Paul VI. and Archbishop Oscar Romero are saints of the Catholic Church since Sunday. Instead of remembering past heroes of the faith, the pope is looking forward to the future.
As late as the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero is, it comes at the right time for Mercedes Miranda. She made a special pilgrimage from Nicaragua to Rome for Sunday's ceremony at the Vatican, holding up her national flag in St. Peter's Square.
"Back when Romero was killed, all of Salvador suffered, people were murdered. Today, Nicaragua is like this."In the Salvadoran Romero, Miranda now finds an advocate for her own country. She calls the day of canonization "a joy for Latin America".
El Salvador celebrates
It was early morning in Romero's native El Salvador when the ceremony from the Vatican took place. In the square of San Salvador's cathedral, Catholic faithful had gathered in front of large screens. At the moment when Pope Francis declared Rome a saint, white balloons rose into the still dark Salvadoran sky – each for one of those murdered during the civil war.
Oscar Romero died on 24. March 1980, shot at the altar on the orders of the politically powerful. His assassination was a beacon in the emerging civil war between security forces, right-wing death squads and left-wing guerrilla groups. By 1992, around 75.000 people killed.
As vibrant as Romero's devotion is – the process for his beatification, which took place in 2015, was slow to get underway. Partly theological concerns are cited as a possible reason, especially the archbishop's proximity to "leftist" liberation theology. The current Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop in San Salvador, however, also points to a lack of interest on the part of the right-wing conservative governments in office until 2009 and their diplomatic representatives at the Holy See.
It was not until the reign of Pope Francis that the cause gained new momentum. Because Romero, according to Rosa Chavez, is the epitome of "the church as Francis envisions it: a poor church for the poor".
Connection in biographies
Nevertheless, the pope refrained on Sunday from praising Romero in high tones. Together with the Salvadoran archbishop, Francis also addressed Paul VI. and canonized Maria Katharina Kasper, the founder of the order from the Westerwald, as well as two Italian priests, a woman religious from Spain who works in Bolivia, and a 19-year-old from southern Italy. People who, on the face of it, have little to do with each other.
Francis found the unifying factor in their biographies in the "passion to risk something," without lukewarmness, without calculation. Of Romero, he emphasized that he "renounced worldly security, indeed his own security". Just as Romero was "close to the poor and his people," Francis believes Paul VI was too.: "Prophet of a church that goes forth" he praised him.
Francis touched on the opposition to the sexual ethics encyclical "Humanae vitae" (1968), saying his predecessor also experienced hardships and lack of understanding. In any case, the Pope sees his significance for the present in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), whose "wise helmsman," Paul VI. had been.
Church on the move
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, had in advance Paul VI. and Romero as martyrs each in their own way – one "bloodless," the other classic. One detail, unnoticed by tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square, made clear how closely Francis feels connected to both: at the service, he wore Romero's liturgical belt from his last Mass, still stained with blood, with a chasuble of Paul VI over it.
Francis also wished the daring of the new saints on today's church: it must let go of retarding baggage, wealth, "longing for status and power," say goodbye to structures that are "no longer appropriate" to the proclamation of the Gospel.
A church on the move, bold, ready for reform: There it was again, Francis' basic motif, amid the crises currently plaguing the Vatican. Latin American pilgrims at the canonization also wanted a politically engaged church: "A prophet can be killed, but not the voice of justice," read one poster.