Pope’s canonizations today personal, political
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis today will canonize two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful.
The ceremony is likely to be emotional for Francis, since he was greatly influenced by both men and privately told confidantes he wanted them made saints during his papacy. The two represent the epitome of the outward-looking church that Francis has championed, one that is close to the poor and fights injustice.
Paul VI and Romero also endured strong opposition from within the church in life and after death — a fate Francis is experiencing now amid the church’s burgeoning sex abuse and cover-up scandal.
These two towering figures will be canonized along with five others in a ceremony designed to show that holiness can be attained in all walks of life.
When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio delivered the 2013 stump speech to cardinals that got him elected Pope Francis, he made only one citation in the text: Pope Paul VI.
Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspaper L’osservatore Romano, said Bergoglio matured as a priest, a Jesuit and a Christian while Paul VI was pope from 1963 to 1978.
“It’s understood that Paul VI is his pope,” Vian said.
Paul is perhaps best known for having presided over the final sessions of Vatican II, the tumultuous 196265 church meetings that modernized the Catholic Church and opened it up to the world, allowing liturgy to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than in Latin and calling for greater roles for the laity and improved relations with people of other faiths.
Francis also longed to declare Romero a saint, convinced that he was a true martyr who willingly gave up his life to stand with El Salvador’s poor and denounce the violence of the military dictatorship.
Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, was gunned down by right-wing death squads as he celebrated Mass on March 24, 1980, in a hospital chapel. The military had vehemently opposed his preaching against the army’s repression at the start of the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.
Almost immediately after his death, Romero became an icon of the South American left, with his image frequently appearing alongside the likes of Che Guevara and Salvadore Allende.
The tapestries of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, left, and Pope Paul VI hang from a balcony of the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Friday.