by Barbara Kentish
‘Decernimus’ or ‘we so decree’, said Pope Francis, concluding the surprisingly simple ritual which added Oscar Romero, Pope Paul VI and five others to the canon of the saints of the Catholic Church on 14th October. Seventy thousand people were in Rome to witness the canonisation.
Mass would begin at 10.15am, but we were on a coach at 6.45am, heading for St Peter’s Square while Rome was still dark. Once through security, we raced to the front, and though certainly not the first, we secured seats promising a wonderful view of the proceedings, then waited in the chilly morning air.
The ceremony began with music and a recital of each saint’s biography. The Pope declared: ‘After due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops we declare and define Blessed Paul VI, Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdamez, Francesco Spinelli, Vincenzo Romano, Maria Katharina Kasper, Nazaria Ignacia of St Teresa of Jesus, and Nunzio Sulprizio to be saints venerated by the whole Church.’
The high point of the Mass that followed was, of course, the inclusion of the new saints in the Eucharistic prayer. Latin Americans represented a large component of the St Peter’s Square crowd, there to celebrate ‘Monsenor Romero de las Americas’, and were a massive majority the next day in the vast Vatican Audience Hall, where the canonisation of St Oscar Romero was marked with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez of El Salvador. The tiny British presence included members of the Archbishop Romero Trust, CAFOD and Justice and Peace. The joyous atmosphere peaked in the late morning with the appearance of Pope Francis, who came down the main aisle shaking hands and greeting the crowds. There were chants of ‘Viva Francisco, viva il Papa’ and ‘Francis, good shepherd, come to El Salvador’.
Westminster Justice and Peace had visited the Sant’Egidio community earlier in the year and had arranged to revisit this humble but astonishingly far-reaching community in Trastevere on this occasion. San Bartolomeo Church on the Isola Tiberia honours the ‘memory of women and men of the 20th century, killed because they were Christians’. On the altar of the Latin American martyrs, we saw the missal and stole of St Oscar Romero, and remembered that Pope Francis had worn his bloodstained cincture at the canonisation. This quiet moment brought us full circle to what had brought about the canonisation in the first place.
In this spirit we went on to the Sant’Egidio soup kitchen close by, where over 50 volunteers a day serve meals to up to 700 homeless men and women from the Roman streets. Carlo who welcomed us has a special responsibility for the homeless around St Peter’s Square. At one of these meals the Pope just ‘dropped in’, asking Carlo to introduce him to the guests.
As we left the drop-in centre, a group of young Salvadoreans, members of a Sant’Egidio youth group from San Salvador, in Rome for the canonisation, had gathered outside. The spirit of St Oscar Romero has borne, and continues to bear, so much fruit.