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by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

As November begins, the feast days of All Saints and All Souls are celebrated. These two liturgical moments in recent years seem to have folded into one another. The Saints for us are all those who have lived—and continue to live—exemplary lives. The Souls are all others who have gone home to God.

We have come to understand sainthood as something familiar and accessible. We recognize outstanding goodness all around us and remember, as well, the many people who have suffered, even died for their holy work.

So here we name a few such saints—some well-known and others not as much—canonized by the Church or not.

  • Saint Archbishop Oscar Romero: Acclaimed by the people immediately after his martyrdom as “The Saint of the Americas.”
  • Dorothy Day: Prophet whose whole life called attention to the poor and forgotten.
  • Saint Franz Jagerstatter: Recognized after World War II as a lonely and heroic witness to non-compliance with evil.
  • Bishop Walter Sullivan: Member of the Catholic hierarchy, outstanding for his simplicity and commitment to nonviolence.
  • Sister Dorothy Stang: Martyred for being a defender of the people and the natural world of Amazonia.
  • Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford: Names forever joined in the ultimate sacrifice they made together simply for accompanying poor Salvadoran peasants.
  • Phil and Dan Berrigan: Brave opponents of United States militarism.

The list of such saints, now with God, goes on and on and is complemented by names of others still alive:

  • Tom Gumbleton: Catholic bishop in the mold of Walter Sullivan.
  • Pope Francis: Pastor and prophet to the world.
  • Circles of Peace Makers: Creators of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.
  • Greg Boyle: Pastor of at-risk youth in Los Angeles.
  • Joan Chittister: Faithful Catholic sister, outspoken critic of Institutional Church sins.
  • Numberless nurses, doctors, and all others risking their serving the victims of the Pandemic.

We would do well here to add the names of so many others known to each of us, both deceased and still alive, who have shown us what sanctity looks like. They are parents, mentors, teachers, friends, confidants—who have inspired us to live lives of integrity.

We bless them all.

All Souls Day reminds us of the wonderful Catholic teaching on the Communion of Saints. We generally pass over the words quickly in making our Profession of Faith. But it is an enormously consoling doctrine. The Communion of Saints is the “cloud of witnesses” spoken of by St. Paul in his letter to the early Christian Community in Rome. These numberless and for the most part nameless deceased sisters and brothers to whom we are very present continue as our “heavenly fans” cheering us on as we journey toward union with them in God.

Them also we bless.

Lastly, a word about November, the month dedicated to remembering the dead—so appropriate this year of the horrible COVID-19 pandemic. The entire world continues to mourn the ongoing loss of life this plague is causing across the world. It has tragically united the human family as never before. In these weeks and months, we are ever so much more conscious of death’s reality.

As the whole world awaits human science to develop an effective antidote to this virus, a final story about death and dying may console and even strengthen our Hope.

On November 16, 1989 six Jesuit priests and two lay women were brutally murdered at the University of Central America in El Salvador. One member of their community, Jon Sobrino, happened to be traveling abroad on that fateful day and his hurried return home took him through a Washington, D.C. airport. Several of us went to meet Jon and weep with him over his unimaginable loss. Toward the end of our conversation from the depths of his sorrow he said:

“I do not believe that death has the final word, or that it is the final chapter in life. I believe in Resurrection.”

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Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

PHOTO CREDIT: Power to the Poster

5 thoughts on “Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses

  1. Thank you! May we appreciate more deeply Jesus’ prayer “that we be One.” May we work together in solidarity for the planet and for what John Lewis said– ‘that we all live in one house.” May we overcome small-mindedness and fear of others, recognizing ourselves as part of the Mystical Body of Christ.

  2. I liked the message, but you may have forgotten one more name: Blessed Stanley Rother, who was martyred while working in Guatemala. His was a heroic life too – working with the villagers of Atitlan and killed by the repressive government of Guatemala in 1981. He is the first US born martyr and the first priest to be beatified. Fr John DMello

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