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Posted November 14, 2013

Book: Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development
Author: Robert Calderisi
Yale University Press. New Haven, Conn. 2013. Pp. 278

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

With 1.2 billion members, the Catholic Church is the world's largest organization and perhaps its most controversial. The Church's obstinacy on matters like clerical celibacy, the role of women, birth control, and the child abuse scandal has alienated many Catholics, especially in the West. Yet in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the Church is highly esteemed for its support of education, health, and social justice. In this deeply informed book, Robert Calderisi unravels the paradoxes of the Catholic Church's role in the developing world over the past 60 years.

Has the Catholic Church on balance been a force for good? Calderisi weighs the Church's various missteps and poor decisions against its positive contributions, looking back as far as the Spanish Conquest in Latin America and the arrival of missionaries in Africa and Asia. He also looks forward, highlighting difficult issues that threaten to disrupt the Church's future social role. The author's answer to the question he poses will fascinate Catholics and non-Catholic readers alike, providing a wealth of insights into international affairs, development economics, humanitarian concerns, history, and theology.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Oscar Romero was actually uncomfortable with the Medellin "option for the poor" and other modernizing trends in the Church. As a result, he was shifted from his position as auxiliary bishop in the capital to the small rural diocese of Santa Maria. There, his eyes began to open. In 1975, he presided at the funeral of five peasants who had been murdered by the rural police, and he wrote to the country's military dictator about the local situation. President Arturo Molina had just proposed the first agrarian reform in Salvadoran history, but withdrew it in October 1976 under pressure from the large landowners. As peasant organizations were formally banned, farmers lobbied against this decision through their small Christian communities. When the archbishop of San Salvador stepped down, the country's powerful families pressed for the appointment of Romero, whom they saw as an ally, and to general astonishment he was named to the see in February 1977. Romero accepted the position reluctantly.

Just a month later, a good friend of his, the parish priest, Rutilio Grande, was ambushed and murdered by the security forces. Romero closed all Catholic schools for three days, canceled Sunday masses across the archdiocese, and invited people to join him for the funeral mass in the Cathedral Square. It was the largest religious event in the history of the country. From then on, Romero was in constant conflict with the government, the military, and most of his fellow bishops. In July 1977, to protest against political violence, he stayed away from the inauguration of the new president. The next year, he was recalled to Rome for "consultation." During a long private meeting, Paul VI held his hand and (according to Romero) said: "Your work can be misunderstood; it requires a great deal of patience and a great deal of strength." The Pope urged him to promote unity and peace, not violence.

. . .Romero and his deputy suggested that all political prisoners be amnestied; but three weeks later, the rest of the country's bishops issued a separate letter saying the Church should stay out of politics. The country's hostilities had now spread to the institution itself. As Romero's involvement in daily events intensified, so too did his international reputation. In December 1978, more than a hundred British members of parliament nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. But he had only fifteen months to live. On Sunday, 23 March 1980, Romero asked soldiers at his early morning mass to obey a "higher authority" and refrain from killing their fellow citizens. Senior officers saw him as encouragement to mutiny, and later that day he was shot as he celebrated mass at the Chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital. He died shortly afterwards in the hospital's emergency room.

Table of Contents:

1. Two troublemakers

2. The Catholic Church: "Seven inches of condemnation and one of praise"

3. Social teaching: from Caesar to Centesimus Annus

4. Religion and development: "A task of fraternity"

5. Africa: "No one is opposed to a school"

6. Asia: a determined minority

7. Latin America: from Las Casas to Romero

8. Horror in Rwanda

9. Tilting at Condorns

10. Catholic Charity: "A network to die for"

11. Looking ahead: A fading social mission?

12. Conclusions: "Everyone who fights for justice upsets people"