El Salvador marks 43rd anniversary of Jesuit’s martyrdom as beatification looms

Catholic school students participate in the commemoration of the 1977 murder of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande in El Paisnal, El Salvador, March 12, 2019. March 12 marks the 43rd anniversary of when Father Grande was killed while on his way to a novena. (CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Even as the government of El Salvador announced a nationwide quarantine, hundreds flocked to a pilgrimage site March 12 to remember a Jesuit priest and his companions killed 43 years ago and declared martyrs by Pope Francis in February.

A Mass for Salvadoran Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande at the site where he was martyred along with two parishioners March 12, 1977, near his hometown of El Paisnal, was canceled after the government prohibited gatherings of more than 250 as a precaution to prevent coronavirus from spreading. Instead, the Archdiocese of San Salvador asked parishes to celebrate "our martyrs" in their respective localities.

The three were murdered en route to a novena to celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, though the main target was Father Grande, killed because he helped the poor.

In his efforts to teach the poor to read using the Bible, Father Grande also organized them so they could speak against a rich and powerful minority: the coffee farmers and landowners, who oppressed them.

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

On March 12, the Salvadoran Catholic TV station Television Catolica showed hundreds headed to the church where Father Grande is buried, along with elderly parishioner Manuel Solorzano and teenager Nelson Rutilio Lemus, who died with him.

The Vatican announced Feb. 22 that Pope Francis has recognized their martyrdom. Papal recognition of their martyrdom clears the way for their beatification, although the Vatican has not announced a date or place for the ceremony.

Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of the Archdiocese of San Salvador began the day celebrating a Mass for the three in a chapel at the archdiocese. In a statement late March 11, he said that because of government regulations, groups of 100-150 at a time would be allowed into the church where the three are buried, for those who wanted to pay their respects on what some of them have long-considered a type of feast day.  

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

For years, the crowds of those making the March 12 pilgrimage to El Paisnal have grown. The municipality is close to where Father Grande and a group of Jesuits and other lay missionaries worked with farmworkers in the 1970s.

Lauding Father Grande, the archbishop said the Jesuit offered his life and gave it freely, defending the poor because "in them, he found Christ."

"God has rewarded him because the name of his executioners isn't known. They're hidden," he said. "Instead, the name of our martyrs is exalted, and they have been rewarded ... they are taking part in the eternal banquet because God is just." He characterized their assassination as a "crime against humanity," but one of thousands suffered by many other Salvadorans killed during the country's civil conflict that raged in the 1980s.  

"Blessed is our homeland that was received the blood of our martyrs," he said, adding that only God can make something good out of something bad.

In a time in which many live in fear of coronavirus, Archbishop Escobar told those gathered for Mass to pray for the intercession of the martyrs, for their protection because they were offered as examples of how Christians should live but also to intercede for others in heaven.

"We invoke them knowing they are with us," he said.

El Salvador does not have any confirmed cases of the disease COVID-19, but the Salvadoran government announced late March 11 that it would not allow foreign nationals -- with the exception of diplomats and residents -- to enter for 21 days as a measure of preventing the virus from spreading among its population.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

Evo Morales said Pope Francis called him to congratulate him on his party’s win after exit polls showed that the former Bolivian president’s top pick, Luis Arce, would win the general election.
Ricardo da Silva, S.J.October 20, 2020
Students at Boston College pray the Examen, while wearing masks and engaging in social distancing. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Vecchio and Emily Egan)
The coronavirus pandemic has caused campus ministries around the country to reassess how to best minister to their students.
Kevin Christopher RoblesOctober 20, 2020
In keeping with Italian law, all of the religious leaders, including Pope Francis, wore a mask except when delivering their speeches, which they did while keeping a distance from those listening.
Sister Campbell, the social justice activist made famous by headlining “Nuns on the Bus” tours, announced she will step down from her post leading Network Lobby this March.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2020