Pope Francis will declare Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero saints of the universal church in a ceremony in the Vatican on Oct. 14 during the synod for bishops on young people, he announced today at a public consistory at the Vatican.
They will be canonized along with four other blessed: two Italian diocesan priests, Francesco Spinelli and Vincenzo Romano, and a German and Spanish nun, Maria Caterina Kasper and Nazaria Ignazia di Santa Teresa di Gesu, both of whom founded institutes for women religious.
The news that Paul VI and Oscar Romero will be declared saints together is highly significant because they were close to each other in life, and both are much revered by Pope Francis.
It is also fitting that they will both be canonized during the synod of bishops on young people. Paul VI guided and brought the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) to a conclusion and subsequently established the Synod of Bishops at its request. Archbishop Romero, for his part, is an inspiring example not only for bishops but also for young people of how to live the teachings of that council with courage through commitment to justice, peace and to the poor, even to the point of martyrdom.
It is appropriate, moreover, that they will be declared saints on the same day because as pope from 1963 to 1978, Paul VI was particularly attentive to Latin America. After issuing his landmark encyclical “Populorum Progressio” in March 1967, he traveled to Colombia to participate in the watershed plenary meeting of CELAM, the Conference of Latin American Bishops Conferences, which was held in Medellin, Colombia, in Aug-Sept 1968 to implement the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. That assembly affirmed the preferential option for the poor as an integral part of the church’s evangelizing mission on this continent where almost half of the world’s Catholics live.
Archbishop Romero’s ministry was inspired by the teachings of Vatican II, Paul VI and the conclusions of the CELAM assembly in Medellin, which led him to strongly denounce the violence, torture and poverty in his homeland. He appealed to Salvadoran soldiers not to shoot their fellow citizens, their brothers.
“Archbishop Romero is a martyr of the church of the Second Vatican Council”; in killing him, “they wanted to hit the church that flowed from the Second Vatican Council,” Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of his cause for beatification declared at a Vatican press briefing on Feb. 4, on the eve of his beatification.
He added that “his death—as is clearly shown from a careful examination of the documentation—was caused not from simple political motives, but from a hatred of the faith kneaded with the charity that would not remain silent in the face of the injustices that implacably and cruelly struck down the poor and their defenders.” Indeed, “his death at the altar” on March 24, 1980, “had a symbolism that sounded like a terrible warning to anyone who wished to follow on that path,” Archbishop Paglia stated.
Paul VI supported Romero, so much so that the archbishop recalled with emotion that during their last encounter in the Vatican “he held my right hand for a long time.” The pope then told Romero that he understood “the difficult work” that he was engaged in, “which could be misunderstood” and said it required patience and courage.
Archbishop Romero’s work was not only misunderstood in El Salvador, but also in the Vatican where the opposition to the cause of his canonization, which opened in 1997, encountered numerous obstacles, including from some Latin American prelates including the two Colombian cardinals Dario Castrillon Hoyos (whose funeral takes place today) and Alfonso Lopez Trujillo (who died in 2008), as well as others, mainly from Europe, in the Roman Curia. The process was blocked until Francis became pope and, breaking new ground in the process for the causes of the saints, recognized him as a martyr who died for his work in defense of human rights, justice and peace.
Francis opened the path for the canonization of the martyred archbishop and the Italian pope on March 6, when he authorized the promulgation of the decrees that recognize miracles attributed to both servants of God, after the commission of cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for Saints voted unanimously in favor of the recognition of those miracles. The miracle attributed to the intercession of Paul VI related to the positive conclusion of a high-risk pregnancy with the birth of a healthy baby, while the one attributed to Archbishop Romero regarded the cure of a woman in danger of death after giving birth.
Pope Francis beatified Paul VI at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 19, 2014 while Cardinal Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided over the beatification ceremony for Archbishop Romero in San Salvador in May 2015.
It is surely significant that Archbishop Romero’s beatification first, and now his canonization, comes when for the first time in history there is a Latin American pope on the See of Peter who wants “a poor church, for the poor.” Moreover, it is fitting that Pope Francis should canonize these two great church leaders since he sees his own ministry as being in continuity with both bishops whom he will soon declare saints of the universal church.