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St. Oscar Romero?

In the first few weeks of his papacy Pope Francis surprised the world with a series of bold choices. With these changes, hopes remain high that Francis’ papacy will be one of renewal, reform and refreshment.

The new pope might also consider the cause of Oscar Romero with renewed seriousness. In 1980 Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was gunned down by assassins as he celebrated Mass in a small convent at a hospital called Divine Providence. Romero had fought for those oppressed by the Salvadoran government, which was responsible for many civilian deaths, human rights abuses and a persecuted church. The day before his assassination, Romero preached a sermon in the cathedral calling for an end to the repression. Archbishop Romero was declared a servant of God in 1997, but his cause for canonization has moved slowly.

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A pope can dispense in the case of martyrdom from the requirement of two miracles for canonization, as Blessed John Paul II did for Maximilian Mary Kolbe, O.F.M.Conv. St. Maximilian offered his life for a condemned man at Auschwitz and was declared a martyr of charity, a new category of saint. Archbishop Romero is already considered a saint by the people of El Salvador. We hope that Pope Francis will consider him one as well, for the good of the universal church.

Join the Club

America’s Catholic Book Club has been in existence since 1928, when The Way It Was With Them, by Peadar O’Donnell, was chosen as the outstanding Catholic novel of the month. Other early selections include works by G. K. Chesterton, Jacques Maritain and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. “The fact is all too evident that even the best Catholic books have not received adequate notice and have not been read or bought except by the smallest fraction of a percent of the Catholic reading class,” the editors wrote in announcing the club. “Through the ministry of the Catholic Book Club, it is confidently expected that the Catholic author may be encouraged to devote his talents to subjects that are of Catholic interest and that he may likewise strive to endow his work with the living beauty which is essential to good literature.”

The Catholic Book Club still embraces a similar confidence in the Catholic faith and the riches of Catholic culture. This confidence is anchored in openness to the tremendous diversity within the Catholic tradition as well as a resolute respect for the complexity of the human person, culture and religion. Narrative, history, biography, theology, poetry, essay and argument—when these pursuits are honest and artful—serve to underscore the goodness of God and humanity.

The Catholic Book Club no longer distributes books by postal mail. But it still seeks to share works of history and literature and religious thought that serve to deepen our faith. Now our selections, offered by Kevin Spinale, S.J., are complemented with online conversations and author interviews. In April the book club will be reading The Pope’s Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI’s Campaign to Stop Hitler, by Peter Eisner, a new work of history featuring former America editor John LaFarge, S.J. (reviewed in this issue, p. 30). Join the continuing conversation at www.americamagazine.org/cbc.

No Smoking

Mike Sullivan, a sportswriter in Columbus, Ohio, had a popular following and a family that loved him, but his son John Jeremiah cannot remember his father’s life without a “ghostly neural whiff of tobacco smoke” registering in his nostrils (The Guardian, 3/1). To see his father clearly, the son pictures “yellowed skin on the middle and index fingers” or the way he “pursed his lips and tucked in his chin when exhaling through his nose, which he made a point of doing in company.” When he divorced at 49 and moved out, the smell of tobacco, sweat and Old Spice on him grew staler as he aged. His family had argued, “If you loved us, you’d want to live.” But he just faked quitting and became more secretive until he died at 55.

Last month marked the 10th anniversary of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s ban on smoking in public places. But young people are refilling the smokers’ ranks. Though selling tobacco to those under 18 is illegal, more than 80 percent of smokers start before they reach 18, and 99 percent start before age 26. The underaged get cigarettes from older friends or buy them on the black market. Today one-fourth of high school seniors smoke, and young adults (18-25) smoke more than any other age group. Many young smokers become adult smokers and die prematurely from cancer or cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile cigarette marketers tell young people that smoking will make them slim, glamorous, sophisticated, sexually attractive, popular, rebellious and cool.

After his father died, John Jeremiah read his private journals, which included reasons to quit. Number one: “It worries my children.” Toward the end he wrote, “If I should not wake up tomorrow, know that my love is timeless and fond.” But because of his addiction, he never had a chance to say it.

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