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Revolutionary Saint: The Theological Legacy of Oscar Romero.

Lee, Michael E. Revolutionary Saint: The Theological Legacy of Oscar Romero. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2018.

This book should appeal to general readers or specialists who want a deeper understanding of Archbishop Romero's importance as a priest, social activist, and candidate for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Michael Lee, an associate professor of theology at Fordham University, has written two books on Ignacio Ellacuria, a proponent of liberation theology. This background gives him the cultural and academic credentials to seriously study the legacy of Romero within El Salvador, the world, and the Catholic Church. Lee deftly conveys the pertinent ideas regarding Romero's ecclesiastical endeavors by portraying the Neo-Scholastic formation of the priest juxtaposed with his subsequent conversion to a new vision of his role in serving God and his congregation. Drawing on his profound knowledge of Catholic criteria and procedures, Lee also makes the case that Romero should be canonized as a martyr, but at the same time, he questions the idea that Romero was a liberation theologist.

In the introduction, Lee "proposes three themes about which Christian thinking 'after Romero' is changed: conversion, discipleship, and martyrdom" (p. xxii). The first of the five chapters in the book deals with Romero's training in traditional Church theology in which a duality occurred with "a church that ruled the soul and a state that ruled the body" (p. 9). This division began to change after Vatican II (1962-1965), the Latin American Bishops' Conference in Medellin (1968), and the efforts of Catholic Action, which sought to adopt a practice of see-judge-act that Romero adhered to later in his life. This meant that priests needed to see the reality of their congregations, judge what to do based on scriptures, and act through pastoral projects to improve the lives of their parishioners. Lee points out that this is one of many liberation theologies because no standards exist to accurately define liberation theology as one unified movement.

Lee posits that Romero underwent conversion just eighteen days after his installation as archbishop, when his friend Father Rutilio Grande was assassinated. Romero proclaimed that only one Mass would be celebrated and that he would not attend official government ceremonies until Grande's murder and those of his companions were investigated satisfactorily. Lee concludes that this led to Romero's break with orthodoxy, since he "had to overcome that strict division (between Church and State) and come to grips with a situation in which the church needed to confront the government that it had traditionally legitimized" (p. 61). This change signaled caring for parishioners in the here and now by restructuring their environment rather than guiding them toward a reward in the afterlife.

The next chapter details Romero's "articulating [of] the relationship of faith and politics with the notion of the 'preferential option' for the poor" (p. 89). Lee surmises that Romero saw this as an evolution of tradition that more closely followed Christ's example of ministering to the poor. Romero developed a three-point plan to give political prisoners due process, to establish dialogue between the government and the impoverished citizenry, and to establish structural change in society. The chief obstacle was the military dictatorship, which refused to negotiate, opting instead for harsh reprisals. Lee provides the historical, political, and cultural contexts to understand Romeros positions and his logic for demanding social change.

Chapter 4 details the criteria for martyrdom and outlines how Romero meets them. Lee presents how Romero meets the first two criteria without doubt: "(1) a cruel or violent death (2) that the victim freely accepts" (p. 143). The third criterion is more problematic: a death "imposed out of hatred of the faith (odium fidei)" (p. 143). Key elements in this decision are Romero's thoughts on the martyrdom of six priests who were killed after Romero became archbishop. Lee argues that contemporary martyrs are different from those of antiquity because they are not called to renounce their faith but rather are killed because of their solidarity with others of the faith.

The last chapter concludes that Romero was not a partisan of any politics but that he aligned himself with the oppressed who suffered social injustice, economic woe, malnutrition, and governmental repression. Lee points out that the connection of Romero to liberation theology was an impediment to his ascension to sainthood prior to the anointing of Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America. He questions the meaning of liberation theology by presenting it as a reaction to colonial structures that still prevail in much of Latin America, which leaves the debate about Romero as a liberation theologist open. He emphasizes that Romero was orthodox in his "attempt to be more faithful to the biblical heritage and fundamental teaching of Jesus and the Church" (p. 194).

The book is well written, informative, and thoroughly researched and can be read as a whole or as specific chapters, since much of the information is repeated throughout the text.


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Title Annotation:LATIN AMERICA
Author:Deaver, William O., Jr.
Publication:Journal of Global South Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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