|St. Oscar Romero|
This past Sunday Pope Francis canonized 7 new saints. Two of them had a an effect on my life--St. Oscar Romero and Pope St. Paul VI.
I entered the seminary in September, 1962, two months after Paul VI was elected Pope. I had seen this man, Cardinal Montini of Milan, a few years earlier as a member of my parish band, St., William's in Dorchester. Cardinal Cushing of Boston had invited our band to greet him with our music. More importantly he was the Pope during my entire time in the seminary and in my early years as a priest.
Pope St. John XXIII had convened the Second Vatican Council a few years earlier but it was Paul VI
|Pope St. Paul VI|
the council. Keep in mind that he had the authority, upon the death of his predecessor, to end the council. He did not do that. He steered the Church through the completion of its documents and saw them get put into practice. That was no easy task as there was controversy over how to carry on in addition to the fact that the turmoil of the 60's was taking place all over the world. Both liberals and conservatives may have been dissatisfied with particular decisions that he made but in the end he carried out one of the principle tasks for any Pope--to maintain the unity of the Church. He did that. Yes, there were factions and arguments but no major breaks in Church unity. In fact he promoted a healthy ecumenism and made progress in our relationship with the Orthodox Churches.
Our other saint is St. Oscar Romero, a much different person than Pope Paul, but one who was influenced by him. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1970 and named archbishop in 1977 after having been bishop of Santiago de Maria for 3 years. During the late 70's and into the 80's I was serving in poor areas in the Bronx and in Buffalo, NY. I was becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the Church's social justice teachings. In addition to that I was meeting with some of our province's missionaries from Brazil and Bolivia who told stories of the struggle for justice in Latin America. I also heard for the first time the phrase, "fundamental option for the poor." I read the works of some of the liberation theologians who inspired that phrase. I also studied Pope Paul's encyclical Popolorum Progressio which outlined the Church's teaching on social justice. As Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero, who always had a love for the poor, struggled with the works of some of these theologians. Were they communist? Were they too political? The Vatican as well shared this struggle. As for myself I was inspired by all of it and felt the call to serve as a missionary in Bolivia.
Something happened that opened the eyes of our new saint. Beyond whatever certain theologians were writing in books Archbishop Romero's heart was moved by the extreme violence and the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in his own country. He began to speak out strongly against the Salvadoran government and on March 24, 1980 he was assassinated while celebrating Mass at the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador where he resided. I remember the day when that awful event was announced on the news in the friary where I was living in Buffalo, NY. One of the high points of my life came last December when I got to preside at Mass at the very altar where he was killed. This happened while I was traveling with a group from Unbound. (See Unbound.org) What struck me on that day was the realization of what a hero he was to the Salvadoran people who always considered him a saint.
The canonization of both of these holy men touched me because of the place they played in my own life. As I was preaching last Sunday the first reading was from the Book of Wisdom. It spoke of Wisdom as a special gift. As different as these two men were I believe what they had in common was the gift of Wisdom. In Pope Paul's case the wisdom to take the council documents and guide the Church through their implementation and in Romero's case the Wisdom to see clearly beyond the cloud of ideologies and to speak the truth to power. They killed his body but his spirit lives on, not only in El Salvador but to the four corners of the world.
An article that I read recently said that since 1900 the information accessible to humankind has doubled in each decade since. Folks, we do not lack for knowledge or information, or even for intelligence. In the world, the Church and our nation today WE LACK WISDOM, the ability to apply the knowledge properly.
St Oscar Romero, Pray for us. St. Paul VI, pray for us.
|Dec. 5, 2017. Mass At the altar where St. Oscar Romero was killed.|