Scott WRIGHT Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009. pp. 162. $20.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-839-3.
Reviewed by Arthur KUBICK, Providence, RI 02906

Jon Sobrino often talks about the importance of connecting a “theology of texts” with a “theology of witness.” One valuable contribution to this witness theology can be found in Scott Wright’s Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints, a biography appropriately published during this 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero in El Salvador. The story of Romero’s life from humble beginnings in Ciudad Barrios on August 15, 1917, to his death by an assassin’s bullet while celebrating Mass in Divina Providencia Hospital on March 24, 1980, provides the witness theology spoken of above. We find in Romero’s life a real narrative theology, making Jesus truly present within the Salvadoran reality. As one peasant refugee quoted by Scott Wright says, “Monseñor Romero was like a Salvadoran Jesus Christ…When they killed him, we were very sad because we thought that everything had ended. But later we saw that his spirit gave us strength to resist oppression. For that reason we also believe more now in Jesus Christ.” These words recall Ignacio Ellacuría’s similar observation: “With Archbishop Romero, God has visited El Salvador.”

Drawing on Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Friends of God and Prophets, Wright situates his story of Romero within the context of the communion of saints—“rooted in the memory and hope of the Christian community” and “grounded on the foundational narrative and witness of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Romero transforms this symbol of the communion of saints into a linking of faith, hope, and charity with justice—working so that the poor have life. Through the pages of this biography we come face to face with a story of fidelity, conversion, commitment to the poor, and so also challenged to enter into this “cloud of witnesses” as advocates for real justice in our world.

The life of Oscar Romero speaks loudly about the importance of place in each person’s life, and in the life of the church community. His conversion came about through his experience of the poor, standing quite literally with the poor at various points in his life. Certainly the murder of his friend Fr. Rutilio Grande only weeks after Romero became archbishop contributed to this conversion, seeing the world with “new eyes” from the viewpoint of the poor. Especially enlightening here is a conversation between César Jerez, the Jesuit provincial, and Romero (quoted on page 53) in which Romero reflects on his life and how he has changed: “So yes, I changed. But I also came back home again.” The seminary and chancery offices had taken him away from that “home.” The experiences of extreme poverty in childhood and in Santiago de Maria put him in the place to see reality, at the side of the poor.

Scott Wright is especially qualified to write this biography. Although he only met Archbishop Romero once, in 1979, he really came to know him through the people of El Salvador while accompanying them as a pastoral worker in the refugee camps there throughout the 1980s. Wright’s reflections on this experience were gathered in his book Promised Land: Death and Life in El Salvador (Orbis, 1994). He has also written, along with Marie Dennis and Renny Golden, Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings (Orbis, 2000). He continues this accompaniment of the poor through his work with SICSAL (Servicio Internacional Cristiano de Soledaridad con los pueblos de America Latina).

The photos spread throughout the text—many of them by Octavio Duran, personal photographer to Romero—contribute to bringing this important story to life, illustrating the reality and placing it in visual context. For the most part the author relies on two basic sources for this biography: James Brockman, Romero: A Life, and María Lopez Vigil, Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic, along with various selections from Cartas a las Iglesias (San Salvador: UCA Editores). The intention is not to break new biographical ground, but rather to present this important story in a clear, attractive, well-written format for general readers. At the same time, however, the concluding chapters place Romero within the contemporary context, showing that he continues to live among the Salvadoran people (as he said he would) and to offer a witness for all who seek a just world. We are indeed all very much part of the communion of saints, a blessing as well as a challenge. This biography illustrates Romero’s statement in a 1978 homily: “The Word remains. This is the great consolation of one who preaches. My voice will disappear, but my word—which is Christ—will remain in the hearts of those who have wanted to receive it.”

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