(Image: Xerones, Flickr)

Archbishop Óscar Romero and Pope Paul VI were recently both canonised and elevated to sainthood. The process is rigorous. Each man was first beatified, accredited with either a miracle or a martyrdom, before they were accredited with a second miracle.

Óscar Romero was both on 15 August, 1917, in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. Romero wanted to be a priest from a young age and attended a junior seminary. He had to put his aspirations of priesthood on hold, however, when his mother fell ill. During this time, he worked in a gold mine to help support his family.

While the canonisation of Romero remains mostly uncontroversial, Paul VI’s rise to sainthood was less universally well received.”

Romero eventually travelled to Rome, where he trained to become a priest. Once ordained in 1942, he returned to El Salvador. Over the years, he rose through the ranks of the Church, becoming a bishop in 1970 and eventually becoming the archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. One of the primary reasons he was selected for this role is that up until this point it was believed that he would be entirely compliant to both the Church hierarchy and upper classes of the region.

This perception was upset, however, when a close friend of Romero’s, Friar Rutilio Grande, was murdered. After this event, Romero became far more outspoken in his opposition to the violence and killing in El Salvador, most of which was perpetrated by its oppressive government. This naturally led to Romero making enemies. He began to regularly receive death threats. This tragically culminated in his assassination in 1980, when a gunman killed him with a single gunshot to the head while Romero was giving a sermon in his church. Romero was canonised for dying as a martyr, as well as for performing a miracle that involved curing the life-threatening ailments of a thirty-five-year-old woman. The miracle was posthumously accredited to him. These were only the official requirements he had to fulfil in order to reach sainthood. The understood reasons that he was considered for sainthood and canonised was for his exemplary humanitarian work for the disadvantaged of El Salvador.

Blessed Pope Paul VI was born in Giovanni Battista Montini in Concesio, Italy, in 1897. Due to poor health, which would plague him throughout his life, Paul VI was mainly homeschooled by his mother. After training to become a priest, he was ordained in 1920. He held numerous prestigious titles throughout the years, including papal under-secretary of state and acting secretary for ordinary affairs, Archbishop of Milan, and cardinal. He was eventually elected pope in 1963. As Paul VI was not a martyr, he had to perform two miracles in order to be canonised. Both of these miracles involved the curing of what was presumed to be a fatal birth defect in two unborn children. Other than these miracles, Paul VI is most notable for ushering in Vatican II, which was a huge step in radically modernising the Church.

“Other than these miracles, Paul VI is most notable for ushering in Vatican II, which was a huge step in radically modernising the Church.”

While the canonisation of Romero remains mostly uncontroversial, Paul VI’s rise to sainthood was less universally well received. Paul VI has managed to displease both those on the right and the left. Conservatives were appalled with the changes made to church services as a part of Vatican II, with some feeling slighted enough to refer to Paul VI as a “false shepherd.” People on both the right and the left were frustrated with Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, with those on the left disappointed to find the Catholic Church’s ban on physical contraception reaffirmed, while some on the right believed the letter was in fact paving the way for the normalisation of physical contraception. Regardless of these misgivings, the general consensus appears to be approval for the canonisation of both these individuals.

While the canonisation of a former Pope is rather unsurprising, Romero now joins the ever growing list of Latin American saints, a lengthy roster that makes sense when one considers that this is one of the most devoutly Catholic regions in the world. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre in 2014, 69 percent of Latin Americans identified as Catholics. Two of three countries with the largest Christian population, Mexico and Brazil, are in Latin America, while the United States remains the country with the largest Christian population. With Latin America’s growing roster of saints and a current pope from Argentina, Romero’s addition may be a signal of a reasonable changing in the centre of gravity of the Catholic Church.