On January 22, 2022, Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ, along with three other martyrs of the late 1970s, were beatified in El Salvador. Bl. Grande’s beatification is of particular note, as his example and martyrdom helped fan the flame of St. Oscar Romero’s ministry.
Bl. Grande’s priesthood was marked by a unique care for the poor and vulnerable of society, challenging the poor to reevaluate their position.
According to an article by Thomas Kelly for the Creighton Magazine, Bl. Grande would walk with the poor and encourage them to take action to change their situation.
[Fr. Grande] would read the Gospel with groups of villagers and ask them whether, based on what they had read, God willed them to live lives of such desperation. Most said absolutely not. Jesus seemed to serve the poor and vulnerable while he challenged the rich and powerful. Fr. Grande asked them why they should not do the same?
A martyrdom that inspired a saint
It was his work with the poor and vocal opposition that drew the attention of the local government. They murdered him and two others on March 12, 1977. It was a death that shocked St. Oscar Romero, a good friend of Bl. Grande.
Pope Francis briefly spoke about Bl. Grande during an address to the Bishops of South America in 2019.
We all know about Archbishop Romero’s friendship with Father Rutilio Grande, and how much he was affected by his assassination. It seared his heart as a man, a priest and a pastor. Romero was no human resources manager; that was not how he dealt with individuals or organizations, but as a father, a friend and a brother. He can serve as a yardstick, however daunting, to help us measure our own hearts as bishops and ask, “How much does the life of my priests affect me? How much do I let myself be impacted by what they experience, grieving when they suffer and celebrating their joys?”
Pope Francis also talked about Bl. Grande in an address in El Salvador in 2015.
A martyr, in fact, is not one who remains relegated to the past, a lovely image that adorns our churches and that we remember with a certain nostalgia. No, a martyr is a brother, a sister, who continues to accompany us in the mystery of the communion of saints and who, united to Christ, is not indifferent to our earthly pilgrimage, to our suffering, to our pain. In the recent history of this beloved country, Archbishop Romero’s witness has been added to that of other brothers and sisters, such as Fr Rutilio Grande, who, not fearing to lose their life, have won it and have been constituted intercessors of their people before the Living God, who lives forever and ever, and who has in his hands the keys of death and Hades (cf. Rev 1:18). All these brothers and sisters are a treasure and a founded hope for the Church and for Salvadoran society.
In a certain way, it was Bl. Grande’s martyrdom that would lead St. Oscar Romero’s martyrdom. Both worked zealously for the poor and were vocal about it.
The Church now has a new blessed to invoke, along with St. Oscar Romero, who can intercede for us and our ministry to the most vulnerable of society.