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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

676 the Gospel must grow little feet if Christ is not to remain in the clouds - Rutilio Grande

Day 676 Friday, January 21, 2022

Reflections on the Beatification of Jesuit Priest and El Salvadoran martyr RUTILIO GRANDE, S.J.

the Gospel must grow little feet if Christ is not to remain in the clouds.

BY Ignatian Solidarity Network Staff | January 21, 2021

On March 12, 1977, Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J., and two lay people—Manuel Solórzano and Nelson Rutilio Lemus—were martyred in El Salvador, killed for their faith and commitment to the oppressed.

Francisco Mena, executive director of CRISPAZ in El Salvador, shares reflections on Fr. Grande’s life, his impact on the life of St. Oscar Romero, and his legacy in this video.

On Saturday, January 22, 2022, the three will be beatified in San Salvador, bringing them a step closer to sainthood. The ceremony will be livestreamed here:

A Prayer for Blessed Rutilio Grande by Sr. Dianna Ortiz, O.S.U.

God of Justice, with the people of El Salvador, we remember Rutilio Grande’s compassion and love for the poor and disenfranchised.

May we learn from his example to be shoulders of comfort and rest for those walking through storms of persecution and injustice.

May we learn from his example to be prophetic and pastoral witnesses where we are led by the voices of the poor and the everyday leaders in our communities.

May we learn from his example to be credible signs of hope in a world divided by conflict and the carnage of violence, and may we learn from Rutilio Grande and other martyrs that the sins of El Salvador’s violent past can serve as a vehicle of change for the common good, shape our actions as servant leaders, and build a culture of love, respect, and nonviolence.


The Martyrdom of Father Rutilio Grande

Deeply engaged in the lives of the people he served, Grande led with the Gospel but did not shy away from speaking on social and political issues, which had profound consequences for the Church. He could be credited with promoting a "pastoral" liberation ministry that began in scripture and allowed lay people in El Salvador to work for social transformation without resorting to Marxist analysis. Grande was prophetic on issues of land reform, the relationship of rich and poor, liturgical inclusiveness, workers' rights, and making the Catholic faith real for very poor people. He was fond of saying that "the Gospel must grow little feet" if Christ is not to remain in the clouds. Grande had been master of ceremonies at Romero's installation as bishop of Santiago de María in 1975 and remained a friend and confidant of Romero, whom he inspired through his ministry and through the ultimate sacrifice he made.

Grande had served in the parish of Aguilares off and on from 1967 to 1977. He was responsible, along with many other Jesuits, for establishing Christian base communities (CEBs, in Spanish) and training "Delegates of the Word" to lead them.

Grande spoke against the injustices at the hands of an oppressive government and dedicated his life's work to organizing the impoverished, marginalized rural farmers of El Salvador as they demanded respect for their rights. Local landowners saw the organization of the peasants as a threat to their power.

Grande challenged the government in its response to actions he saw as attempts to harass and silence Salvadoran priests.

"I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers since all the pages are subversive – against sin, it is said. So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter. They would accuse him, the man-God ... of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and, that is, against the minorities. Ideas against God, because this is a clan of Cain's. Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again. And they have said so."

On 12 March 1977 Rutilio Grande was assassinated by the security forces of El Salvador, just outside the village where he was born, suffering martyrdom for the people he served and loved.

On that day shortly after 5:00 PM, a VW Safari left a small town in El Salvador known as Aguilares. In the vehicle were three people – an elderly man named Manuel Solorzano, a sixteen-year-old boy named Nelson Lemus, and Rutilio Grande. On the way out of town, near the train tracks, the vehicle stopped to give three small children a ride. They were leaving Aguilares, a small dusty town roughly an hour north of the capital of San Salvador.

Their destination was the town of El Paisnal, roughly 3 miles away, where Grande was traveling to continue a novena in celebration of the town's feast day. As the bell was tolling to gather the people near the small church situated in the central plaza of El Paisnal, Grande and his entourage made their way along the narrow dusty road that connected Aguilares and El Paisnal. As they passed the small village of Los Mangos, the children recall seeing groups of two or three men located on the banks of the small canals on either side of the road. Behind the VW was a small pick-up truck that had followed them from Aguilares.

In a low voice, Grande is quoted as saying "We must do what God wants." As the pick-up came closer to the VW, a hail of bullets fell from the sky impacting the car. Later, a doctor who examined the bodies indicated that Grande was killed by bullets coming both from the front and rear of the vehicle. The weapons and ammunition used were common to the local police. All told, he was killed by 12 bullets. When the bodies were found it appeared that 72-year-old Manuel Solorzano tried, in vain, to protect Grande, as his body completely covered him. "Nelson sat quietly in his seat with a bullet in his forehead

Immediately, the news of these murders was transmitted to Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador as well as to the Provincial of the Society of Jesus, who also resided in the capital. Three Jesuits from the Provincial office, Archbishop Romero, and his auxiliary Bishop Rivera y Damas all traveled to El Paisnal.

The three bodies were placed in front of the altar in the church of El Paisnal and the Jesuit provincial asked that a liturgy be offered that "gives hope to the community and avoids the temptations to hatred or revenge." At 10:30 PM that same evening, Archbishop Romero presided over Mass, which lasted until midnight. The next morning, responding to a radio announcement by the Archbishop, streams of peasants began walking into El Paisnal for a 9:00 AM Memorial Mass. They came from near and far to mourn the death of their beloved priest and his friends.

The next Sunday, Archbishop Romero declared a "single Mass," a memorial mass for Rutilio Grande at the cathedral in San Salvador, as the only Mass to be offered in the country. The move drew criticism from Church officials, but more than 150 priests joined the Mass as celebrants and over 100,000 people came to the cathedral to hear Romero's address, which called for an end to the violence. During the final funeral procession, one that would ultimately inter these bodies in the floor of the church in El Paisnal directly in front of the altar, the slogan could be heard:

"Rutilio's walk with El Paisnal is like Christ's journey with the cross."

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