POPE Francis has praised two 20th-century Catholic Church figures as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he canonised Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Francis declared the men saints at a Mass in St Peter’s Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims, a handful of presidents and 5000 Salvadoran pilgrims.

In a sign of the men’s strong influence on Francis, he wore the blood-stained rope belt Romero wore when he was gunned down in a hospital chapel in 1980, and also used Paul’s staff, chalice and pallium vestment.

Paul presided over the modernising yet polarising church reforms of the 1960s, while Romero was murdered by El Salvador’s right-wing death squads for his defence of the poor.

Francis said Romero gave up his security and life to “be close to the poor and his people”.

For many in San Salvador, it was the culmination of a fraught and politicised campaign to have the church formally honour a man who publicly denounced the repression by El Salvador’s military dictatorship at the start of the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.

“I am here to give glory to Monsignor Romero,” said Aida Guzman, a 68-year-old Salvadoran woman who carried photos of people killed during the war.

“He is a light for our people, an inspiration for all.”