ROME — Blesseds Paul VI and Oscar Romero crossed paths on their road to sainthood and formed a personal friendship that strengthened each other’s resolve in the face of growing challenges, an Italian professor said.
According to Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, a professor of contemporary history at Roma Tre University and author of a biography of Blessed Romero, Blessed Paul had a deep appreciation and affection for Blessed Romero, despite the rumors and gossip that floated around the Vatican corridors.
“We can say that Paul VI protected Romero. In Rome, there was a flood of negative information regarding the archbishop of San Salvador. They accused him of being political, of being a communist, of being heretical,” Morozzo said Oct. 9 at a conference at Palazzo San Calisto in Rome.
The event, sponsored by the Salvadoran Embassy to the Holy See, reflected on the friendship between the pope and the Salvadoran archbishop who were scheduled to be declared saints by Pope Francis Oct. 14.
Although the archbishop of San Salvador enjoyed the trust of Blessed Paul VI, many within the Roman Curia viewed him in a negative light after he became more vocal against the right-wing paramilitary government following the assassination in 1977 of his friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande.
Father Grande was known as a champion of the poor and the oppressed at a time when El Salvador was on the threshold of a civil war, one that eventually killed over 70,000 people.
One of the first meetings between Blesseds Paul VI and Romero, Morozzo said, occurred shortly after he was named archbishop of San Salvador.
His appointment had come as a surprise to many of the local clergy who perceived their new archbishop to be too conservative. The apostolic nuncio at the time, Archbishop Emanuele Gerada, had lobbied heavily for Archbishop Romero’s nomination, hoping that it would uphold the increasingly fragile relations with the government.
However, after the death of Father Grande, Archbishop Romero became more outspoken, which often drew warnings from the apostolic nuncio to exercise prudence. This prompted Archbishop Romero to travel to Rome and meet with the pope on March 26, 1977.
Pope Paul “told him fraternally a phrase that was the encouragement that Romero needed: ‘Animo! Tu eres el que manda!’ (‘Courage! You’re the one in charge!’),” the Italian author said.
After returning from Rome, Blessed Romero also delivered the pope’s words of encouragement to the people of El Salvador while celebrating Mass July 2, 1978.
“‘They are a people,’ the pope told me, ‘who fights for recognition, they look for a more just environment. And you must love the people, you must help them. Be patient, be strong and help them. And tell them the pope loves them, he loves them and is following their difficulties; but to never look for solutions through irrational violence, that they never let themselves be led by the currents of hate,” Blessed Romero said.