Jon SOBRINO. Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections. Rev. ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016. pp. 243. $24.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-626981-176-8. Reviewed by Marie CONN, Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA 19118.
First published in 1990 to mark the tenth anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination, this new and slightly expanded edition was issued to mark Romero’s 2015 beatification. (Note: since so many of us, no doubt, have well-worn copies of the 1990 edition on our shelves, I have chosen to concentrate on the first chapter, Sobrino’s lengthy remembrance of Archbishop Romero as he came to know him, particularly for those readers for whom this will be new.)
Jesuit priest Jon Sobrino first met the newly minted Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, on March 12, 1977, less than three weeks after Romero’s episcopal installation and the day Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande was assassinated with two campesinos.
Many people who only know Romero as the courageous spokesperson for El Salvador’s poor and oppressed who ultimately gave his life in their defense are surprised to learn that “he had been a very conservative auxiliary, much under the influence of Opus Dei and an adversary of priests and bishops who had accepted the Medellín line;…” (2)
Sobrino, in fact, had lamented Romero’s appointment to succeed Archbishop Luis Chévez. Sobrino wondered if Romero “would defend the threatened campesinos and priests, or leave them in the lurch.” (4) Grande’s murder changed all that. “Archbishop Romero’s conversion used to be referred to in those days as ‘Rutilio’s miracle.’”
Sobrino devotes a large piece of the first chapter to delineating all the factors behind, and results of, Romero’s conversion. As often as I had read all this, I nevertheless found my respect for and admiration of Romero’s honesty, humility, openness, and love of the poor greatly deepened. And, in Sobrino’s words, Romero’s conversion “was a source of an immense peace, an immense freedom, and an immense joy” for the Archbishop. (19)
A personal note: while reading Chapter 1 for the first time in a long while, I kept thinking back to my own encounter with Sobrino. who spoke to us in the chapel at the UCA during a human rights tour in 2013. If fate had not intervened, he would have been murdered along with his colleagues whose memories are enshrined in a memorial Sobrino commissioned for the chapel. This book, in fact is dedicated to them and to the two women who died with them on November 16, 1989. He was welcoming, inspiring, and filled with humility. His extended personal recollections served to deepen my respect for and admiration of him, too.
Sobrino cites Gustavo Gutiérrez, who once observed that “the basic problem of liberation theology is how to tell the poor of this world that God loves them. This is the problem on which Archbishop Romero was able to shed so much light.” (25) Sobrino also noted that Romero “let himself be loved,” something Sobrino sees as “the most radical way to span distances and burst boundaries, which always exist between those of high and low estate.” (29)
Writing details about Romero’s life and death is relatively easy. Describing Romero himself is very difficult. Sobrino asked himself who this person was. His succinct answer: “I soon became convinced that Archbishop Romero was a ‘gospel’—good news from God.” (36)
This book is highly recommended for all readers. Sobrino’s clear style makes it accessible to anyone from young adult to senior citizen. Thirty-six years is not a long time in the life of the church. Archbishop Romero’s life, ministry, and death are as moving and as relevant today as they were in 1980. Perhaps they are even more needed by a world that appears so broken.In his Christmas song, “Emmanuel,” Jesuit Tim Manion asks, “A world grown so old now, how can it be new?” In this book, Jon Sobrino points a path to renewing this old world by meditating on and allowing ourselves to be inspired by Archbishop Romero, God’s good news of El Salvador.