Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Shepherd's Diary (Trans by Irene B Hodgson, CAFOD and CIIR, £14.99) Michael Campbell Johnston SJ
ALTHOUGH it will probably be some time before Archbishop Romero is officially canonized, the people of El Salvador and of many other countries already consider him a martyr and a saint St Romero of the Americas, as Bishop Casadaliga calls him in one of his poems. This excellently produced book, jointly published by CAFOD and CIIR, goes a long way towards explaining why. And it does so in a manner which is more direct and more moving than a biography.
The diary covers the last two years of Romero's three years as Archbishop of San Salvador. It starts on 31 March 1978, when he had headed the See for just over a year and ends on 20 March 1980, four days before he was murdered.
During this period he kept notes on each day's meetings, visitors and conversations and then, when the opportunity offered frequently late at night in his small room in the Divine Providence Hospital where he lived, he dictated his account onto a portable tape-recorder. In this way, he filled 30 cassettes.
These were first published in Spanish by the UCA (Jesuit University) in 1990 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his assassination. This translation has been painstakingly made by Dr Irene Hodgson, well-versed in LatinAmerican affairs, and remains as faithful as possible to the original.
Romero intended his diary to be part of some larger official account of events, whose importance he clearly recognised. In one entry he hopes it will be complemented by other records provided by his key administrative staff-observing. with typical modesty, that a fuller history encompassing the life of the whole archdiocese would be of greater interest than just the views and activities of its bishop. alone. Luckily this project came to naught. It is precisely by making known Romero's personal views on a whole range of topics and people in a way that more public utterances or official documents never could, that the diary holds any value. Though not a private record of his inner or spiritual life, it reveals much of the man himself.
What are the recurring themes? What sort of person comes across? Any selection will be subjective and cannot do justice to the wealth of the original. I was impressed by Romero's constant preoccupation to direct the pastoral work of his diocese according to the spirit and norms of Vatican II. In contrast to previous practice, when Auxiliary in the 1970's, he consulted widely and missed no occasion to meet with his priests, advisors, seminarians and the ordinary faithful, to learn from as well as help them.
This was in the spirit of a Vatican II understood in the context of Medellin and the Conference of Bishops in Puebla which Romero attended and describes at some length. As he said in the cathedral on his return: "In Puebla. I gave testimony of a diocese that has a pastoral direction, which coincides with what we studied at Puebla." An integral part of this was his preeminent concern for human rights. justice and the poor. Careful consultation and hours of work went into the preparation of his Sunday homilies which gave a detailed account of the preceeding week's atrocities. Romero was acutely conscious of his role as "the voice of the voiceless".
These aspects of his work won Romero the opposition and enmity of four of his five fellow bishops and of the Nuncio who more than once denouced him to Rome. Their accusations caused him great pain, as he frequently admits, but he stuck to his guns. Describing a meeting of the bishops after the assassination of Fr Macias, he says: "When we tried to look at the causes, the meeting was dominated by the prejudice that there is Marxist infiltration in the Church.
"It was impossible to overcome that prejudice, in spite of my trying to explain that many priests are persecuted because they want to be faithful to the spirit of Vatican II, translated for Latin America by Medellin and Puebla... I offered this test of my patience to God, since I was being blamed in great part for the evil occurring in the country and in our Church."
Romero drew the strength to battle on from the support of the people. He loved meeting in their communities, in liturgical celebrations, in a never-ending round of visits. He would listen to anyone and strove hard not to condemn even his fiercest opponents.
The other source of his strength was a life of deep prayer which permeates the whole book, even though it is rarely mentioned specifically. It is Mgr Urioste, his Vicar-General, who recounts how he would sometimes leave important meetings when a difficult decision was needed so that he could go to his chapel to pray.
So much more could be said but it will have to be left to the diary itself. This book is a must not only for the bishops but for anyone who has pastoral care of others.
It could also be read with profit by anyone wanting to learn from the life of a great, courageous and humble man, what a modern saint might look like.