Next Sunday, October 14th, Pope Francis will canonize two men as saints; both were bishops. One became a pope; the other was martyred. Both men suffered hurt and insults from within the Church as well as from outside of it. Both lived in the 20th century. I met the first of these and had an opportunity to speak with him in his Vatican apartment in 1967. The other, I wish I had also met in this life, and I pray that I may meet him in the next.
Pope Paul VI was born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897, in the Lombardy region of Italy. He was ordained a priest at the unusually young age of 22. Later in his career, because of Vatican political intrigue at that time, he was exiled from his high-ranking position in Rome and sent off to become Archbishop of Milan. When Pope St. John XXIII was elected, among the first things as the new pope he did was to make Montini a cardinal. Montini continued as archbishop before his election as Pope in 1963, succeeding that same Pope St. John XXIII. He died in 1978.
While Pope, he oversaw much of the Second Vatican Council, which had been opened by Pope St. John XXIII. He also promulgated a new Roman Missal in 1969. Perhaps best remembered for his prophetic but controversial 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which upheld the Church’s teaching against contraception, he also affirmed the merits of priestly celibacy. His cause for canonization was opened in 1993. In December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the “heroic virtue” of Paul VI, giving him the title “venerable.” He was beatified in Rome on Oct. 19, 2014.
The first miracle attributed to his cause is the healing of an unborn child in the fifth month of pregnancy. The mother, originally from Verona, Italy, had an illness that risked her own life and the life of her unborn child. She was advised to have an abortion. A few short days after the beatification of Paul VI, she went to pray to him at the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace in the city of Brescia. The baby girl was later born in good health and remains in good health today.
This second required miracle closely resembles the one that opened the way for beatification. That miracle took place in the 1990s in California, when an unborn child was found to have a serious health problem that posed a high risk of brain damage. Physicians advised that the child be aborted, but the mother entrusted the outcome of her pregnancy to the intercession of Pope Paul VI. The child was born without problems and is now a healthy adolescent and is considered to be completely healed.
The other man to be canonized this Sunday is Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador. Romero was born in 1917, in El Salvador. One of eight children, by age 13 he entered the minor seminary. Later, he enrolled in the national seminary in San Salvador. Completing priestly studies in Rome in 1941, he had to wait a year to be ordained because he was younger than the required age. Remaining in Italy to work on a doctorate in Theology In 1943, he was summoned home by his bishop to serve as a parish priest. In 1966, he was chosen as Secretary of the Bishops Conference for El Salvador and became the director of the archdiocesan newspaper, which became fairly conservative while he was editor, defending the traditional Magisterium of the Catholic Church teachings.
In 1970, he was appointed an auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, and in 1974, was appointed the Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de Maria, a poor, rural region. In February 1977, Romero then returned to San Salvador to serve as the new archbishop. While his appointment was welcomed by the conservative government, many priests were disappointed, especially those liberal priests openly supportive of a Marxist ideology. Those priests feared that his conservative reputation would negatively affect their radical commitment to the poor.
Deeply affected by the murder of his friend, Father Rutilio Grande, just weeks after his own appointment as archbishop, he gradually developed into an outspoken social activist and began to denounce human rights violations of the most vulnerable people and defended the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposing all forms of violence. On March 23, 1980, Romero delivered a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights. The next day, while offering evening Mass in the Sisters’ chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence, he was assassinated by right-wing militants.
When asked: ‘Do you agree with Liberation Theology?’ He answered: “There are two theologies of liberation: one is that which sees liberation only as material liberation; the other is that of Paul VI. I am with Paul VI.” He also expressed disapproval for divisiveness in the Church, saying, “There is only one Church, the Church that Christ preached, the Church to which we should give our whole hearts. There is only one Church, a Church that adores the living God and knows how to give relative value to the goods of this earth.” Romero faithfully adhered to Church teachings on a preferential option for the poor, desiring a social revolution based on interior reform.
More than 250,000 mourners from all over the world attended his Funeral Mass, overflowing into the streets. During the ceremony, smoke bombs exploded near the cathedral and rifle shots came from surrounding buildings, including the National Palace. More than 30 were killed by gunfire in a stampede of people running in panic. Throughout it all, Romero’s body was buried in a crypt beneath the sanctuary. After the burial, people continued to line up to pay homage to their martyred archbishop.
In 2014, El Salvador’s main international airport was named after him, becoming Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport.