New saint ‘keeps watch’ over Hispanic Catholic community

Latin-American Catholics celebrate the canonization of St. Oscar Romero

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Denver’s Queen of Peace Parish was filled with faithful Salvadorians and other Catholics from the United States and diverse Latin-American countries Oct. 14, all celebrating with deep devotion the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, whom Pope Francis declared a saint that same day.

Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodriguez celebrated a Spanish-language Mass at the Denver parish and highlighted the saint’s words as Archbishop of San Salvador in his homily: “If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be a reality.”

“Archbishop Romero practiced Christian virtue to the highest degree: to the point of giving up his life; to the point of martyrdom,” Bishop Rodriguez said.

He highlighted Archbishop Romero’s “faith in Christ, his love for the poor, and his complete dedication to the advocacy and defense of their dignity as people and children of God.”

“[He was a pastor] who opted for the poor, for the oppressed, for those persecuted by the government, for those whose dignity and rights were violated with impunity. He was, as he himself said, ‘The voice of the voiceless,’” Bishop Rodriguez assured.

AURORA, CO – OCTOBER 14: Bishop Jorge Rodriguez celebrates Mass for newly canonized Archbishop Óscar Romero at Queen of Peace Catholic Parish on October 14, 2018, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Moreover, the prelate affirmed that St. Oscar Romero reminds the faithful that, “at times, love of neighbor requires social and political commitment, which can even take the form of prophetic denunciation, of the defense of excluded rights and of committed action.”

“We also live in the midst of injustices, of our own brothers and sisters who are deprived of their liberty in detention centers for not possessing documents; of immigrants whose rights are violated and find themselves separated from their families; of our brothers and sisters who day after day leave home fearful of being arrested… while they work honestly to offer a future to their children,” Bishop Rodriguez said.

“According to Catholic teaching, when we are dealing with human beings who possess inviolable and unalienable rights, we need to act respecting their dignity… allowing everyone to have access to what they need… especially helping the poor in a spirit of solidarity,” Bishop Rodriguez told the Denver Catholic in a previous  interview, in which he also quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood… [and] immigrants are obliged… to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (2241).

In that interview, he explained that, with the common good in mind, comprehensive policies can be created, keeping in mind the tension between the immigrant’s right to migrate and the State’s right to control its borders. Such policies could make a “both-and” of respecting the human person and the law, instead of an “either-or.” These laws, he assured, need to be at the service of the human person.

During his homily, the bishop called those present to action: “It is urgent that we help these brothers and sisters, that we be by their side, denounce the trampling of their rights, and participate in the political battle for a comprehensive immigration reform.”

AURORA, CO – OCTOBER 14: Parishioners celebrate the canonization of Archbishop Óscar Romero during Mass at Queen of Peace Catholic Parish on October 14, 2018, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Moreover, Bishop Rodriguez brought attention to El Salvador’s Civil War from 1980 to 1992 — although its origin can be traced back the 1960s — which left more then 75,000 dead civilians and 9,000 missing.

“Many of you, or many of your family members, came to this country fleeing death,” he told the congregation. “Over so much suffering and over you and your families, now a Salvadorian saint keeps watch: St. Oscar Romero, whom even some of you here today met personally.”

Following the Eucharistic celebration, the faithful assembled at the parish center to honor the martyr’s canonization with dances and traditional dishes.

One of the attendants was Deacon Edgar Valle, from Presentation of Our Lord Parish in Denver, who met Archbishop Romero personally.

“He transformed my life. He’s a spiritual father for me. I have read all of his homilies at length, which have helped me as a deacon and preacher,” he told the Denver Catholic.

Thus, many Salvadorians celebrated those prophetic words of St. Oscar Romero before he was assassinated: “As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection: If they kill me, I shall rise in the Salvadorian people.”

COMING UP: A holy Church begins with you

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A holy Church begins with you

Bishop Rodriguez challenges Catholics to realize their call to holiness

Roxanne King

Even as the Catholic Church deals with the disgrace and shame of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and moves forward with repentance and renewal, it is challenging as faithful not to be disheartened and discouraged.

The answer to this situation is to follow the Scriptural mandate to holiness all Catholic Christians have been given, Denver auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez told attendees of the May 17-19 Aspen Catholic conference titled, “The Encounter: New Life in Jesus Christ.”

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘be holy, because I [am] holy,’” the bishop said, quoting I Peter 1:15-16.

“Holiness,” the bishop asserted, “…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

The annual conference, an initiative of Father John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Aspen where the event was held, drew people from the Archdiocese of Denver and from outside the state to strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ, deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith, renew their spirit in the beauty of Colorado’s high country, and return home equipped to better share their faith.

Despite the current crisis, which is evidence the Church is comprised of sinners, every Sunday when professing the Creed, Catholics say, “I believe in the holy Catholic Church.”

“We say publicly that we believe the Catholic Church is holy. Do we mean it?” Bishop Rodriguez mused before affirming: “The Catholic Church, like it or not, will always be holy for three reasons.”

