March: Assassination of Rutilio Grande SJ
On March 12th, 1977, Fr Rutilio Grande SJ was brutally gunned down along with his sacristan Manuel Solorzano and young assistant Nelson Lemus. In murdering Fr Grande, the oppressive Salvadoran regime had taken its savagery to a new level hard to imagine amid the already existing environment of abduction and torture.
Inspired by the social teaching of Vatican II, Fr Grande was a driving force for change in this corrupt and unjust context. Whether teaching at the seminary, where he met Oscar Romero, or establishing base communities where the marginalised poor could gain the skills, faith and courage to speak out against the military dictatorship, Grande articulated the fact that the Gospels contain a clear social message, what Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ referred to as ‘the preferential option for the poor’.
The influence that the Second Vatican Council had on Grande brought him to see the role of the clergy as accompaniment of the poor in their journey. Following his work at the seminary, he became the pastor of the parish of Aguilares, a town near his birthplace. Here he worked with the laity to promote lay collaboration in the work of the gospel. This in turn, fostered a growing awareness among the people of the injustices endemic in their society. Together they looked for opportunities to create a more just, a more Christian world. This threatened the power of the government and the aristocracy.
In speaking out against the corruption of the regime and on behalf of the dignity of the poor Grande set himself on a collision course with the authorities. In February 1977 he preached the sermon that would cost him his life. He spoke in honour of Fr Mario Bernal, a Columbian-born priest who had been arrested in El Salvador and deported without being charged. Grande said,
I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive…. So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter. They would accuse him, the man-God, … of being an agitator, of being a …foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas…. ideas against God. …they would undoubtedly crucify him again.
The assassination of Fr Grande was a defining moment in the life of his close friend Oscar Romero. In this carnage, Romero remembered his origins amongst the poor and gained a new insight into the suffering of the Salvadoran people. He became the voice of the voiceless in large part because he took up the mantel of the pastor from Aguilares. In due course friendship with Rutilio and with Jesus would also lead Romero to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Salvadoran people.
The gospel needs to grow little feet.
Revelation 21:1-7 New International Version (NIV)
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
Prayer, by Alan Paton
grant that we may not be conformed to the world,
but may love it and serve it.
Grant that we may never shrink
from being instruments of your peace
because of the judgment of the world.
Grant that we may love you without fear of the world.
Grant that we may never believe
that the inexpressible majesty of yourself
may be found in any power of this earth.
May we firstly love you
and our neighbours as ourselves.
May we remember the poor and the prisoner,
and the sick and the lonely,
and the young searchers,
and the tramps and vagabonds,
and the lost and lonely,
as we remember Christ,
who is in them all.