Today in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Pope Francis will solemnly declare two luminaries of the 20th century, saints of the Catholic Church. A great deal of focus in the media has been rightfully given to Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was martyred for upholding the dignity of the poor and disenfranchised in his native country, El Salvador. Gunned down while celebrating Mass, by military operatives in the corrupt government, sadly supported by the United States, his canonization has been a long and sometime torturous process. Falsely accused of Marxist leanings by certain Bishops in the Church, a shameful ‘hold’ was placed on the process for his canonization. It was Pope Francis who ‘unblocked’ the process as it swiftly moved forward with his beatification and now, his canonization. However, in the minds of the poor in El Salvador and all who came to know St. Romero’s passion to bring the light of the justice of God into the darkness of his time and place, he was already a saint in the hearts of God’s people.
Together with St. Romero and almost overshadowed this day, is Pope St. Paul VI who is also being canonized. While Pope St. John XXIII has been rightly called ‘the Pope of the Council’ for his inspiration in convoking the Second Vatican Council, it was to Pope Paul VI that the challenging task of implementing the vision and decrees of the Council fell.
I have a special devotion to Pope St. Paul VI since he was the first pope that I had the good fortune to meet personally, shortly after my ordination to the priesthood in May of 1974. It was an incredibly thrilling experience. I had tickets for the General Audience in the modern Nervi Hall. To my great surprise, I was seated in the first row, center. After the audience, one of the Vatican security personnel came to me and brought me to the end of the aisle! As the Holy Father was coming down the stairs, his aide, a young Msgr. Justin Rigali from Los Angeles, whispered to the Holy Father that there was a ‘newly ordained priest from his home archdiocese of Los Angeles’ in the front row. Paul VI came directly to me and greeted me with great afffection, asking for my priestly blessing! It was a memorable moment that has stayed with me for my entire 44 years as a priest. The attached photo captures that moment!
Sts. Paul VI and Oscar Romero, pray for us!