It’s official: since last Sunday, October 14, 2018, we can now say “Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Bishop and Martyr”. So it was decreed by Pope Francis, ordering that his name be added to the book of saints in order to receive dignified reverence throughout the whole Church.
Francis structured his catechesis for the canonization by dedicating the main thrust of his homily in Italian during the Mass for Canonizations to Paul VI, and returning to Archbishop Romero more in depth the following day, speaking in Spanish during an audience granted to the Salvadoran pilgrims in Rome for the canonization.
During the ceremony on Sunday, the Pope placed Romero in the context of a “radical” Jesus and a “prophetic” Paul VI: Francis said that “Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart.” He added that, “Jesus is not content with a percentage of love: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.” Speaking of Paul VI, Francis said that he had been “a prophet of a Church turned outwards, looking to those far away and taking care of the poor.”
He added: “It is wonderful that together with him ... there is Archbishop Romero, who left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters.”
If during the canonization the Pope spoke of Romero’s heart, the next day the emphasis was on Romero’s mind and his Thinking with the Church. After hearing an exhortation from current San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas to open the process for Romero to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church, Francis referred to Romero as “an outstanding pastor of the American continent.”
The Supreme Pontiff stated that “St. Oscar Romero knew how to incarnate with perfection the image of the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep” and, addressing the bishops, said that they “can find in him an example and a stimulus in the ministry entrusted to them.” Then, speaking to the clergy and religious, he urged them: “make yourselves worthy of his teachings.” He entrusted the lay pilgrims to the “message of St. Oscar Romero” and, referring to the inhabitants of El Salvador, Francis said in improvised words, veering off his text, that “the people loved St. Oscar Romero” because “the people of God know the smell of holiness.”
Returning to the canonization, it was attended by Queen Sofia of Spain, the presidents of Italy, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, and the Vice President of Taiwan, among others. Religious leaders included hundreds of bishops, archbishops and cardinals, and also leaders of other religions. The Anglican Church was represented by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, while the current archbishop, Justin Welby, issued a statement.
“Blessed Oscar Romero,” Welby said in his message written before Romero was canonized, “is a true example for all Christians, and particularly to our fellow bishops.” The prelate concluded, “Blessed Oscar is held in great esteem in the Church of England,” explaining that he is included in the liturgical calendar and among the statues of martyrs of the twentieth century in Westminster Abbey.
The presence of Salvadorans was felt in St. Peter’s Square during the ceremony and the audiences with the Pope, as well as throughout the city where the visitors were omnipresent at Rome’s great tourist attractions. Many of them had to make significant financial sacrifices to be there. Meanwhile, in San Salvador, thousands of people crowded Plaza Barrios in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral, to follow the ceremony live at two in the morning, local time, through giant screens.
By design, a canonization in Rome delivers shock and awe, and so it was for Romero’s followers, especially Salvadorans who had never witnessed anything like it. The magnitude of the ceremony before 70,000 spectators, the image of Romero in the “glory of Bernini” (the colonnade of St. Peter’s), along with the other new universal saints, the angelic singing of the Vatican choir, the Gospel read in Greek and In Latin; all this tends to have an overwhelming effect, an attack on the senses that dispels doubts and conquers minds.
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Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, pray for us!