First: “Jesus Christ is the author of holiness and he is the head of the Church. … Jesus is the Church with all of us. The holiness of Jesus fills the whole Church.”

Second: “The Church is the only institution in the world that possesses all the means of sanctification left by Christ for his Church to sanctify its members and to make them holy.”

Third: “There are many, many holy people in the Church, both in heaven and here on earth.”

Holiness…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

Slain STEM School shooting hero Kendrick Castillo is an example of a holy, young Catholic, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“He gave his life for his classmates. If this is not holiness, what is?” the bishop said about the 18-year-old who was killed May 7 when he tackled a teen shooter.

Servant of God Julia Greeley, a former slave known for her acts of charity and generosity from her own meager means to others in early Denver, and St. John Paul II, who in emphasizing the universal call to holiness of all Christians beatified and canonized more people than the combined total of his predecessors in the five centuries before him, were among others Bishop Rodriguez mentioned who comprise “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) of those believers who have preceded us into God’s kingdom. Additionally, there are countless “next-door saints,” he said, using a term coined by Pope Francis to describe those unknowns of heroic virtue among our family, friends and neighbors.

Rodriguez said, because the Scriptures say, Christ so loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy (Eph 5:25-26).

“‘The Church is holy because it proceeds from God, who is holy,’” the bishop said, quoting Pope Francis’ Oct. 2, 2013, general audience address. “’It is not holy by our merits; we are not able to make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his love makes the Church holy.’

“The Catholic Church is and will be holy, even though some of her members still need repentance and conversion,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

Holiness is our deepest longing because we were created to be holy, the bishop said. But the only way to realize that call is to submit to God and allow him to transform us, he said, using the scriptural analogy of clay taking shape in a potter’s hands.

“We cannot deserve, produce, gain, create, or make holiness,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Only God in his gratuitousness and infinite love can make a saint of you. … Holiness is pure gift, is grace.”

Catholics believe holiness is real — that grace received through the sacraments, prayer and reading Scripture, infuses and transforms the believer into a new creation, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“Salvation is real,” the bishop said. “Pope Francis [warns] about a heresy that has been in the Church since apostolic times under different appearances — Gnosticism. It is a doctrine of salvation by knowledge, reducing Christianity to doctrine [or] text, to something intellectual.”

In doing so, Gnosticism loses the flesh of the incarnation and reduces Jesus to his message, Bishop Rodriguez said. Likewise, Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann, a major figure of 20th-century biblical studies and liberal Christianity, promoted “demythologizing” the Gospel to attract modern adherents.

As a result, “people lost faith that these things really happened,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “[Bultmann] did tremendous damage to Christianity.”

The Apostles, however, insisted on the truth of Jesus’ incarnational reality, the bishop said, noting the First Letter of St. John proclaims: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you.

Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

“Our Christian faith is not a body of doctrines, not a code of conduct, not an ethical idea, not an elaborated ritual,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “It is not even a community. It is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It is an event. It is a person. It is an event that happens. In the Gospel everything begins with an encounter with Jesus. Have we encountered Jesus?”

Jesus may be encountered through prayer, Scripture and the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“These are three gifts God has given to us to open us to holiness,” he said. “These are the Catholic ways to have a personal encounter with Jesus that is real.”

Regarding prayer: “The best way to start is to become aware of Jesus presence. … prayer [then] becomes a personal encounter, otherwise it’s an intellectual exercise.”

Regarding Scripture: “It’s not about information … it’s about God telling his love for me.”

Regarding sacraments: “The sacramental life is God touching me with his holiness.

“In the Catholic Church we believe that Jesus Christ didn’t want us to only have a recorded memory of him as in the Scriptures, but a living presence among us. He said: ‘I will be with you until the end of time.’”

I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you.”

Just as Jesus was present with the people of Galilee healing and forgiving them, so he is present with us today through the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“That’s why he instituted the sacraments. Each sacrament is a merciful and sweet touch of Jesus in our lives,” the bishop said. “This is what we mean when we say he makes us holy through the sacraments.”

So why isn’t there more holiness in our lives and more saints in the Church?

“God wants to work with our clay … but to make a saint is a question of love,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Love cannot be imposed, it cannot be mandated.”

Rather, one must cooperate with God’s grace to become the saint God desires.

“Last March, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic exhortation on our call to be holy, Rejoice and Be Glad,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “His thesis is that we have been made for happiness, and true happiness and joy only comes from a holy life.”

Holiness doesn’t mean perfection, performing miracles or that we are not tempted, Bishop Rodriguez said. Rather, it means loving God and one’s neighbor by doing the everyday tasks of life with love.

The answer for times of persecution and crisis in the Church has always been the holiness of the people of God, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you,” he challenged.

“This is our response to the Church crisis today: holy Catholic men and women,” he asserted. “We will never give up and we will fight against discouragement and loss of hope. Jesus is with us as he promised.”

Featured image by Roxanne King