“Can you tell me anywhere else in the world where people are studying the homilies of a bishop who’s been dead for 25 years?,” Msgr. Ricardo Urioste asked at the University of Notre Dame conference on Óscar Romero ... in March 2005. The question is even more poignant a decade later, as Notre Dame launches an “International Conference on Archbishop Romero,” September 25 - 27, 2014, buoyed by perceived papal favor and advances in Romero’s canonization cause.
The highlight of the conference is bound to be a keynote speech by Rev. Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP, the so-called “Father of Liberation Theology” whose friendship with Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has led to a recent rapprochement between the Vatican and the once disfavored Latin American ecclesial movement. Gutiérrez and Müller co-authored a book together, and the Cardinal remarked that the once-suspect movement “should in my opinion be included among the most important currents in 20th century Catholic theology.” Gutiérrez’ talk, focused on Pope Francis, should shed interesting light on the relationship between Romero and Liberation Theology, as seen by one of the great forerunners of the movement.
Other highlights of the conference include retrospectives on Romero from some of his collaborators. The aforementioned Msgr. Urioste, who was Romero’s vicar and now serves as President of Fundación Romero in El Salvador, will speak on the Spirituality of Archbishop Romero, which should serve to counter Gutiérrez by situating Romero in the Church with the authority of a close associate, a member of his pastoral team and one who is not as overtly aligned (Urioste is pretty much a rank and file cleric). The Salvadoran human rights attorney Roberto Cuéllar, who was on Romero’s council of legal advisors, will discuss the significant contributions Romero made in the legal field with regard to human rights work. Another portion of the seminar, featured on the last day of the panel, will focus on Romero’s “conversion”—and will feature mostly academic presentations on that subject.
Although I was not invited to the conference (but I provided some research assistance to a friend who is presenting at the conference) I offer these overview observations here.
- As a starting point, Msgr. Urioste’s 2005 comment is still the best insight to be had: the fact that we are still having Romero conferences, that we still have not exhausted the exploration of this Catholic figure’s legacy is the biggest take-away of all. This conference and all Romero discussions will make a difference to the extent they acknowledge and explore this starting fact, and begin to delve into why Romero remains so interesting and so compelling so many years on. Particularly if we are on the verge of a beatification, the world will be eager to understand what makes this man a saint.
- What is different at this conference which will provide the best opportunity for the gathering to provide a fresh contribution is the effect that a Latin American pope has brought to the scene. Romero famously predicted that, if killed, he would “arise in the Salvadoran people.” But he has done more than that—he has arisen in the Vatican, and that’s headline news. Fr. Gutiérrez can talk about that because it’s not just Pope Francis—Fr. Gutiérrez’ friend Card. Müller is also a Romero admirer. Julian Filochowski, Chairman of the Romero Trust in the UK will also give a talk about Romero and the Popes which should shed light on this story.
- Finally, this conference, like many Romero discussions, will spend more energy exploring Romero’s conversion. This assembly has the sophistication and intelligence required to develop the concept beyond the simplifications and exaggerations of the past. One of the presenters, Fordham University’s Michael E. Lee, has written compellingly about the gradual and painstaking process that Romero undertook, whereby he grappled with the goliath questions posed by the harsh Salvadoran reality and evolved along the way. Perhaps we will hear something new.
Super Martyrio will be keeping tabs on goings on in South Bend.