On March 12, 1977, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande was killed when his van was sprayed by gunfire. Also killed were Grande’s traveling companions: his sacristan, the elderly peasant Manuel Solorzano; and his teenaged assistant, Nelson Rutilio Lemus.
Grande, pastor of the small town of Aguilares, had come to exemplify an emerging Church in El Salvador, committed to awakening in the poor a sense of their dignity and rights. His vigorous social ministry along with his prophetic sermons had sealed his reputation as a “radical,” an enemy of the system. In one of his sermons he proclaimed that if Jesus Christ were to come to El Salvador he would be condemned as a dangerous rabble-rouser and crucified again. “God forbid,” he proclaimed, “that I be one of the crucifiers.”
Grande had little doubt about his fate. Nevertheless, his assassination marked a turning point for El Salvador—the first time (though not the last) that a priest would face this violence. It would have a special impact on the new archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. Grande had pressed Romero to understand and speak out against the social crisis in El Salvador, and his death was the catalyst that compelled Romero to do so, prompting his own journey on the road to Calvary. Romero, killed in 1980, was declared a martyr in 2015.
It was fitting that Grande should follow. He was beatified in January 2022. It was fitting too that he should be joined by those who died with him, representatives of the countless humble poor who were members of the Church in El Salvador, the crucified people of God.
“Very soon the Bible won’t be allowed to cross our borders. We’ll get only the bindings, because all the pages are subversive.”
—Blessed Rutilio Grande