“The Pentecost event is marvelous,” Archbishop Óscar A. Romero exclaimed in his last celebration of Pentecost. “That miracle is being accomplished today because what I am saying here in the Cathedral in San Salvador, these words that I am proclaiming with my poor Spanish are being proclaimed in North America in English by the preachers who are celebrating the Eucharist there.” Romero reviewed several other places and languages, “French, in Canada and France”; “in the dialects of our indigenous people by the missionaries who go into the jungles of Colombia and Guatemala”; “in Italian and the many African dialects.”
The “miracle” will be repeated in a special way this Pentecost, when hundreds of thousands of faithful will gather in two separate ceremonies, thousands of miles apart, to celebrate two beatification ceremonies in two different continents:
· On Saturday March 23 Archbishop Romero will be beatified on the Vigil of Pentecost in El Salvador, in Central America ,while;
· The same day in Kenya, Africa, Sister Irene Stefani (1891 – 1930) a missionary nun who devoted herself to serving the people as a nurse will be beatified.
It is not entirely unprecedented for two beatifications to occur the same day in different parts of the world, but it is rare. The last time it happened was in 2012 when the Blessed Pierre-Adrien Toulorge was raised to the altars by Cardinal Angelo Amato in France, while the Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo was beatified in Rome by Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi the same April 29th.
The story of how Archbishop Romero and Sister Irene reached the altar together is a providential coincidence. The cause of Sister Irene began in March 1984 with the opening of the diocesan process that year and ended thirty years later with the approval of a miracle in June last year. The cause of Archbishop Romero began in March 1993 when the diocesan phase opened and ended with a martyrdom decree this past February, twenty-one years later. In the case of Sister Irene, it will be 85 years since her death until her beatification; and in the case of Archbishop Romero it will be 35. This is to be expected, given that he is a martyr and thus receives an expedited process, while she is a confessor.
If Archbishop Romero has been favored by swiftness in his process, his disadvantage is that the preparation of his ceremony was more rushed. In the case of Sister Irene, the Vatican announced that her beatification would be on May 23 in September of last year—with eight months lead time. In fact, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was originally designated to lead the beatification of Sister Irene in Kenya. When it was announced that the beatification of Archbishop Romero would be the same day, the announcement left only two months to prepare the ceremony for Romero, and forced the beatification of Sister Irene to be celebrated by Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Tanzania.
Romero is a martyr of the Gospel among the poor, while Sister Irene gave her life in another way; while working as a nurse, she was infected with the illness of one of her patients and died from it. There are also similarities between the two ceremonies. Kenyan authorities have predicted that about 300 thousand faithful will participate in the beatification of Sister Irene, while Salvadoran officials say that 260 thousand will take part in the Romero beatification. In Kenya, only 33% of the population is Catholic, but given the vastness of the country that amounts to about 7 million faithful. That’s more than the total population of El Salvador, 6 million, half of which is Catholic. As already mentioned, the beatification of Sister Irene also had more time to be organized, although the site is remote, and the state of the roads has been a challenge for the organizers.
Finally, it goes without saying that the two nations, both El Salvador and Kenya, will put many needs at the feet of their new blesseds. El Salvador suffers from high levels of violence because of criminal gangs that have put homicide rates at levels equivalent to those of the armed conflict during the times of Archbishop Romero. Kenya has had even more dramatic problems, such as the recent Islamist attack on Christian university students that left 150 dead and 80 wounded, which led to Bishop Anthony Muheria’s warning to “stop playing around” on the issue of the persecution of Christians.
Archbishop Romero and Sister Irene, intercede for your beloved peoples!