Page 10, 2nd November 1990

2nd November 1990
Page 10
Page 10, 2nd November 1990 — Salvadorans' own saints
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Salvadorans' own saints

NOVEMBER 16 will be the first arzniversary of the brutal murder of Ignacio Ellacuria, his five Jesuit companions, their housekeeper and her daughter. Jon Sobrino, who also teaches in the University of Central America (UCA), was the one that got away. He escaped death only because he was away in Thailand.

Fr Sobrino has asked the Vatican for the canonisation of his colleagues. "They should be canonised soon," he says, "while their memory is fresh. If it happens in 200 years time, it will be meaningless because no one will have known them." In any case, he adds, "they have already been canonised in the hearts of the Salvadoran people."

And of the Spanish people at all levels. I became aware of this in the summer when I met Catalina Moines, sister of Fr Segundo Montes, dean of UCA. The affair was followed in Spain with intense interest. The 38 universities of Spain awarded UCA their highest award, the golden rose, and have pledged financial support. People are clamouring for relics. The Montes family in Valladolid have nothing much except a stock of old handkerchiefs. They should hold on to them. Some new facts emerged. Catalina told me that the Jesuits were killed in reverse hierarchical order, with the rector, Ellacuria, the last to die, and her brother the last-butone. So they had the additional torment of seeing their brothers and sisters killed first.

The most striking thing to come out is the explanation of the four bullet wounds in Segundo's right arm. This can only mean, forensic experts say, that his hand was raised in blessing as he was shot. In other words his last act was to forgive his killers.

This is important if the case ever comes before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It has to be established in what frame of mind a martyr dies. They might die railing at their fate and cursing their assassins. But that would not be very — what's the word? — Ignatian.

No precedent

IT seems highly unlikely that they will be canonised soon. The example of Archbishop Oscar Romero in not encouraging. There is still the fear in Rome that is beatification would in the Pope's words — "be exploited by ideological interests". That means the guerrillas.

The same argument would be used against the Jesuits. Yet I would like to see them beatified. Unless we count Edith Stein, they would be the first theologians to be recognised as martyrs and, in the case of Ellacuria, the first contributor to Concilium.

But the Vatican does not like departures from precedent. The last time a speedy canonisation was called for was in 1964 during the third session of the council. A group led by cardinals Suenens (Brussels) and Lercaro (Bologna) wanted Pope John canonised by acclamation.

Since all the bishops at the council had known Pope John personally, and since they constituted, while they met, the church's ordinary magisterium, this novelty could be justified. It would be, they said, a marvellous way of committing the church to a council in the spirit of Pope John.

Pope Paul said nothing. He did not show his hand until the last day of the council when he announced that the causes of both John XXIII and Pius XII would be opened simultaneously and according to the usual procedure. Gasps in the assembly.

Cooke chutzpah

I'M not sure it's a good idea to canonise popes. The wisdom of the church seems to agree since only three have been canonised in the last 1,000 years: Celestine V, who resigned because he was unhappy, Pius V, the fierce counter-reformation Dominican, and Pius X.

Popes can only serve as models of holiness for other popes. What their canonisation really does is set the seal on a particular kind of church, the counter-reformation church of Pius V and the anti-modernist church of Pius X. That there should be a draft proposal to beatify Pio Nono, the Pope of the Syllabus of Errors, 'proves the point. It would only go to show that the church hates the modern world and democracy.

No doubt cardinals need models of holiness too, but New York Cardinal John O'Connor's suggestion that his

immediate predecessor, Terence Cooke, should be considered really takes the biscuit. A marvellous example of chutzpah (as it's called in the Big Apple) which owes much to public relations.

But Cooke's confessor is acting as postulator and has collected 51 volumes of press cuttings in which he figures. Unfortunately he never seems to have done or said anything that was particularly significant or interesting. But his confessor says he was "courteous and thoughtful" which, in the clerical world, might count as heroic virtue. His underwear and violin are being carefully preserved just in case.

Political saints

POLITICIANS are in more urgent need of models of holiness than archbishops. The cause of Alcide De Gasperi has recently been put forward by a group of Italian Catholics. De Gasperi was founder of the Italian Christian Democratic party and Italian Prime Minister from 1945 until his death I have no doubt about his heroic virtues. He showed exemplary patience in dealing with Pope Pius XII, for example, who rather resented the independent line De Gasperi took with the Christian Democrats.

In the 1952 elections he refused to align the Christian Democrats with the most reactionary elements of the right (neo-fascists to put it more bluntly). He correctly thought they could defeat the communists without resorting to such means.

De Gasperi was not forgiven for his effrontery. When he asked for a private audience on his thirtieth wedding anniversary — it was also the anniversary of the day his daughter Lucia became a nun Pius XII refused.

Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Paul VI, later apologised to the De Gasperi family for this rudeness.

Party movement?

I'M sure David Alton MP will be extremely interested in this item, not because he hopes to be beatified himself, but because he is launching his Movement for Christian Democracy (MCD) on November 17 with a rally at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. You are advised to book a ticket by writing to David Alton at the House of Commons, SW IA OAA.

Methodist Central Hall is a place for historic events. The United Nations were founded here. MCD is presented by Ken Hargreaves, another Catholic MP, as a cross-party grouping of Christians who share "a common faith and concern for political service, beyond the divisions of party and denomination."

So it is, at this stage, only a movement. It is not seen as the chrysalis of a distinct political party. But a fully-fledged Christian Democratic Party could emerge if, say, there was PR for the next European elections in 1994. Blessed Alcide, pray for us.




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