Saturday, December 29, 2018


Martyr of El Salvador 
(1928 – 1977)
Rutilio Grande was born into a poor family from the small town of El Paisnal. He announced his desire to become a priest at the age of twelve, and five years later entered the Jesuits. Despite his earnest piety, there was nothing in Grande’s early years to anticipate his later role as a fearless prophet of justice. He was by all accounts a rather callow seminarian, given to debilitating scrupulosity and a sense of unworthiness that plagued him right up to his ordination in 1959. It was only in the mid-1960s that Grande seemed to undergo a second conversion. In the new atmosphere following Vatican II, he acquired a different understanding of his vocation. Previously he had felt a priest was called to set an example of perfection. Now, as he came to believe, what was demanded was an example of self-sacrifice and loving service. From that time he seemed to exude a new confidence and joy in his priesthood. 
In 1965, after studies abroad, Grande returned to the seminary in San Salvador as director of social action projects. In the nine years he spent in this position he had an enormous effect on the formation of all the clergy in El Salvador. Whereas in the past priests had carried an exalted status in society, patronized by the wealthy, Grande encouraged the seminarians to spend time living among the peasants in the countryside, learning to understand their struggles and their faith. Increasingly Grande began to exemplify a new Church in El Salvador, committed to awakening in the poor a sense of their dignity and rights as children of God. This was a time when the social contradictions in El Salvador were building to a violent crisis. In this atmosphere, Grande acquired a reputation as a “radical” priest, an enemy of the system. With the bishops facing pressure to “do something” about this troublesome influence, Grande resigned from his position in the seminary and took up an assignment as pastor of Aguilares, a small town near his birthplace. There he established a vigorous pastoral ministry, training lay catechists to insert the Gospel message throughout the community. 
In base communities peasants studied the Word of God and in that light raised critical questions about the sources of their oppression. Grande’s sermons on social justice were infamous among the town’s elite, and once again the pressure mounted to have him silenced. On February 13, 1977, Grande preached a sermon on the occasion of a Mass in honor of Father Mario Bernal, a Colombian born priest who had recently been arrested and deported without charges. In his homily he denounced the sham of democracy in El Salvador, the feudal enslavement of the masses, and the hypocrisy of those who called themselves Christians while tolerating such conditions. These were dangerous words, and they did not go unnoticed. 
On March 12, while driving on the road to El Paisnal, Grande’s van was sprayed with gunfire. He was killed instantly, along with an old campesino and a teenage boy who were accompanying him. His death marked a stunning turning point for El Salvador, the first but not the last time that a priest would be exposed to violence. Among those touched by this event was the new Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. Grande, a longtime friend, had pressed Romero to understand and speak out against the social crisis in El Salvador. It was Grande’s death that forced him to understand, and it proved the catalyst that prompted his own journey on the road to Calvary.

Taken from Robert Ellsberg, All Saints. Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time, New York, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997, 2015, pages 113-114. R

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