Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Two recent developments bode well for the canonization cause of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero: one is the canonization on October 15, 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI of Bishop Rafael Guízar Valencia of Vera Cruz, Mexico, and the Holy Father’s appointment this week of Claudio Cardinal Hummes of Sao Paolo, Brazil as the new Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.

Although the two events constitute two very different acts -- one is an honor bestowed upon a dead prelate in order to present him as a model of Catholic values and virtues, and the other is a working appointment of a living cleric to fulfill ministerial duties -- we must start by fusing them and seeing what they tell us that is the same. First of all, they are both the actions of the same man, the Roman Pontiff who is pastor to the worldwide Church. In this respect, the appointment of Cardinal Hummes has been interpreted in some quarters as indicative of a magnanimous spirit at the Holy See. As the conservative Catholic news agency Catholic World News commented before the story was confirmed: “If the report is accurate, the selection of Cardinal Hummes, a Franciscan who was friendly to exponents of liberation theology in Latin America, would suggest that Pope Benedict is determined to fill the Roman Curia with prelates who will represent a wide variety of views.” Or to put it differently, being associated with Liberation Theology is not the kiss of death. (In a similar vein, arlier this year, we noted that one candidate whose sainthood cause had advanced, Fr. Antonio Rosmini, once had been the subject of a censorship by the Holy Office because his writings had been considered unorthodox.)

The second prism which helps us see two acts as one is the caritas (to use Pope Benedict’s language) that motivated both men. On his first day as Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Card. Hummes attacked the spread of global capitalism, saying the privatization of state companies and the lowering of tariffs had contributed to the "misery and poverty affecting millions around the world." And, on the eve of the papal election of 2005, he told the press that the next pope needs to be "especially at the service of the poor and most excluded." Bishop Guízar, who was canonized on Oct. 15, was known as the “Bishop of the Poor.” During the canonization Mass, Benedict praised the new saint because he rejected the allure of power and privilege and identified himself with the poor: “Imitating the poor Christ, he renounced his goods and never accepted the gifts of the powerful, or rather, he gave them back immediately.” During the military dictatorship of the 1970s, Hummes also identified with the poor in Sao Paolo, speaking out and letting anti-military activists use church facilities. In 1978, army helicopters buzzed a Sao Paulo stadium where Hummes was celebrating Mass, in an effort by the military to intimidate Hummes. Bishop Guizar, Benedict noted, also faced persecution and exile, but he was committed to “help the poor, even amid endless persecutions.”

Finally, the presence of Card. Hummes in Rome may be an eloquent reminder to the entire hierarchy of how Romero’s critics have misrepresented and mischaracterized profound commitment to the social doctrine of the Church as mere politics. Harsh critics have already began to rail against Card. Hummes, even before his taking office. Commentators on the conservative CWN news board have lamented that it is a “Very sad day” because of his appointment. Another poster decried that, “I couldn't think of anyone worse for the job.” Another: “akin to hiring the fox to guard the chicken coop.” By becoming a lightning rod for mean spirited accusations, Card. Hummes may prove to Rome that a man’s harshest critics are not the best source to define the man.

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