El Salvador’s Romero, Pope Paul VI made saints
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday praised two towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he made saints of Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Francis canonized two men at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before some 70,000 faithful, a handful of presidents and 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome to honor a man considered a hero to many Latin Americans.
Tens of thousands more Salvadorans stayed up all night at home to watch the Mass on giant TV screens outside the San Salvador cathedral where Romero’s remains are entombed.
In a sign of the strong influence that Paul and Romero had on the first Latin American pope, Francis wore the blood-stained rope belt that Romero wore when he was gunned down by right-wing death squads in 1980, and also used Paul’s staff, chalice and pallium vestment.
Paul, who was pope from 1963-1978, presided over the modernizing yet polarizing church reforms of the 1960s. He was the pope of Francis’ formative years as a young priest in Argentina and was instrumental in giving rise to the Latin American church’s “preferential option for the poor” that Francis has made his own.
Francis also has a close personal connection to Romero, and like him lived through the terror of rightwing military dictatorships when Francis was in Argentina. Francis was responsible for declaring Romero a martyr for his fearless denunciations of the military oppression at the start of El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war.
In his homily, Francis called Paul a “prophet of a church turned outwards” to care for the faraway poor. He said Romero gave up his security and life to “be close to the poor and his people.”
And he warned that those who don’t follow their example to leave behind everything, including their wealth, risk never truly finding God.
“Wealth is dangerous and — says Jesus — even makes one’s salvation difficult,” Francis said.
“The love of money is the root of all evils,” he said. “Where money is at the center, there is no room for God or for man.”
For many Salvadorans, it was the culmination of a fraught, politicized campaign to have the church formally honor a man who spoke out for the rights of landless peasants and the poor at a time when the U.S.backed right-wing government was seeking to quash a leftist rebellion.
“We couldn’t stay home on this historic day,” said Jose Martinez, who with his wife and two young children joined the crowds outside the San Salvador cathedral. “I want my children to know Monsignor, our saint, that he was a great man who raised his voice to defend his pueblo, and for that they killed him.”
Pope Francis on Sunday praised two figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he made saints of Pope Paul VI (right) and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.