Maria Lopez VIGIL.  Monsenor Romero: Memories in Mosaic.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013.  Pp. xv + 303.  $30.00 pb.  ISBN 978-1-62698-010-5.  Reviewed by Moni MCINTYRE, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA  15282

Maria Lopez Vigil’s creative and insightful portrayal of the life, times, personality, and accomplishments of one of the most significant Roman Catholic bishops of the twentieth century offers readers an opportunity for meditation, gratitude, and pathways toward action. Extremely hostile to compesinos in the 1970s and 1980s, El Salvador’s government and military, with help from the United States, declared “low intensity warfare” against its poor as well as the clergy and religious who assisted them.   Not all church leaders sympathized with the cause of the compesinos, however.  Four of the six bishops of the country and many of its priests considered those who ministered on behalf of the poor to be communists and, in some cases, even guerillas.

Vigil inserts Oscar Romero into this scene through mostly short statements given by those who knew him in various contexts.  Later in the book she provides quotations from some of his homilies.  The author presents her chronological summary of Romero’s life through these recollections and messages.  She begins her mosaic with comments on Romero as a young boy who desired to serve God as a priest.  Each reflection depicts the developing young man as a quiet, thoughtful introvert who considers carefully the words and presence of others even as he clung tightly to his ecclesiastical framework that required obedience to the hierarchy.

As time passed, Romero became a bishop of one diocese and later archbishop of the archdiocese of San Salvador.  He still listened to and disagreed with those clergy who dedicated their lives to the plight of the compesinos.  Believing that the role of the priest is solely to convert sinners and bring them to God, Romero clashed time and again with those who argued in favor of direct involvement in the lives of the poor.  The death of his friend, Father Rutilio Grande, changed all that.  Romero’s lifetime of listening and learning stood him in good stead as he began to put the pieces together.  He grew to understand that his prior concept of the role of government, the military, and the church clashed with the reality that took Grande’s life.

Once the scales fell from his eyes, Romero could not be stopped.  He threw himself into the world of the oppressed.  For example, he used the skills of the people around him to rebuild the archdiocesan radio station, thereby allowing him to make available his long Sunday homilies first locally, then nationally, and, finally, around the world.  This provocative archbishop became the voice of the poor in El Salvador, for whom he always had time.  Others could wait for him; the poor never did.
Tensions in the country continued to mount.  Tens of thousands continued to disappear, be tortured, killed, threatened, stalked, and terrified.  Many priests and nuns suffered the same fate as those they served.  Perhaps the most painful blow to the archbishop was the lack of support by the church, especially and including Pope John Paul II. 
The repression intensified and he continued to receive death threats. Labeled a communist even as he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Romero knew that he faced an uncertain future.   A single bullet took his life as he celebrated Mass in a convent on March 24, 1980.  Vigil’s book closes with recollections from several of those who ran for their lives during Romero’s funeral as the government sponsored military gunned down as many mourners as they could. 

This book tells a powerful story in an inspiring way.  One cannot miss the passion of Oscar Romero and those who loved him.   Housekeepers, secretaries, priests, friends, and many other named individuals tell their stories in their own words.  This singular accomplishment reveals the author’s depth of understanding of a man who dedicated his life to bringing honor to those seldom remembered.