The Church Cannot Remain Silent

By Oscar Romero, Orbis, £14.99

During his time as Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero received a predictably large number of letters. It fell to his private secretary to sort them into categories: expressions of solidarity, requests for advice, or, rather chillingly, “anonymous threats”.

Romero appears to have been a diligent and thoughtful correspondent, and this captivating little book offers extracts from some of the private letters he sent to fellow priests, prisoners, anxious mothers and a depressingly large number of people who were enduring marital difficulties. I can’t imagine that the heftiest theological tome would get us any closer to the spiritual heart and pastoral concerns of the martyr of El Salvador.

Various themes resonate through these pages. There’s the constant anger at injustice, of a nation living in what Romero calls “social sin”. “They don’t want even a single voice clashing with the voice of the powerful,” he writes in a letter from 1977.

“They don’t want to hear anyone defending those who have no voice, much less defending those who are helpless and persecuted.”

Romero talks of the Christian being obliged always to walk up the hill, to suffer, and more than once he finds common cause with, and self-definition through, the tribulations of the early Church. A sense of hope is never far behind, however: confidence that Catholicism can be “a leaven, salt and light”.

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