Camilo Torres, priest, sociologist trained at Louvain, former chaplain of Bogotá’s National University, and scion of a relatively well-placed Colombian family, died fighting as a guerrilla in the mountains of eastern Colombia in February 1966. Since his death he has become a martyr to Latin American revolutionary youth perhaps second only to “Che” Guevara, as well as an inspirational figure even to many Latin Americans who are not by any standard definition revolutionaries.
Revolutionary Writings comprises in the main a selection of Father Torres’ articles and speeches, almost all of them dated between 1960 and 1965. They reflect a spiritual odyssey—from a priest concerned with social problems such as urban poverty and agrarian reform, who believed that “the apostolate should give priority to material works to help our fellow men” (p. 107) to the laicized priest as armed revolutionary. He made this great transformation in a short time, for even in 1961 he was writing that “the polemical, emotional writings on social problems and social policy become more abundant, to the detriment of properly scientific literature” (p. 32). Yet by September 1965 he could assert that “armed struggle is the only means that remains” (p. 201).
Camilo Torres was a man of deep Christian conscience increasingly at war with his role as a priest in a society which he regarded as arranged for the benefit of the very few. Some of this feeling comes out in this book, and a certain eloquence marks the revolutionary appeals and Father Torres’ contest with Church authority toward the end. Most of the writings are, however, rather bland and diffuse commentaries on social problems. Only a few are really “revolutionary writings.” The questions posed are various and urgent; the answers, both in Father Torres’ “reformist” phase and in his later revolutionary one, are generally vague.
The book lacks an introduction, as well as any appreciable biographical material or editorial comment. These omissions considerably reduce its value, for the reader must supply his own context of events. Moreover, the translation is uninspired—for example, consignas becomes “assignments” and fomento “fomentation.”
These failings and the fact that Father Torres’ forte was obviously not ideology mean that in the main this book must disappoint. The continuing source of Father Torres’ appeal lies rather in the personal qualities of the man, in the essential tragedy of his life, and above all in his struggle to define a role for himself as both a Christian and a revolutionary. Only a modicum of all this is conveyed in Revolutionary Writings.