Yanira Chacon was at the Roman Catholic cathedral in the capital of El Salvador for the funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero 33 years ago when government soldiers opened fire and she had to run for her life. At least 30 people were killed by bullets or the stampede among some of the 250,000 mourners.
Today, the Uniondale resident is overjoyed that the Vatican -- led by the first pope from Latin America -- may finally beatify Romero. That is one of the two final steps to sainthood, which could come not long after.
Romero, a human rights proponent who spoke out for the poor and against repression by the Salvadoran military, was shot through the heart by a right-wing death squad as he lifted the Eucharist chalice during a Mass on March 24, 1980. He was 62.
"For many of us he is already a saint," Chacon, an outreach worker at St. Brigid's parish in Westbury, said in Spanish. "He is the Salvadoran most known on an international level for his fight for social justice."
Salvadorans on Long Island and across the United States are watching moves by the Vatican closely. Long Island is home to about 100,000 Salvadorans, one of the largest concentrations in the United States.
Many Salvadorans fled to the United States during the tiny Central American nation's 1980-1992 civil war, which left 75,000 people dead out of a population of about 5 million.
For years, initiatives to have Romero declared a saint were stalled in Rome, partly because of Vatican fears that doing so might seem like an endorsement of Liberation Theology, said John Thavis, a longtime Vatican analyst from the United States. Thavis spent 30 years in Rome as a journalist. Liberation Theology, popular in Latin America in the 1970s and '80s, asserts that Christ's teachings implore followers to fight for social and economic justice.
Pope Francis appears inclined to authorize the canonization of Romero, Thavis and others said. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis was not known as a strong proponent of Liberation Theology, but has spoken of the plight of the poor.
In May, Manuel Lopez, El Salvador's ambassador to the Holy See, said Francis told him in an audience after his election that "I hope that under this pontificate we can beatify him."
After El Salvador's president, Mauricio Funes, met with the pope on May 23 to push for Romero's elevation, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, indicated the pope was in favor of the slain archbishop's sainthood case.
Normally, for a person to be beatified the Vatican must certify that a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession occurred. That requirement is waived, however, in the case of someone killed as a martyr out of hatred for the faith. Certification of a miracle is still needed for the final step, canonization, or sainthood. That can come relatively quickly, or take years.
The miracles often are said to occur by someone praying to the saint candidate and then being healed of a serious disease. Many people, especially in Latin America, have attributed such miracles to Romero.
The Rev. William Brisotti, pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch, celebrated Mass several times in the early 1980s in the same cathedral where Romero gave his legendary homilies.
He said Romero "was a holy man" and "one of the most influential Catholic leaders in Latin America" in decades.Edith Salmeron, an office worker in Brisotti's parish office, said she knew Romero when he was still a parish priest in San Miguel in eastern El Salvador. She recalled him as a humble man.
"We never thought that one day he would become archbishop" of San Salvador, she said in Spanish. "Whether they canonize him or not, the life that he lived was one of a saint. He's a martyr, without doubt."