ROME – Pope Francis has chosen the date for the ceremony that will see the Catholic Church officially recognize the sainthood of Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who was martyred as he was celebrating Mass: They will be canonized on Oct. 14, 2018.
The highly anticipated announcement was made on Saturday, during an ordinary public consistory, meaning a meeting of the pope, cardinals and the promoters of sainthood causes.
The October ceremony, to be celebrated by Francis, will be in Rome, during the Synod of Bishops on the youth that will take place from October 3 to 28, 2018.
The sainthood causes of four other people — two Italian priests and two women founders of religious orders, one German and one Spanish, were also approved on Saturday.
Pope Paul VI, a pope of dialogue
Born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini Sept. 26 September 1897, Pope Paul VI led the Catholic Church from 1963 until his death on August 6, 1978.
Succeeding John XXIII, Paul VI continued the Second Vatican Council — which he closed in 1965 — implementing its numerous reforms.
He wanted a Church that was in dialogue with the modern world. He treated the theme of dialogue at great length in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, released on Aug. 6, 1964, exactly 14 years before his death. In it, he wrote he felt a “vocation” to dialogue between the Church and the world.
Faced with the issue of whether to change the Church’s longstanding opposition to artificial birth control, Paul VI penned his landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, delivering a strong “no” to change and reaffirming the Church’s teaching on contraception. Even though his papacy lasted for another 10 years, this would be his last encyclical.
Once described by Pope Benedict XVI as “superhuman,” Paul VI governed the Church in the turbulent post-conciliar phase. In the words of Francis, he was a man who “knew how to witness, in difficult years, to the faith in Jesus Christ.”
The future saint was also a consummate Vatican insider, having worked in the Secretariat of State from 1922 to 1945, and he was one of the closest aides and advisors to Pope Pius XII.
Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly about his predecessor, and earlier this year he confirmed that Paul VI would be made a saint before 2018 was over.
Even though Humanae Vitae has garnered much of the discussion over the legacy of his predecessor, for Francis there’s another document that is “the greatest pastoral document written to date” — Paul VI’s 1975 exhortation on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Proclaiming the Gospel).
In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI wrote that the Church itself “has a constant need of being evangelized,” and that people today listen “more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
“The world calls for, and expects from us, simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile,” Paul wrote.
Paul will become the third pope that Francis has made a saint since his election five years ago. The others are John XXIII, who died in 1963, and John Paul II, who died in 2005. Both were canonized together in 2014.
Romero, El Salvador’s first saint
Oscar Romero, who will become the first Salvadoran saint, was born on August 15, 1917. He was gunned down during Mass in a hospital chapel March 24, 1980, a day after telling an army made up largely of peasants that they were killing their own people.
“No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God,” he said.
He was shot through the heart by gunmen linked to a right-wing death squad while celebrating Mass, after saying, “one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those who fend off danger will lose their lives.”
Romero was outspoken against military oppression during his country’s bloody civil war in the 1980s, and also of the role the United States played in it.
In a letter he sent to U.S. president Jimmy Carter in February of 1980, he urged America not to send military aid to El Salvador: “You say that you are Christian. If you are really Christian, please stop sending military aid to the military here, because they use it only to kill my people.”
His death is considered by the Catholic Church to have been in “odium fidei,” meaning in hatred of the faith.
Romero was beatified in San Salvador on May 23, 2015, in a ceremony that drew an estimated 250,000 people, believed to have been the largest religious gathering ever held in Central America.
When the recognition of martyrdom for Romero was announced in Rome in 2015, Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the Vatican official who has championed Romero’s cause for canonization, said that sainthood for the El Salvadoran prelate wouldn’t have been possible without emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who, he said, gave the green light to restart the process in December 2012.
Prior to that, Romero’s cause had been blocked for the better part of three decades, in part because some observers felt he was killed less for religious reasons than for his politics.
Benedict XVI was an “extraordinary interlocutor” for the cause, even as a cardinal, Paglia said, insisting on the fact that “robust objections require a robust response.”
The Salvadoran prelate is conventionally seen as a champion of Liberation Theology, which was partially condemned by the Vatican in the 1980s for its tendency to mix Marxist social analysis and concepts such as “class struggle” with religious commitments.
Yet Peruvian Theologian Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, widely considered the founding father of Liberation Theology, has repeatedly said that Romero didn’t belong to the movement.
Speaking to Crux in San Salvador ahead of Romero’s beatification back in 2015, he said the martyr didn’t adhere to any particular theological path, to one school or the other.
Romero was not “cloistered or encapsulated in only one current,” Gutiérrez said.
If anything, Gutiérrez said, Romero was a traditional person, “but in the good sense: Not exactly conservative, but a very pious person.”
Among the lesser-known facts of Romero was his close relationship with the personal prelature Opus Dei, though for decades they remained quiet about the connection.
For almost 15 years Romero had a spiritual director/confessor from Opus Dei – first Father Juan Aznar and later Father Fernando Saenz, who would replace Romero as Archbishop of San Salvador after his death.
Romero went to the beach with a group of Opus Dei friends on the morning of the day he was killed; and in 1975, after the death of its founder, Josemaría Escrivá, Romero sent a letter to Paul VI asking the pope to jumpstart his canonization process.
His funeral took place at the cathedral six days after he was murdered. An estimated 200,000 people attended the service, which was interrupted by gunfire that left between 30 to 50 people dead. His murderers remain unpunished.
According to Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, during the 2007 assembly of the conference of Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, a priest asked then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, today Pope Francis, what he thought about Romero.
Bergoglio reportedly said that “to me [Romero] is a saint and a martyr … If I were pope, I would have already canonized him.”
He will do so October 14.