Pope Francis has created seven new saints in a canonization ceremony at the Vatican. The new saints included two important Church figures who were strong voices in the favor of the poor: Pope Paul VI and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Before tens of thousands of faithful in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis elevated to sainthood seven people including Pope Paul VI and murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Both were controversial figures in the church.
Large tapestries with the images of the seven new saints hung from St. Peter’s Basilica as is customary during a canonization ceremony. The other five lesser-known new saints were from Italy, Germany and Spain. They included an Italian orphan who died from bone cancer when he was just 19 years old.
Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera and Spain’s Queen Sofia attended the ceremony.
Pope Paul VI was the third pope to be declared saint by Francis since his election in 2013. He was best known for having presided over the final sessions of the Second Vatican Council, the church meetings in the 1960s that reformed the Catholic Church and opened it to the world.
Francis said Paul VI, like the apostle, spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue, a prophet of an extroverted Church looking to those far away and taking care of the poor.
In a sign of the importance Pope Francis placed on Romero and Paul, Francis wore the blood-stained rope belt Romero wore when he was murdered in 1980 and also used Pope Paul’s staff, chalice and vestment. Both men strongly influenced Francis and he praised them for their courage in turbulent times and their dedication to social justice and the poor.
Romero was killed in San Salvador by a right-wing death squad. He had often denounced violence, repression and poverty in his homilies. He became an icon for Latin America’s peasants.
In his homily, Pope Francis praised Romero for “disregarding his own life to be close to the poor and to his people.”