“Jesus is radical…He gives all and He asks all: He gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart.”
On Sunday, October 14, with these words Pope Francis canonized seven people, thus moving them from the category of blessed to that of saint. In addition, there were five others who received the designation Servant of God for their lives of heroic virtue, and one who was beatified – that final hurdle before becoming a canonized saint.
The whole process whereby one becomes a saint is for most Catholics, and certainly for almost all non-Catholics, shrouded in what must seem like something from a Dan Brown novel and known only to those few who stalk the mysterious halls of the buildings that encircle St. Peter’s Square. For those who desire a detailed look into the history and process of canonization a great place to start is Making Saints, the excellent work by Saint Ignatius alumnus and retired Religion Editor of Newsweek, Kenneth Woodward ’54.
But rather than focus on the process, here I would like to focus on what ultimately matters – the saints themselves. As is typical of such events, this Vatican ceremony was predominated by those who have chosen a religious vocation. And on top of that, there were two superstars being honored for their sanctity: Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero.
In 1977 Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, to the disappointment of the Marxists who fought against the oppressive government of El Salvador. After the assassination of his close friend Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J., Romero became an outspoken critic of the nation’s government, providing a strong Catholic voice for his poor and oppressed Salvadoran sisters and brothers. In March of 1980 he was brought down by an assassin’s bullet in San Salvador while saying Mass in the small chapel at a church-run hospital that cared for the terminally ill. To this day the El Salvadoran government has yet to find the gunman. As my good friend and colleague Rory Hennessey ’78 would say, “Curious.”
Paul VI, who narrowly avoided an assassination attempt in Manila in 1970, suffered what one might call a white martyrdom – an offering of one’s life for Christ, yet involving no bloodshed. With the issuing of encyclicals like Populorum Progressio (“The Development of Peoples”) and Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) Pope Paul made himself a marked man, hated by the economic libertines on the right and the sexual libertines on the left. Although Pope Paul was dearly loved by the nations of the so-called Third World – including the Argentina of Pope Francis, his teachings were scoffed at and then tacitly ignored by the decadent First World.
In addition to these two luminaries, five other newly canonized saints were celebrated on Sunday, including a solitary layman: Nunzio Sulprizio. By the time St. Nunzio was nine years old he had witnessed the deaths of both of his parents and his caretaker maternal grandmother. He died at the age of nineteen from complications associated with a case of gangrene that he contracted five years prior to his death.
During his prolonged illness he came across the founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. This holy founder, Gaetano Errico, promised Nunzio entrance in his religious order “when the time was right.” Nunzio died before he could enter the order, but it seems possible that on Sunday the “time was right”: Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the canonization of St. Gaetano Errico and I’m sure he was happy to fulfil his promise to St. Nunzio.
In 1891 Nunzio, was declared Venerable by Pope Leo XIII only two months after the promulgation of Rerum Novarum (“Of New Things”), the first encyclical of the modern era that focused of the Church’s Social Magisterium. Rerum Novarum struck a blow on behalf of the rights of workers – people like the blacksmith Nunzio Sulprizio. Pope Leo, while declaring that Nunzio was a man of heroic virtue, also proposed him as a model for workers young and old.
St. Paul VI, St. Oscar Romero, and St. Nunzio Sulprizio, are all men cut from the same cloth. They all suffered for our Lord because their love was, like that of Jesus, radical – it got to the root of their being. Let us pray to them and the entire Communion of Saints that we have the courage to do the same.