The new saint we should strive to emulate

By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker

On 14 October in Rome, Pope Francis declared Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Óscar Romero to be saints, together with five other lesser-known Blesseds: Francesco Spinelli, Vincenzo Romano, Maria Katharina Kasper, Nazaria Ignacia of Saint Teresa of Jesus, and Nunzio Sulprizio.

Romero is the patron saint of Cafod and on 3 November a national celebration will take place at St George’s Cathedral Southwark, near to the charity’s head office. Here in Liverpool, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon presided at a special Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral on 28 October to honour the canonisation of St Óscar Romero.

The connection between Romero and Liverpool goes back to his assassination on 24 March 1980 when he was shot through the heart while celebrating Mass at the Hospitalito where he lived in San Salvador. The sisters who run the Hospitalito (hospice) had moved him out of his little house in their grounds to live in the sacristy behind the altar so that he would be safe from the constant threat of violence that he was living under. The gunman came to get him a few weeks later.

A few days afterwards a Mass was celebrated in our cathedral to honour his memory and we have kept up the tradition every year since. We proudly point out that only two places have remembered Romero every year: San Salvador and Liverpool. There are many reasons for our devotion to him:

• He lived a life of prayer. He linked traditional devotions with social concerns. All his actions were based on prayerful reflection.

• He demonstrates that faith-filled Christian discipleship is more than remembering to pray. Romero dedicated his life to the service of his people, constantly showing concern about poverty and increasingly denouncing injustice.

• He gave priority to the poor. His pastoral strategy was to visit local communities and encourage them.

• He worked collaboratively. His sermons were prepared by lengthy meetings with the team of lay people he had gathered. Discussions were sometimes heated.

• He publicly denounced injustice but insisted on non-violence.

• He showed that change is possible. His appointment as bishop was based on his reputation as a conservative friend of the rich and powerful. He changed because he was capable of facing facts and acknowledging his mistakes.

• He put faith above his personal safety. He lived in fear of his life but didn’t back down to threats.

He has been a saint for us since 1980 because he reminds us to integrate our faith into our daily lives. All aspects of our daily lives come together in our following of Jesus. We don’t live in two worlds. The call to be whole-hearted is perhaps the most difficult discernment we have to make: how does our life impact on others? Does our level of comfort and luxury come at the expense of others? If so, what are we going to do about it? This is the tension that cannot be relaxed. This is the tension that led to Romero’s martyrdom ... and eventual canonisation.

We have a bust of Romero in our cathedral. It is the identical twin of the one in the Hospitalito in El Salvador, the site of his martyrdom. Please come and visit it to join your prayers with those of countless others across the world who are beseeching our new saint to intercede for God’s justice here on earth, the justice that prioritises the poor and the oppressed.

The Gospel at the Canonisation Mass was that of the rich young man whose wealth prevented him from following Jesus. The Holy Father said that the saints who were being canonised ‘in different contexts, put the Word into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave it all behind. May the Lord help us to imitate their example.’