The Violence of Love, by Oscar Romero; compiled and translated by James R. Brockman; foreword by Henri Nouwen (Plough, 216 pp.; $14, paper). Reviewed by John Wilson.

On April 26, 1998, Bishop Juan Jos‚ Gerardi was murdered in Guatemala, beaten to death with a concrete block, his head smashed in. Gerardi had just released a massive report on human-rights abuses during Guatemala's 36-year-long civil war.

Bishop Gerardi's death brings to mind another killing in Central America: the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador on March 24, 1980. Romero, like Gerardi, was compelled by his faith to speak the truth, even at the cost of his life. Named as archbishop in 1977, Romero often denounced the selfishness of El Salvador's wealthy elite and the wanton brutality of its death squads. He defended the right of the poor to rise up against their oppressors-but he was also quick to condemn the excesses of the leftist guerrillas and their materialistic, Marxist dogmas. Above all, he was a witness to the love of Christ.

The Violence of Love, drawn mostly from Romero's homilies, is not a book of fully developed sermons but rather a gathering of pithy exhortations. Romero's words are simple but powerful, and the compiler and translator, James Brockman, has arranged many of the entries like poems on the page:

There can be no true liberation
until people are freed from sin.
All the liberationist groups that spring
up in our land
should bear this in mind.
The first liberation to be proposed
by a political group
that truly wants the people's
liberation
must be to free oneself from sin.
While one is a slave of sin-
of selfishness, violence, cruelty,
and hatred-
one is not fitted for the people's
liberation.
MARCH 2, 1980

As this passage ...

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August 10, 1998

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