Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Double Halo – With Miracle Decrees, Pope Green-Lights Canonization of Paul VI, Romero

To be sure, this morning's news doesn't come in its surprise, just the sheer significance.

Opening the week of his fifth anniversary with a splash, it was announced early today that the Pope had formally signed the decrees to secure sainthood for Blesseds Paul VI and Óscar Romero. Following the affirmation of miraculous healings under the intercession of the first post-Conciliar pontiff and the Salvadoran martyr, the double approval completes a concerted ramp-up of both causes under Francis, who moved the duo's respective beatifications in 2014 and 2015.

Per custom, the formal last step – the canonization rites for each – will only be scheduled at a routine consistory sometime this spring. Nonetheless, in late February Francis told the priests of Rome that Papa Montini "will be a saint this year," and just yesterday, Francis' top deputy, the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, reportedly linked the date to the closing of October's Synod of Bishops on young people; the founder of the Synod in Vatican II's wake, Paul was beatified on the final day of the gathering's 2014 edition. In addition, this July marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae, whose reaffirmation of the church's prohibition on artificial contraception arguably created the Catholic conversation's enduring fault-line in the developed world.

Keeping with the practice for other modern pontiffs upon their canonizations, the feast of Saint-to-Be Paul – celebrated on his birthday, September 26th – will be added to the global calendar as an optional memorial.

As Paul now becomes the third Pope of the late-20th century to be beatified and/or canonized within this decade, it bears recalling that the heroic virtue of Pope John Paul I – conferring the title "Venerable" – was likewise approved in late 2017, his beatification likely to proceed quickly once a miracle is identified.

As for Romero, today's announcement comes just shy of the 38th anniversary of the Salvadoran prelate's assassination while celebrating Mass in a San Salvador hospital, ending a three-year ministry which won the prelate global acclaim for his unstinting advocacy on behalf of El Salvador's downtrodden amid the rise of a military dictatorship.

While the push for Romero's sainthood has long been a cause celebre among social-justice advocates far beyond Central America, the opposition of several key Vatican cardinals – principally Latin Americans with ties to right-wing juntas in their own homelands – kept any movement on it halted until late 2012, when then-Pope Benedict XVI oversaw its clearance from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in one of his final acts before resigning. (Romero's tomb is seen above during a 2011 visit by then-President Barack Obama.)

As Blessed Óscar's feast is observed in El Salvador on the 24 March anniversary of his martyrdom – now likewise marked by the United Nations as a global day of solidarity with victims of oppressive regimes – with his sainthood the option for its celebration in the wider church becomes available to the national conferences of bishops which seek to add it to their respective calendars.

According to the US-based SuperMartyrio site – the lead clearinghouse for all things Romero – the miracle approved today involved the healing of a 34 year-old Salvadoran woman, who went blind and suffered multiple organ failure following a difficult childbirth in 2015, fully recovering within days after her family and friends undertook prayers to Romero, including a vigil at the blessed's tomb.

After an initial examination by the local church, the case was forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints a year ago this month.

His own affection for Romero ever in evidence, though Francis couldn't mark the centennial of the archbishop's birth last year by declaring him a saint, the pontiff devised an even more unique way of commemorating the milestone with last June's surprise elevation (above) of Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez – one of the blessed's lead collaborators – as the first-ever cardinal from El Salvador.

Even more pointedly, the 75 year-old prelate – who remains pastor of a parish alongside his diocesan duties – became the first auxiliary bishop anywhere in the Catholic world to be given the red hat.

Back to Paul VI, today's announcement is Francis' second bouquet within this week alone to his Brescian predecessor – on Saturday, a decree was released conveying the Pope's decision to add a universal memorial to "Mary, Mother of the Church" to the calendar, celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost; in other words, the day immediately following the "birthday of the church."

The Marian title first declared by Paul at Vatican II and frequently invoked by him for the remainder of his life, the new feast of Our Lady is the first to be given a liturgical day since Papa Montini designated January 1st as the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in the 1969 reform of the calendar. That change replaced the prior observance of Jesus' Circumcision on the eighth day of Christmas.