Robert CALDERISI. Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013. ix + 278 pages. $35.00 hc. ISBN 978-0-300-17512-7. Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560
Economist Robert Calderisi has previously served in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the World Bank. His first publication sought to expose the difficulties and politics behind the delivery of foreign aid in Africa. His latest work is a fair-and-balanced contribution to the missiology of the Catholic Church in such areas as Africa, Asia, and the Philippines. Calderisi states that the larger purpose behind his latest publication is to “describe the Church’s practical role and … [to] touch upon the relationship between religion and political, economic, and social progress more generally” (3). Although Calderisi accomplishes his premise more than adequately, what stands out in this fascinating and oftentimes graphic volume are the voices and histories behind several key missionary figures.
In the chapter entitled “Africa: ‘No One is Opposed to a School,’” we learn of the missionary efforts of Father Joseph Shanahan, who walked thousands of miles in Cameroon, where he made “new contacts, encountered chiefs, and opened missions and schools” (97). Calderisi reports that while Shanahan endured many hardships—wild animals, hostile natives, and a dearth of resources—he left an indelible mark upon the local population. Shanahan established nearly 1,400 churches and schools over a thirty-year period (98). In “Latin America: From Las Casas to Romero,” Calderisi relates the journey of Pere Negre, a former Jesuit who worked in Bolivia in the 1960s. Negre spoke out harshly against the soldiers who had killed numerous student rebels. Calderisi reveals that Negre “helped organize a national hunger strike on behalf of the parents, who wanted to recover the bodies. The government relented, and the autopsies showed that all had been shot in the back of the head” (158-159).
Calderisi does an excellent job in portraying both the positive and negative aspects of the Church’s attempt to spread the Gospel to all of humanity. In the chapter entitled “Horror in Rwanda,” Calderisi revisits the Church’s role in the killings of the Tutsis, wherein “priests, nuns, and lay Catholics participated in the 1994 genocide. Church leaders did little to prevent the butchery, and some even seemed to encourage it” (167). In his larger examination of the impact of the Catholic Church, Calderisi rightfully points to the progress made in terms of education, citing that “[t]he Church has been a leader in education across the developing world, equipping elites, empowering poor people, and having a particularly positive effect on girls and women, especially in cultures where they were regarded as inferior to men” (243-244).
Calderisi’s latest publication is extremely well-written, and well researched, as he conducted scores of interviews for the project. In light of the New Evangelization, this work will appeal to a wide audience, and is especially recommended for students of Cultural Anthropology, Ecclesiology, Ecumenism, Missiology, Political Science, Social Justice, and World History.