On Sunday 14th October Bl Oscar Romero and Bl Paul VI will be canonised in the Catholic Church. What this means is that whilst they are already considered blessed and thus subject to local veneration, they will now be venerated throughout the Church. Both of these saints were remarkable men in the 20th Century, and both showed heroic virtue in their own ways.
Pope Paul VI’s heroism is noted chiefly by his publication of Humanae Vitae which reiterated and re-affirmed the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception and human sexuality. Humanae Vitae was not well received in many quarters, and despite immense pressure, Pope Paul VI held out and defended the truth. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the encyclical and it is timely for us to reflect on it. The Iona Institute NI delivered a set of lectures earlier this year on Humanae Vitae and they can be found on our YouTube page here.
Oscar Romero exhibited his heroism in another, more traditional manner.
Romero was the archbishop of El Salvador and was critical of the violence and oppression of the time. He spoke out on behalf of the poor and sought to uphold the human rights of his flock. He was shot while celebrating Mass March 24, 1980 and he was beatified by Pope Francis May 23, 2015.
Bl Romero is often considered a socialist saint and a radical because of his advocacy for the poor at the time and his opposition to government forces of the right. This is an unfortunate designation as the Church does not work within the confines of left and right; rather the Church is focussed on the human person and the dignity of the person. Should that dignity be undermined by repressive capitalist regimes, the Church speaks out; should it be undermined by repressive socialist regimes, the Church likewise speaks out. Having the good of all human beings in her heart, the Church advocates for the rights and dignity of the individual and does not swing in favour of one group identity or the other. This at times will entail opposing the establishment at the time, as Pope Leo XIII writes in Quod Apostolici Muneris, the encyclical on socialism, n. 7: ‘…[I]f the will of legislators and princes shall have sanctioned or commanded anything repugnant to the divine or natural law, the dignity and duty of the Christian name, as well as the judgement of the Apostle, urge that “God is to be obeyed rather than man”’. This was Bl Romero’s heroism, having the will of God in his heart and the good of every human person as his motivation he expressed outrage at the treatment of the poor and downtrodden for which he died a martyr. He was a martyr of neither the left nor the right, but for the truth about the dignity of the human person which is at the heart of all Christian social engagement.
Both of these saints are a witness to us to stand firm in defence of the truth, and to resist pressures whether they be to our reputation to our life.
Dr Gaven Kerr