In order to properly understand the miraculous significance of the canonisation of the Blessed Paul VI and the Blessed Bishop Romero, it helps to go back in time several decades. A young seminarian from El Salvador by the name of Oscar Arnulfo Romero came to Rome in 1937 to continue his theological studies in the Italian capital. He received his licentiate degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1943. He was also ordained to the priesthood in Rome. During his years in Rome, Romero met Giovanni Batista Montini, then a monsignor, who was one of his professors. One of Montini’s primary concerns was helping the poor. At the time, no one would have thought that 30 years later, Montini, then Pope Paul VI, would appoint Oscar Romero auxiliary bishop of San Salvador and in 1977 archbishop of the same diocese. And no one could have known that several decades later, they were destined to be united once more – and for nothing less than their inclusion in the canon of saints.
Pope Francis signed the decree for both canonisations in March. On 19 May, during the ordinary public consistory, the Holy Father will announce the exact place and the exact date when the historic event will take place.
“Teacher and student, a saint of the world and a saint of the word.” This is how the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of San Salvador, Cardinal Rosa Chávez, described his companion and friend, “the man who was a student of Paul VI”, in an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “This is very beautiful and significant,” the auxiliary bishop emphasised.
Cardinal Rosa Chávez admits that the process of canonising Bishop Romera has been a “turning point” for his country. “For a long time, people spoke badly of him. He was criticised even though he was not well known, even though his sermons had not been read, and even though no one was listening to what he had said. More people became aware of him after his beatification. The people began to understand the work he did, what he fought for. Now we are experiencing a spiritual earthquake.” In the interview, the cardinal explained to ACN that this has given El Salvador “great hope”, especially now, at a time when the country needs it most. “We are a very small country that has suffered a great deal. We have a long history of violence. We are a young democracy. It is a country of enormous social differences, outrageous poverty, widespread migration, broken families and many other problems. This is why the canonisation of the first saint from El Salvador fills us with great joy. It brings us the peace we are so in need of.”
Romero is the “Saint of the Poor”. Pope Francis has frequently urged us to “call for his intercession, follow his teachings and emulate his example” in order to gradually improve the instability that prevails all over the world.
Bishop Romero and Cardinal Rosa Chávez met at the “minor seminary” in El Salvador when the cardinal was still an adolescent. Years later he became Bishop Romero’s assistant. They worked together and a deep friendship gradually developed out of this. “Sometimes I pause for a moment and think to myself, ‘My God. My friend Romero should be canonised!’” The cardinal describes the Blessed Romero as “a shy and reserved, but very dedicated person. He suffered greatly when he saw that he was losing friends.”
The cardinal from El Salvador invites all to read the writings and sermons of Bishop Romero – an almost complete collection of them is kept at San Miguel Seminary in El Salvador. He feels “they are very good at communicating the things of God.” In addition, they offer insight into his personality and the topics that inspired him the most – such as the protection of the weakest and priestly formation. “This was very important to him, it was a matter near and dear to his heart.” Bishop Romero taught aspiring priests at the seminary. He often told them about how he had been called to the priesthood, which had been a moment of deep communion with God for him.
In keeping with the example set by Bishop Romero, the international Catholic pastoral charity ACN is currently reviewing several projects that support priestly formation in El Salvador. These include funding to build the large seminary “Bishop Oscar Romero” in the diocese of Santiago de María and the diocesan training centre “St. Romero of the Poor”.
ACN has also supported other projects that developed out of the harsh reality of life in El Salvador during the 1980s, such as the construction of a memorial chapel for the victims of the civil war and a documentary in memory of the martyrs of faith who were murdered during this period.