New saints shared a close friendship, professor says

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By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) — Blesseds Paul VI and Oscar Romero crossed
paths on their road to sainthood and formed a personal friendship that
strengthened each other’s resolve in the face of growing challenges, an Italian
professor said.

According to Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, a professor of contemporary history at Roma Tre
University and author of a
biography of Blessed Romero, said that Blessed Paul had a deep appreciation and
affection for Blessed Romero, despite the rumors and gossip that floated around
the Vatican corridors.

“We can say that Paul VI protected Romero. In Rome,
there was a flood of negative information regarding the archbishop of San Salvador. They accused him
of being political, of being a communist, of being heretical,” Morozzo
said Oct. 9 at a conference at Palazzo San Calisto in Rome.

The event, sponsored by the Salvadoran Embassy to the Holy
See, reflected on the friendship between the pope and the Salvadoran archbishop
who were scheduled to
be declared saints by Pope Francis Oct. 14.

Manuel Roberto Lopez, El Salvador’s ambassador to the Holy
See, said the canonization of Blessed Romero “seemed like an impossible
dream for us Salvadorans,” and his being declared a saint alongside Pope Paul was the
culmination of “a history of friendship.”

Pope Paul “saw (Archbishop) Romero as an oasis in the
desert, amid so much misunderstanding. And through (Paul VI’s) support, Romero
found the strength to remain in the country and continue his pastoral service
despite the dangerous circumstances,” Lopez said.

Although the archbishop of San Salvador enjoyed the trust of Blessed Paul VI,
many within the Roman Curia viewed him in a negative light after he became more
vocal against the right-wing paramilitary government following the assassination in 1977 of his
friend, Jesuit Father
Rutilio Grande.

Father Grande was known as a champion of the poor and the
oppressed at a time when El Salvador was on the threshold of a civil war, one that eventually killed over 70,000 people.

His death at
the hands of El Salvador’s notorious death squads is believed to have been the
inspiration for Archbishop Romero — known for being less outspoken — to take
up the mantle of defending the poor as Father Grande did.

One of the first meetings between Blesseds Paul VI and
Romero, Morozzo said, occurred shortly after he was named archbishop of San

appointment had come as a surprise to many of the local clergy who
perceived their new archbishop to be too conservative. The apostolic nuncio at
the time, Archbishop Emanuele
Gerada, had lobbied heavily for Archbishop Romero’s nomination, hoping
that it would uphold the increasingly fragile relations with the government.

However, after the death of Father Grande, Archbishop Romero
became more outspoken,
which often drew warnings from the apostolic nuncio to exercise prudence. This
prompted Archbishop Romero to travel to Rome and meet with the pope on March
26, 1977.

Pope Paul “told him fraternally a phrase that was the
encouragement that Romero needed: ‘Animo! Tu eres el que manda!’ (‘Courage!
You’re the one in charge!’),” the Italian author said.

Blessed Romero’s diary, Morozzo added, offered a glimpse
into the mutual respect and affection between the two future saints during
their next meeting in June 1978.

According to the archbishop, Pope Paul said, “I
understand your difficult work. It is a work that perhaps may not be understood;
you need to have a lot of patience and strength. I know that not everyone
thinks like you; it is difficult in the circumstances of your country to find
that unanimity of thought. Nevertheless, proceed with courage, with patience,
with strength and with hope.”

After returning from Rome, Blessed Romero also delivered the
pope’s words of encouragement to the people of El Salvador while celebrating
Mass July 2, 1978.

“‘They are a people,’ the pope told me, ‘who fights for
recognition, they look for a more just environment. And you must love the
people, you must help them. Be patient, be strong and help them. And tell them
the pope loves them, he loves them and is following their difficulties; but to
never look for solutions through irrational violence, that they never let
themselves be led by the currents of hate,” Blessed Romero said.

As he did until his martyrdom in 1980, Blessed Romero
continued “to
dream of a new heaven and a new earth” for the people of El Salvador, a country that, still
today, suffers the scourge of violence, Morozzo said.

“I hope,” he said, “that (Blessed) Romero —
along with Paul VI — will help to achieve this dream.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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