February 24, 2020 — The Vatican announced Feb. 22 that Pope Francis has recognized the martyrdom of a fellow Jesuit, Salvadoran Father Rutilio Grande, and two companions who were murdered en route to a novena in 1977 in El Salvador.
Papal recognition of their martyrdom clears the way for their beatification, although the Vatican did not announce a date for the ceremony.
A mural in El Paisnal, El Salvador, features St. Oscar Romero and town native Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ, surrounded by rural men, women and children, the community Fr. Grande served from 1972 until his March 12, 1977, assassination. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)
Fr. Grande died March 12, 1977, near his hometown of El Paisnal in rural El Salvador after being shot a dozen times or more along with elderly parishioner Manuel Solorzano and teenager Nelson Rutilio Lemus, who were accompanying him to a novena for the feast of St. Joseph. Their bodies were found lifeless in an overturned Jeep the priest was driving.
Though born in the Salvadoran countryside, Fr. Grande was educated as a member of the Society of Jesus, mostly in Spain and Belgium and other parts of Latin America, but later returned as to work among his native country’s poor and rural masses. The mission teams he organized taught peasants to read using the Bible, but also helped rural workers to organize so they could speak against a rich and powerful minority that paid them meager salaries and confront the social maladies that befell them because they were poor.
The tombs of Fr. Rutilio Grande, Manuel Solorzano and Nelson Lemus are seen inside a church in El Paisnal, El Salvador. (CNS photo/ Edgardo Ayala)
With a team of Jesuit missionaries and lay pastoral agents, Fr. Grande, who was the pastor of a church in the neighboring town of Aguilares, evangelized a wide rural area in El Salvador from 1972 until his assassination by death squads. As was the case with the assassination of St. Oscar Romero and tens of thousands of other Salvadorans, no one was ever charged with his death or that of his parishioners.
The official recognition of martyrdom means Fr. Grande and his companions will be beatified without a miracle being attributed to them, though Pope Francis has, in the past, been quoted as saying that Father Grande’s first miracle was St. Romero.
|A painting of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande is seen in the rectory of San Jose Church in the town of Aguilares, El Salvador. Father Grande was killed 40 years ago, March 12, 1977, while on his way to a novena. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)
||A dry bouquet of flowers sits at the foot of the Monument of the Three Crosses in El Paisnal, El Salvador, marking the spot where Fr. Rutilio Grande and two parishioners were ambushed and killed by gunfire March 12, 1977. (CNS photo/ Rhina Guidos)|
Beatification is a step before sainthood; in order for Fr. Grande and his companions to be canonized, a miracle would have to be attributed to their intercession.
Visiting the church in El Paisnal where Rutilio Grande and his companions are buried last February, the Jesuit Superior General Arturo Sosa said: “We have come here to celebrate the Eucharist to ask God that the example of Christian commitment lived by Rutilio Grande and his companions, martyrs of the faith that promotes social justice, inspires and renews us.
“The martyrs give witness to the efficiency of the one redemptive sacrifice,” he said, “the sacrifice of life given out of love and with love, as Jesus did, to offer liberation and reconciliation. It is a sacrifice which, through the power of the Spirit, can also be assumed by those who accept the invitation to put into practice the Word of God and undertake the path of following his Son.” [Sources: Catholic News Service, Jesuit Curia]