by James T. Keane
This is shaping up to be a historic week in El Salvador, one filled with the resurrection of painful memories but also with joyous celebrations marking the strength, resilience and faith of the Salvadoran people. Thirty years ago this week, on Jan. 16, 1992, representatives of the Salvadoran government and of the FMLN insurgency in El Salvador signed the Chapultepec Peace Accords, bringing an end to that country’s long and brutal civil war. Over 75,000 people had died—with thousands more simply “disappeared”—and over a million Salvadorans had fled the country, but the peace accords offered hope for a new future for El Salvador.
Among those killed in the war by government forces and paramilitaries were a number of Catholic priests, men and women religious and lay missionaries, including Rutilio Grande, S.J. He will be beatified this coming weekend in San Salvador.
Father Grande and his two traveling companions, 15-year-old Nelson Rutilio Lemus and 72-year-old Manuel Solórzano, were murdered outside of the small town of El Paisnal on March 12, 1977. In addition to Father Grande’s witness as a martyr, wrote Ana Maria Pineda, R.S.M., in America last week, he is remembered by the people of El Salvador for his “personal contributions to the poor of his beloved country, his commitment to the church and the Jesuit community, his love for the people that he generously served [and] his love for his many friends and family.”
It was my great privilege to attend the beatification of Archbishop (now Saint) Óscar Romero in San Salvador in May 2015; if that celebration is any indication, Father Grande’s beatification will be a joy-filled and raucous occasion, putting to shame the more staid ceremonies one might find in Vatican City or elsewhere. The people of El Salvador, Pineda wrote, “will celebrate the beatification of one of their own on Jan. 22, their beloved ‘Father Tilo.’ Let us join with them in crying out ‘¡Presente!’”
Outside of El Salvador, Pineda noted, “Father Grande is primarily remembered as a close friend of Archbishop Óscar Romero. Often overlooked is the fact that at the outset of the civil war in El Salvador, Father Grande was the first priest killed. Indeed, he was the first-born of the martyrs of this new era.” His prophetic stance and his solidarity with the poor of his native country, she wrote, “led directly to his death. His influence on the church of El Salvador and those who followed him on the road to martyrdom merits profound consideration.”…