The best books by or about Catholics who joined revolutionary movements in Central America

The Books I Picked & Why

Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

By Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville

Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

Why this book?

How did a U.S. priest and nun who went to Guatemala to convert the poor to “proper” Catholicism and to fight communism join a revolutionary movement?

The married couple Thomas and Marjorie Melville explain how they shared the anti-communist views of the U.S. government and the Catholic Church but living among the poor led them to question both institutions’ roles in supporting inequality in Guatemala. At the time of the book’s publication, 1970, the two were in jail as part of the Catonsville Nine. They, along with other Catholics, broke into a Maryland draft board and poured homemade napalm on stolen files to protest U.S. imperialism, including in Vietnam, and the Catholic Church’s support for it.


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Faith & Joy: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Priest

By Fernando Cardenal

Faith & Joy: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Priest

Why this book?

What led a priest to join the Sandinista revolution?

In sharing his story, Nicaraguan Jesuit Fernando Cardenal details how his views regarding what it means to serve the poor and his understanding of sin as societal placed him on a collision course with both the government and many in the church. For a time, Cardenal was expelled from the Jesuits because he refused to resign his post in the Nicaraguan government. He also recounts what led him to later break with the Sandinista party.


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The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War

By Gioconda Belli

The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War

Why this book?

What prompted an upper-class, Catholic mother to become an armed revolutionary in Nicaragua?

The poet and writer Gioconda Belli shares her journey, including her time living in exile and her later break with the Sandinistas. She details how her experiences differed from her comrades because of her status as a woman and a mother and how they often underestimated and mistreated her because of her gender. Although Belli does not center faith as her primary motivation, she often references her Catholic upbringing and schooling.


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Priest Under Fire: Padre David Rodríguez, the Catholic Church, and El Salvador's Revolutionary Movement

By Peter M. Sánchez

Priest Under Fire: Padre David Rodríguez, the Catholic Church, and El Salvador's Revolutionary Movement

Why this book?

What persuaded a priest to join El Salvador’s largest guerilla organization, the FPL (Popular Liberation Forces)?

This biography explains the metamorphosis of “Padre David,” as he was known. The book also places his experience within the larger context of the role progressive priests and nuns played in helping the poor to realize their worth, which inspired many to then demand change in society. Because the state crushed all peaceful opposition, especially through violence, many Salvadorans concluded that the only way to work for change – and to simultaneously protect themselves – was to join an armed movement. Padre David was no different. He felt an added sense of responsibility because he trained catechists to work for change who were later killed because the state saw them as threats to the status quo.


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I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

By Rigoberta Menchú

I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

Why this book?

What inspired a K’iche’ Mayan to demand rights for her people in Guatemala?

In this testimonio, Menchú describes Indian culture and how her family’s struggle to survive led them to demand human rights, including land rights, for peasants. Her father, mother, and one of her brothers were murdered for their activism, while Menchú was forced into exile. Throughout the book, Menchú often stresses her status as a Christian and her belief in just war, but she also critiques Christianity and points out that Catholicism complemented indigenous religious practices, rather than superseded them. The book was an international best-seller and Menchú received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her advocacy.


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