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Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero among Seven New Saints

 

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On October 14 Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980) and Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) will be elevated to sainthood by Pope Francis. In addition, for other religious figures and one layperson will also be canonized in the Vatican ceremony. These are Francesco Spinelli of Italy, diocesan priest and founder of the Sisters Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament;  Fr. Vincenzo Romano, a diocesan priest who worked with the poor of Naples, Italy; Mother Catherine Kasper, the German founder of the religious congregation, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ; Nazaria Ignacia de Santa Teresa de Jesús, the Spanish founder of the Congregation of the Missionary Crusaders of the Church; and Nunzio Sulprizio, a young Italian layperson, who worked to relieve the suffering of hospital patients and the poor.

Pope of Dialogue
Giovanni Batista Montini, archbishop of Milan, was elected pope in the conclave of June 1963. Succeeding Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Pope Paul VI presided over the final sessions of the council and approved a series of extraordinary documents that defined a new understanding of the church in the modern world. He steered the church through a period of significant internal change, working to bring together progressive and conservative positions in the church.

Paul VI wanted a church that was in dialogue with the modern world. He addressed the theme of dialogue in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam (His Church; 1964. In his social teaching, Paul VI challenged the dominant structures of the global economy to identify with the hopes and struggles of the poor. His encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples; 1967) was the first church document to deal with the problems of the Third World, particularly the gap between the rich and the poor. An often quoted line from the encyclical is “Development is the new name for peace.”

During his fifteen-year papacy, Paul VI traveled widely. In 1964 he went to the Holy Land and met with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, a first since the schism that divided Christianity 1,000 years earlier. A year later, Paul traveled to the United Nations, where he delivered the now-famous plea for peace as the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam escalated: “Never again war! Never again war!”

Martyr for Justice
When Oscar Romero became archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, little in his background suggested that he was one to challenge the status quo. Few could have predicted that within three years he would become a voice for the voiceless and champion for justice. Romero was archbishop during the bloody and tension-filled time leading up to El Salvador’s 1979-1992 civil war. His weekly sermons, broadcast by radio throughout the country, featured an inventory of the week’s violations of human rights. He spoke out against the violence and killing of countless people, including peasants, labor leaders, and priests, at the hands of death squads.

The archbishop was denounced by many of his fellow bishops, despised by the rich and powerful, and a subject of distrust in Rome. He called on the soldiers to obey God’s commandments and lay down their guns so as not to kill their own people. On March 24, 1980,   as he was saying Mass in the chapel of the Carmelite sisters’ cancer hospital where he lived, a single rifle shot was fired from the rear of the chapel. Romero was struck in the heart and died within minutes.

In 1997, Pope John Paul II bestowed upon Romero the title Servant of God, and a cause for beatification and canonization was opened. The cause stalled for decades owing to political and theological dissent in the Roman curia but was reopened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. Archbishop Romero was declared a martyr by Pope Francis on February 3, 2015, paving the way for his beatification and eventual sainthood.


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