This past weekend Pope Francis canonized two twentieth century Catholic figures: Saint Oscar Romero, former archbishop of San Salvador and Saint Paul VI, the 262nd successor of Saint Peter.
Saint Paul VI, born Giovanni Montini in Concesio, Italy in 1897 was to become one of the favorites of the present Pope, Francis. Paul VI was known as having presided over the final sessions of the historic Vatican II in the early part of the 1960s. Saint Paul VI had inherited the Council begun by his predecessor Pope John XXIII. The Second Vatican Council was a council like no other in that it “modernized” the Church and allowed “the Holy Spirit to flow through the Church.” The liturgy was now said in the vernacular language of every country in the world. Here in the United States Pope Paul had made his historic Apostolic Voyage to New York for one day. He met with Vice President Johnson at the Waldorf Astoria, visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the United Nations and offered outdoor Mass at Yankee Stadium. He was truly the first “traveling Pope” who would eventually visit five of the seven world continents. His historic and controversial encyclical “Humanae Vitae” was written to address the untethered mores of the 1960 sexual revolution.
Saint Oscar Romero is the first martyr-saint who was united unto death with the poor of El Salvador. As archbishop of San Salvador he was murdered while celebrating Mass in 1980. There is a beautiful scene in the movie about his life which shows his unwavering devotion to the Holy Eucharist. The military had Archbishop Romero in their sights for a long time, most especially because of his preaching against the civil war. While offering Mass for a large group of poor, the military arrived and ordered everyone out of the church. They opened fire upon the sanctuary and destroyed all of the art and statues, along with the tabernacle containing the Holy Eucharist. The movie shows the consecrated hosts flying onto the floor at which point Archbishop Romero reentered the church while under gunfire to kneel down and pick up every single host. Archbishop Romero knew that each of those hosts was the Lord Himself. Saint Oscar Romero lived the primary law of every priest: to protect the Blessed Sacrament. The Archbishop had protected the Sacrament with his very body. Please remember that image every time you receive the host: this is what Saint Oscar Romero died for.
At the canonization Mass this past week at the Vatican, Pope Francis used the chalice and staff once used by Saint Paul VI. Underneath his vestments, Francis wore the blood-stained vestment worn by Saint Oscar Romero at his martyrdom.