The evening of March 24, 1980 marked a changed in the course of the history of El Salvador. In the evening of that day, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot and fatally wounded as he conducted a mass for his followers. He is rushed to a nearby hospital but quickly succumbs to his wounds. His death plunges the nation in mourning and earns widespread condemnation across the globe. On May 23, 2015, thirty-five years after his death, he was beatified. In El Salvador his grave site is destination for visitors curious about the martyred priest. On the silver screen, he was brilliantly portrayed by the late Raul Julia in the 1989 film ‘Romero’. Following his death, the country fell deeper into civil war and chaos resulting in the deaths of thousands of El Salvadorans. And to this day, the country continues to heal itself from the brutal system of tyranny and murder that plagued the nation for decades.
It is fair to argue that Romero is more popular in death than in life. Today he is faintly remembered but during his time, his voice was one of the loudest to be heard from Central America. James Brockman takes another look at the life of the mythical figure. The book clearly is a biography of Romero and traces his origins to his hometown of Ciudad Barrios. The day-to-day experiences of his life are included in detail but more focus is placed upon Romero’s later years as he struggles to maintain his place as Archbishop among dissidents and seeks to have the government investigate and subsequently punish those responsible for the wave of murders of clergy that gripped the country. Disappearances, assassinations and other crimes of unspeakable horror surrounded Romero forcing him into a position that would earn him praise and bring about his demise.
Brockman creatively uses Romero’s own words in parts of the book to highlight his thinking and clarify the positions that he took. As we follow Romero’s last few years on earth, we are periodically reminded of the endless number of priests that fell victim to gunfire as they spoke out against the crimes destroying their country. We travel with Romero on his two trips to Rome where he seeks guidance about his role in El Salvador and back to his native land as he attempts to steer the congregation and nation towards a better path in the face of an administration infiltrated by corruption and incompetence. As a member of the clergy and voice of the people, the selflessness displayed by Romero in his frugal way of life and tireless efforts to help those in need, exemplify the highest character that a Christian can seek to possess. Not without his faults, he remains an icon for those who advocate for love, prosperity and the messages of the Catholic Church.
For some readers, parts in the book may be hard to accept. The stark truth as exposed by Brockman is that during the 1970s and 1980s, El Salvador found itself at the doorstep of anarchy. The accounts of murders, kidnappings and disappearances of common people is alarming and tragic. The crimes and the victims force us to ask ourselves why people can commit those acts towards each other. Someone very close to me was born in this small Central American nation and has told me stories of the fragile state of the nation and her family’s escape from a life that was a living hell. Today her parents have since returned to the land they call home but it is much different from the nation that they left many years ago. The country is no longer in a civil war but struggles to combat the rise of gang warfare that centers around the notorious MS-13. But there was a time when El Salvador was one of the most dangerous places on earth and a priest tried his best to salvage what was left of it. This is his story and the truth about his words and actions.