- Romero’s Legacy: The Call to Peace and Justice
As his former collaborator Jon Sobrino has often noted, beyond being a prophet, true pastor, and witness of God, Archbishop Oscar Romero was good news to the poor. This collection of essays captures this spirit of Romero and keeps his [End Page 111] legacy alive by addressing various contemporary pastoral and theological concerns from the same perspective that led and infused the archbishop’s life—an unflinching commitment to the poor. The different chapters originated as lectures given between 2001 and 2007 at the Romero Center in Camden, New Jersey, to commemorate the anniversary of the archbishop’s martyrdom.
In the first chapter, Father Robert McDermott, a founding member of the Romero Center, draws from his experiences on a retreat-pilgrimage to Guatemala and El Salvador to explore the lessons bequeathed by the man who inspires this book. He begins by recounting his visits to the places—some now popular shrines—where a number of recent martyrs lived and worked. The sheer quantity and temporal proximity of these deaths compel the reader to consider the intensity of the violent period endured by these two nations throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. Having set the stage, the author then sketches Romero’s biography and highlights how it was in the apparent ordinariness of his pastoral life that Romero concretized the church’s commitment to the poor and the good news proclaimed by Christ. McDermott wisely skirts the debate over Romero’s “conversion” and focuses instead on the archbishop’s faithfulness to his prophetic life even as the country’s atmosphere became increasingly marked by chaos, intimidation, and violence. McDermott’s pilgrimage and his reflections on Romero’s past convince the author that “theological reflection and church life should start with human experience. . . especially, the poor and the marginalized in our society” (22).
In the second essay, the book’s co-editor John P. Hogan examines the essential relationship between “The Eucharist and Social Justice.” Hogan observes how worship and social action were seamlessly interwoven in Romero’s pastoral life and offers this as a role model to correct the separation between these two dimensions in Christian life today. The author laments what he deems the overly individualist and therapeutic understanding of the Eucharist that has come to dominate the imagination of many contemporary Catholics and notes how this has undervalued the real presence of Christ within the body of believers. Relying on the exegetical work of John Haughey, Hogan argues that St. Paul offers a corrective view of the Eucharist when he intimates that this should be understood as the unifying presence of Christ in all the church’s members who, in turn, both mediate Christ to one another and constitute a single body. This sacramental and deeply relational way of understanding Christ’s Eucharistic presence, Hogan further suggests, should inform how the church assesses its role as a global and local actor for justice, as well as how it relates to different social, political, and economic structures and works toward God’s Kingdom.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton’s contribution, “If You Want Peace Work for Justice,” draws connections between the conditions that gave rise to Romero’s martyrdom and the most common cause for martyrdom today—the violence that emerges from social injustice. The retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit and founding president of Pax Christi USA combines the numbing power of the sheer number of contemporary martyrs with haunting anecdotes to depict the situation endured by those who most bear the consequences of an unequal world. The vast disparities in the world’s wealth and resources are no accident, the bishop argues. Rather this inequality is largely the product of human decisions and what has come to be defined by the Catholic Church as structural social injustice—namely social arrangements that work to the detriment of individuals or groups within that society. The article [End Page 112] recalls the prophetic stances of Paul VI and John Paul II in...