Slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero and pope Paul VI, Catholic giants who sparked controversy during their lifetimes, joined the church’s highest rank Sunday with an elevation to sainthood.
Pope Francis wore a blood-stained rope belt which belonged to Romero, who was murdered at the altar, as he led the ceremony in front of tens of thousands of pilgrims from across the world.
The pontiff also used a chalice and pastoral staff belonging to Paul VI, in a canonisation being seen as a reminder of Francis’s call for “a poor church for the poor”.
Both men have been hailed by Francis for their courage in turbulent times and their dedication to social justice and the downtrodden. The men’s giant portraits hung on Saint Peter’s Basilica along with those of five other new saints, including an orphaned youth and a German nun.
“Paul VI spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue, a prophet of a Church turned outwards, looking to those far away and taking care of the poor,” Francis said.
“It is wonderful that together with him and the other new saints today, there is Archbishop Romero, who left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people,” he added.
Romero stood up for peasant rights in the face of a right-wing backlash which painted him as a radical supporter of “liberation” theology in his small, impoverished central American nation.
On March 24, 1980, the man dubbed the “voice of those without voice” was shot in the heart, killed by a single bullet as he prepared communion. His killing came at the start of a bloody civil war which claimed some 75,000 lives.
Relics of each new saint were carried to the altar, part of a bone for Romero and the shirt Paul VI was wearing when he was stabbed in an assassination attempt at Manila airport in 1970. Overnight, hundreds of pilgrims from across Central America celebrated the impending canonization in El Salvador’s capital.