“We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good work” (Eph 2:9).
Today’s commemoration of St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th-century founder of the Passionist Order, offers us a glimpse into the way grace works in long chains of influence. Started in Italy, the Passionists took root in Spain, and its missionaries were sent to Latin America. In El Salvador in the 1970s, two Passionist priests deeply influenced the conversion of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who modeled his episcopacy on the image of the shepherd who lays down his life for his flock.
The Order’s devotion to the Passion of Jesus found its true focus in the reality of the unrelenting suffering of the poor. Romero’s assassination in 1980 drew worldwide attention to the systemic violence being inflicted on the poor by ideological and economic forces propping up post-colonial regimes. Romero’s formal canonization under Pope Francis will provide the flashpoint that defines the pope’s vision of a “church of the poor, for the poor and with the poor” that will challenge the structural injustices that continue to exploit the “crucified peoples of history,” in the words of martyred Jesuit Ignacio Ellucuria.
We are invited to see the breath of the Holy Spirit in a 15-year-old Italian boy who was moved in 1709 to devote his life to the crucified Christ—stirring the heart of a reluctant bishop in Central America 260 year later, which has led to a revolution in the life of the church in the 21st century. We rejoice in how God can use any one of us to change the course of history, if only we are open to the call that comes to each of us, no matter how insignificant we might feel.