Recalling the cloud of witnesses

Let us now praise famous persons…
But of others there is no memory…
Yet these also are godly people
whose virtues have not been forgotten….
For all time their progeny will endure,
their glory will never be blotted out.
Sirach 44 

 This morning’s first reading come from a chapter that begins Sirach’s listing of the “cloud of witnesses” that enveloped him.

Then I opened Susan Stabile’s blog and came across a reference to a blog post of María de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda on “What Saints Mean to Me.”

As I read her post I recalled my experience last Saturday at the beatification of Monseñor Oscar Romero.

During the homily, the pope’s representative, Cardinal Ángelo Amato, read out a list of holy women and men of the Americas, a list that, I believe, came from a talk Pope Francis gave at the North American College:

Dear brothers and sisters, Romero – Blessed Romero – is another shining star that burns in the American spiritual firmament. He belongs to the holiness of the American Church. [Applause.] Thankfully, there are many saints of this wonderful continent. Pope Francis recently recalled some. In addition to Friar Junípero Serra, who will be canonized on September 23 in Washington, D.C., the Holy Father enumerated so many other Saints who have distinguished themselves with various charisms. Contemplatives such as Rosa of Lima. Pastors that emanated the perfume of Christ and the smell of sheep as Toribio de Mogrovejo, François de Laval, Rafael Guizar Valencia. Humble workers in the vineyard of the Lord such as Juan Diego and Kateri Tekakwitha. Servants of the needy such as Pedro Clavel, Martín de Porres, Damian Molokai, Alberto Hurtado. Founders of communities devoted to the service of God and the poor such as Francisca Cabrini, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Katerina Drexel. Tireless missionaries such as Fray Francisco Solano, José de Ancheta, Alonso de Barzana, María Antonia de Paz Figueroa, Jose Gabriel de Rosario Brochero. And finally martyrs such as Roque González, Miguel Pro and Óscar Arnulfo Romero. [Applause.] And the Holy Father, Pope Francis, said “there has been holiness in America, so much sown holiness”.

I was standing surrounded by a cloud of witnesses – four women religious. One, a Sister of Charity, has spent more than 28 years in El Salvador; it was a joy to hear Mother Seton mentioned. Two others, Dubuque Franciscans, had spent years in Chile and are now in Honduras; it was a treasure to hear the name of the Jesuit Alberto Hurtado; one of them also spent years in El Salvador. An Italian sister with us had also spent years in El Salvador.


It was a blessing to feel accompanied by the cloud of witnesses of those who had gone before us as well as by the mist of those who are current witnesses.

Saints are for me witnesses of the presence of God in the midst of our broken world.

Some are “famous” – beatified and canonized by the Church – or by the sense of the faithful.

There are others – the witnesses among us which included those around me that morning in San Salvador.

There are even others whom I now remember – two friends who died last week while I was in El Salvador.

Mary Sawyer, a colleague at Iowa State University last Wednesday. A friend wrote a beautiful tribute to her that I put on my blog.

Father Pat Geary, a gentle man, died on Saturday. He was the priest who hired me to work in ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa. I told him several times when I visited the US in the past few years that he was responsible for me being here in Honduras.

And so we are surrounded.

What is importance is to pass on their memories, to pray to and with them, and to let them and their lives accompany us as we walk the way in the Reign of God.

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