Bishop Mario Dorsonville distributes communion during an Oct. 14 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception celebrating the seven new saints canonized earlier that day. (ADW photo by Daphne Stubbolo)
Bishop Mario Dorsonville distributes communion during an Oct. 14 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception celebrating the seven new saints canonized earlier that day. (ADW photo by Daphne Stubbolo)

Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington on Oct. 14 celebrated the seven holy men and women, especially two who have a special connection to the area, who were canonized earlier that day by Pope Francis in Rome.

The Mass of Thanksgiving for the Canonization of New Saints was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the National Shrine, noted at the beginning of the Mass how Pope St. Paul VI and St. Oscar Romero have particular ties to the shrine and the archdiocese. In 1960, Pope St. Paul VI visited the National Shrine, of which he said, “The strength of this beautiful shrine...represents America’s deep faith in Christ.” He is also a figure portrayed on the Basilica’s new Trinity Dome, close to the Virgin Mary.

“Although Archbishop Oscar Romero has been named a saint nearly 40 years after he was martyred by an assassin's bullet, many Salvadoran Roman Catholics already consider him a saint, which I believe is the case with many of our Salvadoran friends who are with us this afternoon,” Msgr. Rossi said.   

The other newly-canonized persons included Maria Katharina Kasper, Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa, Vincent Romano, Francesco Spinelli, and Nunzio Sulprizio.

Pope St. Paul VI was pontiff at the close of the Second Vatican Council, and was responsible for the challenging task of implementing the teachings of the council. Fifty years ago, he wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reasserted the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and against artificial contraception.

Pope St. Paul VI named St. Oscar Romero archbishop of El Salvador’s capital city San Salvador in 1977 during time of civil unrest and a brewing civil war. An advocate of human rights, the poor, and for justice and peace in his country, St. Oscar Romero was deeply affected when military groups murdered his friend and brother priest, Father Rutilio Grande. Archbishop Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980.

“May all the new saints intercede for us as we offer this Mass of Thanksgiving for their canonization, the witness of their lives, and their example of holiness,” Msgr. Rossi said.  

In his homily, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville, the main celebrant at the Mass, said the “summary” of sanctity of these two men was their devotion to Jesus Christ, their love for His Church, and their defense of the dignity of the human person.

“[St. Oscar Romero’s] voice and conviction, his zeal for justice, and the love for the poor is the legacy that, after his own order, the Salvadoran people...and the Americans learn with such beautiful respect,” he said.

Bishop Dorsonville told how these saints exhibited the love and joy proclaimed in the responsorial psalm: “Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!” (90:14).

“That’s why all the saints...shine, because they were not about themselves,” Bishop Dorsonville said. “They were about others, they were about the Church.”

He also said these two saints in particular “have a message for today’s world.” This message is one of peace: “No violence, no more culture of death, no killing…”

Jorge and Carlos Alfaro attended the Mass with their family, all of whom wore T-shirts printed with St. Oscar Romero’s picture. The boys said their family is from El Salvador, and their maternal grandparents used to see St. Oscar Romero at Mass.

“It’s just a wonderful experience to have a saint that represents our country,” Jorge said. “He’s such a great person who devoted his life to God, to bring peace to the country and the world in general.”

Both boys attend Our Lady of Mercy School in Potomac, where they said they enjoy sharing the story of the new saint.

“I talk a lot about him in religion class,” said Carlos, who is in fourth grade. “I’m the only one in my class that actually knows a lot about him.”

Gustavo Sagastume came with a group from Saint Andrew Apostle Mission in Silver Spring. He emigrated from El Salvador six years ago, and he said the reality in that country is much the same as it was in St. Oscar Romero’s time. But Sagastume said having new saints for the Church and for El Salvador and hearing their stories is a great encouragement, even for people of other religions.

“Right now, just having these saints...it’s really good,” Sagastume said. “It is good news….The situation is not so good [in El Salvador], but this is really great. I know it is going to be a push for real peace.”

Though he said he did not know much about St. Paul VI before the Mass, he was inspired to learn more.

“I don’t know a lot of him but for sure I have to study more about him,” Sagastume said.  

Msgr. Rossi recalled the words that Bishop Dorsonville, who is from Colombia, said to him earlier that day: “‘Today, we are all Salvadorans.’”