Symposium Introduction


Ashley Beck
Peter Casarella
Meghan Clark
Todd Walatka



On March 24, 1980, a sniper shot and killed Archbishop Oscar Romero as he celebrated mass. Today, nearly four decades after his death, the world continues to wrestle with the meaning of his witness.

Blood in the Fields: Oscar Romero, Catholic Social Teaching, and Land Reform treats Romero’s role in one of the central conflicts that seized El Salvador during his time as archbishop and that plunged the country into civil war immediately after his death: the conflict over the concentration of agricultural land and the exclusion of the majority from access to land to farm. Drawing extensively on historical and archival sources, Blood in the Fields examines how and why Romero advocated for justice in the distribution of land, and the cost he faced in doing so.

In contrast to his critics, who understood Romero’s calls for land reform as a communist-inspired assault on private property, Blood in the Fields shows how Romero relied upon what Catholic Social Teaching calls the common destination of created goods, drawing out its implications for what property is and what possessing it entails. For Romero, the pursuit of land reform became part of a more comprehensive politics of common use, prioritizing access of all peoples to God’s gift of creation.

In this way, Blood in the Fields reveals how close consideration of this conflict over land opened up into a much more expansive moral and theological landscape, in which the struggle for justice in the distribution of land also became a struggle over what it meant to be human, to live in society with others, and even to be a follower of Christ. Understanding this conflict and its theological stakes helps clarify the meaning of Romero’s witness and the way God’s work to restore creation in Christ is cruciform.

Reviews and Endorsements 

“Makes a significant contribution to the study of Romero and Catholic social thought…there are few works that place Romero so successfully and richly within the context of Catholic social thought.”―Todd Walatka, author of Von Balthasar and the Option for the Poor: Theodramatics in the Light of Liberation Theology (CUA Press)

Blood in the Fields is an accurate study of a great saint, Oscar Romero, viewing his life, death, and witness through the lens of Catholic social thought. . . . This book is an indispensable resource for those who want to better understand Romero, enlightening readers about him in the context of his time and space.”―Maria Clara Bingemer, Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

“A beautifully written book that offers a new perspective on the ministry of the first Salvadoran canonized saint. Its study of Romero’s thought in its social context unearths the theological underpinnings of his indefatigable support for land reform. Whelan’s carefully argued account of the gift-character of the land is invaluable for all future engagement of Romero’s legacy.”―Edgardo Colon-Emeric, Duke University Divinity School

“To what does San Oscar Romero bear witness? Examining Romero’s teaching on the preferential option for the poor, Whelan demonstrates Romero’s special concern for those people suffering from lack of access to farmland in El Salvador. Highlighting Romero’s theological affirmation of creation as common gift, Whelan offers a compelling account of Romero’s politics of common use predicated on the essential connection between structural justice and mercy. In the process, Whelan demonstrates the place of land, space, and place as central considerations for Catholic reflections on dignity, justice, and the common good.””―Nichole M. Flores, University of Virginia

“With the canonization of Oscar Romero accomplished, now is the time to go beyond biography and hagiography to studies that open up his legacy and make it relevant today. Whelan’s analysis reveals the importance of land reform in Romero’s preaching and ministry, but it also invites readers to explore how Catholic social teaching’s theology of creation as gift calls us all to enact a politics of common use. Blood in the Fields gives voice to the cries that rise to the heavens in hope for a more just and peaceful planet.”―Michael E. Lee, author of Revolutionary Saint: The Theological Legacy of Oscar Romero

Blood in the Fields is not only one of the most profound studies of the life, witness, and martyrdom of a recently proclaimed saint, but the best study of Catholic Social Teaching that we have seen. This book will be important in the consideration of St. Oscar Romero as a Doctor of the Church.”―Houston Catholic Worker

“Has the potential to make a significant contribution to the study of Romero and Catholic social thought…an indispensable companion for reading – and understanding – Romero.”―Romero News

“The volume delivers on many levels. Whelan weaves together careful and extensive research on the life and thought of Romero with equally dense analysis of CST on the issue of property rights, land, and labor, and its theology of creation. The resulting tapestry presents a complicated picture in which humanity’s participation in the goods of creation and the labor that brings forth its fruit (and its enjoyment by all) are understood as essential to Catholic anthropology. Throughout, readers get a richly painted picture of the history of agriculture and economics in El Salvador, centered on the impact this history had on most of the population of the poor and dispossessed, who became the focus of Romero’s mission.”―Journal of Catholic Social Thought

“Matthew Whelan has penned an essential monograph for scholars and graduate students interested in Romero, Catholic social thought, or, for that matter, Catholic moral theology or ecclesiology. Whelan claims that this book ‘approaches Romero from a different angle than much of the existing English-language scholarship on him’ (18). And he’s right. This clearly written and well-documented book grounds Romero’s work in the concrete realities of the Salvadoran context-particularly the production of landlessness and the struggles surrounding land reform in El Salvador over the ninenteenth and twentieth centuries. In so doing, Whelan illuminates the Catholic social tradition in new ways, making clear Romero’s ongoing relevance for Christian ethics and the global church today.”―Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

“This is one of those rare books that makes us better for reading it, a book through which the reader comes to see Christianity, El Salvador, and fundamental moral imperatives from a new perspective.”―Latin American Research Review

“Whelan’s contribution to Romero Studies and Catholic Social Teaching in this book is immense. Ultimately, W.’s extensive and meticulous research has opened up new vistas for Christian theology to imagine and embody a world in which the goods of creation are shared and enjoyed by all people, including generations to come.”―Theological Studies

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