My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
On Sunday, October 14, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, Canonized seven new saints for our Church – St. Maria Katharina Kasper; St. Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa; St. Paul VI; St. Vincent Romano; St. Oscar Romero; St. Francesco Spinelli; and St. Nunzio Sulprizio.
As we approach All Saints Day, perhaps recognizing the specific contributions that these new saints made might help us to be inspired to live lives of greater holiness. The Gospel of the day was an appropriate one and our Holy Father commented on it in his homily. It is the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus asking Him that open question, “What must I do to find eternal life?” As we know, Jesus looked at the man with great love and said, “Sell what you have, give it to the poor and come follow me.” Jesus looks at each one of us with a particular love and asks each of us that we must give up what holds us from following the Lord more closely, in any vocation that we are given in this life. Because it is when we follow the Lord wholeheartedly without reserve that we are on the path to holiness, which solidifies our union with Christ who loves each one of us individually.
The seven saints whom Pope Francis canonized were varied in their vocations of following Christ. Saint Paul VI was truly, as he was characterized by Pope Francis, an Apostle like Paul, himself, because he was the first modern pope of our times to look at the Church, not from inside, but rather from outside. Pope Francis said that Paul VI “spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue…” Paul’s life was not an easy one after the Second Vatican Council initiated by his predecessor, Pope John XX, now a saint himself. He had to implement what had been started as a radical change in the life of the Church. With patience and humility, however, Paul VI was able to steer the Church in the right direction to prepare the way for another saint, St. John Paul II, whom he came to know during his pontificate and to whom he certainly wished to pass on his mantle.
Those of us old enough may remember the quick visit in October 1965 of Pope Paul VI to the United States visiting the World’s Fair in Queens. I, myself, was in the seminary at that time and had the great privilege of being able to see him briefly. One particular memory that I have of what he said during his pontificate sticks in my mind. It was in the early 1970s when things were very difficult for Paul VI. One Sunday morning when I was celebrating Mass for the Italian community in Jersey City, New Jersey, a lector came running into the church after he just listened to the mid-day audience of Paul VI which was transmitted on the radio. The lector asked me if I knew what the Pope said, he said, “We are walking in mud!” Those words in Italian, “Siamo caminando nel fango” truly expressed the difficulties of the 1970s. What would Saint Paul VI say today about the difficulty that the world experiences as we have shaken the basis of morality in our society? Truly, he was prophetic in his proclamation of his Encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” where he defended the transmission of human life against popular, and even Church, opinion. He will be a saint remembered for many years to come.
Another new saint who is particularly close to us in the United States is Archbishop Oscar Romero. He was a man prophetic, in his own way, in standing up against the forces of totalitarianism in his native El Salvador. Oscar was a humble man who tried with all of his might to defend those who were most vulnerable in the developing country of El Salvador. While celebrating the Eucharist, he met death by assassination in a small chapel of a hospital where he kept a small residence. Many years back, I had an opportunity to visit that hospital and chapel. To see the place where this giant of a saint lived and to visit his burial place in the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior in San Salvador was a moving experience for me.
We need to seek his intercession for all of Central America where violence, unfortunately, still impels so many migrants to leave their homeland, and where the value of human life still seems to be cheapened. It affects me so much when I think about how Archbishop Romero was assassinated and how so many other priests and sisters during those years in El Salvador were also assassinated because of their defense of our faith and the rights of the poor. Today, however, the violence that still besets these countries needs to be eliminated. We must seek the intercession of St. Oscar Romero for this so that the people of Central America can live in peace and harmony in their own land.
Finally, one special new saint with ties to our diocese is St. Nunzio Sulprizio. We are fortunate to have in our own diocese his cousins in the Evangelista Family. Last Sunday, I was able to visit with this family as they watched the replaying of the canonization on our own NET-TV. Nunzio was a young man of 19 when he died. He suffered poor health, however, his relationship to God had matured well beyond his years. In effect, he was an abused child who did not let his physical abuse deter him from seeking holiness in the humble circumstances of his life. Working as a blacksmith for his uncle who treated him harshly, eventually, he succumbed to wounds he had received. His gangrenous leg was eventually amputated and Nunzio died in a hospital in Naples. Despite his great pain, which he accepted with patience and offered up to God, he was a constant help to all the other patients in the hospital for incurable diseases. Pope Francis canonized Nunzio not only for the miracles performed through his intercession, but also as an example of a young person who in a short life time achieved sanctity because he accepted his life as it was and offered it to God. This is a lesson for all of us.
As we now prepare to celebrate the Feast of All Saints, we remember all of those holy people that have affected us in our own lifetime. Perhaps they are our parents or grandparents, or other relatives who taught us the values of life, especially the value of relationships and acceptance of pain and suffering as a part of life. These are the normal means of the sanctification for most of us. Perhaps someday each one of us can be counted among all of the saints.
Each person who comes into the world and is baptized puts out into the deep and long process of returning back to God, and finding union with God along the way. The Feast of All Saints reminds us that we are all called to personal sanctity, which is achievable as we look to the example of the saints canonized in our own time.