VATICAN CITY (Reuters): Pope Francis on Sunday made saints of two of the most contentious Roman Catholic figures of the 20th century — murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI, who reigned over one of the Church’s most turbulent eras and enshrined its opposition to contraception.
In a ceremony before tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, Francis declared the two men saints along with five other lesser-known people who were born in Italy, Germany and Spain in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Both Romero, who was shot by a right-wing death squad while saying Mass in 1980, and Paul, who guided the Church through the conclusion of the modernizing 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, were contested figures within and without the Church.
Both were naturally timid men who were thrust to the forefront of history by the convulsive political and social changes of the 20th century and both had a lasting influence on the current pontiff, Francis, Latin America’s first pope.
In his homily, read with tapestries of images of the seven new saints hanging from St. Peter’s Basilica behind him, Francis called Pope Paul “a prophet of an extroverted Church” who opened it up to the world. He praised Romero for disregarding his own life “to be close to the poor and to his people”.
Romero, who had often denounced repression and poverty in his homilies, was shot dead on March 24, 1980, in a hospital chapel in San Salvador, the capital of the impoverished Central American country of El Salvador.
Romero’s murder was one of the most shocking in the long conflict between a series of U.S.-backed governments and leftist rebels in which thousands were killed by right-wing and military death squads.
It was widely believed to have been ordered by Roberto D’Aubuisson, an army major and founder of the right-wing ARENA party. He died of cancer in 1992.
Romero consistently denounced violence by the Salvadoran military and paramilitary against civilians and urged the international community to stop the oppression.
In his final homily, minutes before he was shot in the heart, Romero spoke of spreading “the benefits of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom across the earth ….”