly with the arrival of Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2013. From the first moments of his papacy, he showed interest in declaring Archbishop Romero a saint.

Pope Francis signed the decree recognizing Archbishop Romero as a martyr Feb. 3 because he was killed “in hatred of the faith.” This meant there was no need to prove miracles for his beatification.

One day later, the postulator of the cause of canonization, Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, announced at a news conference that the beatification ceremony will be held later this year in El Salvador.

“Since I heard the news, many more people have come to the crypt, they come in waves, and It’s like a big celebration in his name,” said Horacio Gonzalez, 77, who, in his spare time, volunteers to explain to cathedral visitors the context in which the archbishop was killed.

He said he has volunteered since Romero cured his arthritis two years ago. “He made the miracle,” he added.

The tomb of the murdered archbishop also is a place of pilgrimage for world leaders who visit El Salvador. Pope John Paul II visited in 1983 and 1996; President Barack Obama visited in 2011.

Although the beatification date is unknown, the Catholic officials in El Salvador have proposed that the ceremony take place in El Salvador del Mundo Square, near the center of the capital.

“We received the news with joy and gratitude to God,” Monsignor Ricardo Urioste, president of the Romero Foundation, told CNS.

Monsignor Urioste, who was vicar general under the archbishop, said that with the recognition of his martyrdom, Pope Francis has undermined the attacks on the archbishop that accused him of being manipulated by the left.

“He was accused of doing politics, and even of being a guerrilla member, but the truth always triumphs and today the truth prevailed as the pope decided to name him a martyr,” he said.

Meanwhile, the news of the beatification was received with joy by residents of Ciudad Barrios, the town 100 miles northeast of San Salvador where Romero was born in 1917.

“Here, in the cradle of Monsignor Romero, we have lived the experience in an astonishing way,” Father Gabriel Argueta, the parish priest, told CNS.

He said there has been an outpouring of happiness in the village and a spirit of collaboration among the residents to begin preparations to receive pilgrims who will want to see the archbishop’s birthplace.

“Monsignor Romero is our shepherd and we give him proudly to the world,” Father Argueta said.