Catholicism

On Sunday mornings, the church doors at Our Lady Queen of Angels are locked up tight. Cobwebs frame the rust red doorways. But just across this cul-de-sac, in the corner of a park in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood, the weekly Mass goes on.

"This is our church. We're surrounded by trees, by the birds, the sky and very good-natured people. So no one can drag us out of here," says Margarita Barada, 91, sitting on a bench across from the closed church. She and a half-dozen faithful now meet without a priest.

Nearly a century ago, immigrants from Germany and Ireland founded St. Helena Church in a working-class neighborhood in north Philadelphia.

Immigrants, and their children, still fill the pews at St. Helena's — but the vast majority of them are now from Vietnam, Latin America, the Philippines and Africa. Weekly masses are conducted in Spanish and Vietnamese as well as English. The senior priest, the Rev. Joseph Trinh, is himself a Vietnamese refugee. One of his associate priests is from Haiti, and another is from Ecuador.

35 years ago last weekend, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while serving mass in San Salvador. Last weekend he was officially recognized as blessed and a as a martyr to the Catholic faith in a ceremony that many interpret as the biggest obstacle to his becoming a saint.

Oscar Romero, the late Archbishop of San Salvador, will be beatified on Saturday. Beatification is the last stage before sainthood, and the ceremony marks an end to one of the most divisive debates in Catholicism in the past 35 years.

The church and El Salvador have been deeply divided over Romero, who identified with the poor and spoke out against El Salvador’s brutal right-wing military regime.

He was assassinated in 1980, shot in the heart while he was saying mass.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to fill the streets of the capital of El Salvador on Saturday to celebrate as one of Latin America's most revered and controversial religious figures is beatified — the last official step before sainthood.

They will gather to pay tribute to former Archbishop Oscar Romero, a beloved priest and staunch defender of the poor, who was murdered while celebrating Mass in 1980.

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