In a Mass in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on Sunday 14th October, attended by some 60,000 people, Pope Francis canonised seven people. This means that they are now formally recognised as saints by the Church! If someone is recognised as a saint by the Church, it means they were good and faithful Christians who set an example for us all today, and they are now in heaven with God, watching over us. It’s important to realise they were not perfect, as none of us are, but they tried their best and never gave up faith in God.
Huge images of the new saints hung from St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. You can find out more about all the new saints here, but in this post we are just going to look at one of our new saints, perhaps the most famous: Saint Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Romero was born in 1917 in El Salvador, and was ordained a priest in 1942. He became the Archbishop of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, in 1977. In 1979, a group of military leaders overthrew the government of El Salvador, establishing a military dictatorship in the country. El Salvador then descended into a twelve-year civil war.
Romero spoke out against the failings and brutalities of the regime, being mainly concerned with poverty, social injustice, assassinations and the use of torture. This was also a time when Catholics in particular were persecuted in El Salvador, especially Priests and Nuns who were working with the poor. He would give speeches on the radio which huge swathes of the population would tune in for, talking about people who had been killed or imprisoned by the regime, and calling out the regime for its cruel actions.
On 23 March 1980, Romero delivered one of these radio sermons, in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights. The following day, while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel, Romero was shot dead by an assassin. His death sparked an international outcry, and his funeral was attended by hundreds of thousands of people- it was described as the biggest protest in the history of El Salvador.
What can we take from the life of Saint Oscar?
The Gospel reading heard during Mass on Sunday was from Mark, where Jesus was asked what must be done to have eternal life. Pope Francis described how the man asking was caught off guard by the answer he received, that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven! This answer was not one of “supply and demand” but rather “a story of love,” Francis said.
This echoed with much of the life of Saint Oscar. He could have chosen an easier path, to not ruffle the feathers of the military dictators which ruled his country. But he was faithful to the Gospel, and Jesus.
So, when we look at the example of Saint Oscar Romero, we should be inspired to be a voice for the voiceless in our society. Let’s not rely on material possessions to fill our hearts, but love for God and our neighbour- whoever they may be. The teachings of the Gospel can make us uncomfortable at times, they call us to step out of the comfort of our lives, to see Jesus in the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, and to let go of our material possessions. But, as Pope Benedict said, we were not made for comfort, we were made for greatness!
Saint Oscar Romero, pray for us!