Tuesday 7 March 2017

Oscar Romero: Prophet of Hope - Roberto Morozzo della Rocca

Oscar Romero: Prophet of Hope
Roberto Morozzo della Rocca
Michael J. Miller (Translator)
Pauline Books and Media
ISBN 9780819854667

I have encountered Oscar Romero in a number of university courses. There are some who hold him up as a patron of liberation theology. There were other that considered him too close to the government. But in reality neither extreme could really claim him as their own; for in fact first and foremost he was a follower of Christ, and tried to be faithful to that above all else. This book written by Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, and translated by Michael J. Miller, was extensively researched. The controversies examined from a number of angles, and the Bishop, the man separated from myth, legends and those who would use his legacy for their own purposes. From what I can tell this is the only book by Roberto that has been translated into English, and to be honest it is a very important volume. It is important for the cause of canonization of Oscar Romero. In fact I have read that this book forms the backbone of the cause of canonization and one of the primary reasons that pope Francis decided to beatify Romero in 2015.

The sections in this book are:

Chapter One

The First Fifty Years (1917-1967)
From Ciudad Barrios to Rome
Priest in San Miguel
A Fighting Man
Romero and the Second Vatican Council
Chapter Two
"El obispo que van a tener es pastor"
In the Capital
An Auxiliary Bishop with His Own Ideas
To Santiago de María
Primate of a Nation in Crisis
Chapter Three
Archbishop of San Salvador
First Days and the Death of Rutilio Grande
The Clash with the Government
The Misa Única
Persecution of the Church and Social Injustice
The Question of Violence
Chapter Four
Faith and Politics
The Clergy and Faithful of San Salvador
Hope as Ideology
"Boundlessly Political," in Spite of Himself
Chapter Five
"Sentir con la Iglesia"
The Bishop of the Poor
The Preacher
Romero in Private
With Journalists
A Man Much in Demand
Romero and Liberation Theology
Chapter Six
Romero and Rome
Ecclesiastical Jealousies
"Courage, You Are in Charge!"
Clarifications at the Vatican
The Apostolic Visitation
Romero and John Paul II
"A Pastor's Greatest Glory"
Chapter Seven
Romero's Final Days
Romero and the Revolutionary Government
Toward Civil War
Romero's Lent
For Further Reading
About the Author

In the forward Hosffman Ospino states: "It is fascinating to observe how Romero's actions and words have inspired numerous interpretations about the life of this Latin American archbishop, his convictions, commitments, and even his influences. Some of those interpretations, in fact, seem to have gotten in the way of officially advancing Romero's canonization process for several years. Yet we seem to be beyond that impasse. This is where the work of historians and researchers helping us to understand Romero as a man in his time, living in a particular context, is more than welcomed. Comprehensive biographies of Romero, like this one written by Professor Morozzo della Rocca, and current efforts to organize and disseminate Romero's writings are gifts to the ecclesial community." And that is what this book attempts, and I believe, is to separate the truth from the myth, the wheat from the chaff, the reality from the legends. And in so doing presents a man who truly can be an inspiration in our own lives and as an example for us for how to interact with the world.

Then in the preface Andrea Riccardi begins with these statement: "This book by Roberto Morozzo della Rocca is important because of its subject matter: the life of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador in Central America. While he was celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980, he was killed by death squads connected with the right-wing Salvadoran regime. He was sixty-two years old. The book is also important because its author is a historian recognized as an authority for his great insight and seriousness. Roberto Morozzo della Rocca's historical research on Archbishop Romero (in this and other writings) allowed him to reconstruct the true image of the assassinated prelate. This image had either been covered by many layers of polemics and ideologies, or it had been turned into a partisan banner. We must remember the decisive contribution that the author's research has made toward the reconstruction of the historical truth about Romero and toward the slow, laborious clarification of his process of beatification, which reached a positive conclusion only with the pontificate of Pope Francis. Morozzo della Rocca's study was important for Romero's cause of beatification, in which it was essential to elucidate the richness and complexity of his character as a Latin American Christian and a Catholic bishop." He also states: "Reading this book puts us in contact with one of the compelling sagas of the Church of the twentieth century. This story shows how a marvelous Christian achievement could come about in a small country, El Salvador, which was then unknown to most people. The story also reveals the secret but real face of a popular Catholicism of the "poor people" that is strong and resilient, and makes the reader more able to understand the national situation in which many political forces fought each other and dominated the life of El Salvador."

So that is what we get in this book, a history, a history researched and written with the truth being the central focus. A history not swayed by ideologies, not influenced by a white washing of history. There are parts of this book that are very raw. There are also many parts of this book that are incredibly encouraging and uplifting. Oscar Romero was a man who knew his time on earth was limited, "At the end of 1979 Romero no longer thought that the threats were rumors. He knew that he could die at any moment and wondered whether the right or the left would kill him." Early in 1980 Romero wrote in his journal while on retreat: "In this way I, too, place under his loving providence all my life, and I accept my death, no matter how difficult it may be, with faith in him. I will not offer a prayer intention, as I would like to, for peace in my country or for the flourishing of our Church . . . because the Heart of Christ will know best how to work things to the destiny he desires. It is enough for me to be happy and confident, knowing with certainty that my life and my death are in his hands and that, despite my sins, I have put my trust in him and I will not be disappointed. Others, with more wisdom and holiness, will carry on the works of the Church and of the nation." He even said to the US Ambassador that his prayer was when he will killed that there would not be many caught in the incident.

This book is about a man who lived to server God. But in doing so by his conscience he created many enemies. He lived for the faith and he died for the faith. And in some circles he still raises as much controversy in death and beatification as he did in his life. But if you read this book I am sure you will agree with the process going forward to have him named a saint.

This is a powerful read, it is deep and moving. It will have an impact on your heart, your prayer life and how you see the world around you. Read it and separate reality from myths about this man, his faith and his work. I am sure you will be encouraged and likely challenged.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2017 Catholic Reading Plan!

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