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Left to right, Blessed Paul VI and Blessed Oscar Romero
Left to right, Blessed Paul VI and Blessed Oscar Romero
Photo Credit: CNS photos/files/Octavio Duran

Editorial | Witnesses to Christian discipleship

Blesseds Romero, Paul VI’s courage sets example for us

In “Witness to Freedom,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops summarizes the life of Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador:

“Before becoming archbishop, Monsignor Romero was not aware that the government was responsible for the deaths of many civilians. Because of his quiet nature, some thought that he would be good for the position, assuming he would not meddle in controversial affairs. However, shortly after his installation, his close friend, Father Rutilio Grande, a priest who openly opposed the unjust practices of wealthy landowners, was assassinated by gunmen while traveling with two people to celebrate Mass. This experience awakened Archbishop Romero to the reality of the corruption in his country and prompted him to take a stand for his people’s freedom.”

On March 23, 1980, in response to increasing violence, Archbishop Romero gave a homily in which he told soldiers in El Salvador to follow the law of God and disobey orders to fire on unarmed civilians. The next day, he was fatally shot by an assassin while celebrating Mass in the chapel of a hospital.

Following the Gospel, Blessed Romero saw pain, poverty and injustice and worked to alleviate it. He could have looked the other way. Instead, he tackled it head-on in spite of the consequences — severe criticism and threats to his life.

Blessed Paul VI was also remembered as a strong leader who was close to Catholics who suffered persecution, including Archbishop Romero. Blessed Paul VI and Blessed Oscar Romero will be canonized Oct. 14 in Rome. While visiting the pope on June 21, 1978, Blessed Romero wrote in his diary that Blessed Paul encouraged him to “proceed with courage, with patience, with strength, with hope.”

Pope Francis said that Blessed Paul “fully lived the labor pains of the Church after the Second Vatican Council — its lights, hopes and tensions. He loved the Church and gave his life for it.” Blessed Paul had a drive to proclaim the Gospel to the people with mercy, patience, courage and joy. The encyclical for which is he is most known is “Humanae Vitae.” Usually described as a document affirming the Church’s prohibition against artificial contraception, it places that conclusion in the context of Catholic teaching on the beauty and purpose of marriage, married love and procreation.

Blessed Paul showed a deep sense of prayerfulness and an acute involvement in the social issues of his time. He was a discerning person, listening to God’s word and the world and being at home in the solitude of prayer. Pope Paul VI taught that “if you want peace, work for justice.” The Gospel and our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.

The examples of the soon-to-be saints show us the need to answer the call of Christian discipleship, which entails ongoing conversion and courage. We also should follow their desire not to be edified as saints themselves, but rather to journey with others toward God.

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