Why two new saints have a special place in Francis' heart
A woman prays at the tomb of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980) after Pope Francis announced his canonization. Romero was assassinated by a right-wing death squad as he celebrated Mass. (Photo by Marvin Recinos/AFP)
The symbolism is undeniably strong: on Oct. 14, the first-ever pope from Latin America will canonize the first pontiff to ever set foot on the continent.
"It was in 1968. Paul VI came to Medellin [Colombia] for the Latin American Bishops Conference, a meeting marked by the Liberation Theology," journalist Michel Cool said.
"This event could not fail to mark the young Bergoglio."
Paul VI, who served as pope when Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) was in Jesuit formation, can be seen as the mentor of the current Bishop of Rome.
Pope Francis often quotes his predecessor in his texts, and considers his apostolic exhortation Evangelii muntiandi as "the greatest pastoral document written to this day."
The two men have a great deal in common.
"Like Francis, Paul VI had to deal with strong resistance from within the Curia, and the proximity Church that the current pope promotes is clearly a continuation of the Church of dialogue dear to Paul VI," Cool added.
"For both of them, institutional reforms depend on personal conversion."
In many regards, the Argentinian pope has also followed in the physical footsteps of Paul VI, from Jerusalem to Istanbul, and also to the United Nations.
"Paul VI's gestures mapped out the contours of Francis' pontificate," says Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila.
Francis also has much in common with Archbishop Oscar Romero, even above and beyond the fact that they both are from Latin America.
"What they have in common, above all, is their love for the poor," notes Roberto Morozzo Della Rocca, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Rome III and author of a biography of Romero.
"Like Francis today, he criticized both Marxism and the liberal system that exploits people for the sake of money," adds Della Rocca.
"And he always referred to the social doctrine of the Church and to the teaching of Paul VI."
In fact, it is Pope Paul VI who appointed Oscar Romero as Archbishop of San Salvador. The late pope always supported the man who, in the 1930s, had been his student at the Gregorian University in Rome.
The two men maintained correspondence for a long time.
"Romero is also one of the bishops who asked Paul VI to beatify the founder of Opus Dei," Michel Cool recalls. "He was far from being the Che Guevara some describe him as being."
"Oscar Romero was substantially a man of the magisterium, faithful to the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council and to Paul VI," Della Rocca said. "This was, in fact, recognized by Benedict XVI when he asked the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to move forward with the process of Romero's beatification."
For the Italian academic, if Romero was able to become the flag bearer of the leftist movements that emerged from the liberation theology, he was not a theologian.
"He was a pastor who found himself in the midst of a conflict," said Della Rocca.
"This revolutionary image harmed him: he became an element of conflict within the Church, and that blocked his beatification process for a long time."
"Francis likes nothing better than to correct injustice," said Cool. "Canonizing Romero and Paul VI is a bit about that for him. These are two people who have been greatly ill-treated in recent years."
The link with Vatican II is also significant.
On Sunday, Pope Francis will also canonize five other saints, including Nuncio Sulprizio, a young 19th century Neapolitan whom Paul VI beatified during the Council as a model for all youths.
Similarly, the canonizations are taking place during the Synod of Bishops' assembly on young people, and for that three-week gathering Pope Francis has continuously referred to the message Paul VI sent to young people at the close of Vatican II.
It is considered the final Council text and, by quoting it, Francis has sought to give the current synod assembly the task of renewing the Church -- a project that Vatican II put forth and the current pope is striving to achieve.