Reflection: Fr Rutilio Grande SJ, A Martyr of El Salvador
Thomas M. Kelly reflects on the life of a true ‘man for others’.
On February 20, 2020 Pope Francis beatified a Jesuit priest who very few people know. His name is Rutilio Grande, S.J. Formed as a Jesuit before and during the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Grande was influenced by his experiences of an inclusive liturgy which insisted upon the widest and deepest participation by lay people possible at that time.
The commitment to include the voices of everyone in a community would come to mark Fr. Grande as a priest who did something much better than most priests at that time—he listened. The “listening” required an orientation toward others outside of himself in humility and service. This listening resulted in a ministry of accompaniment which eventually got him killed.
Fr. Grande is best known for applying a bottom-up method for evangelization that leads to concrete justice for those on the margins. Beginning with scripture (as opposed to political theory) Fr. Grande would read the Gospels with poor Salvadoran communities and ask them whether they were living this Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.
Community leadership emerged that created community agency and resulted in rural farmers transforming their own reality. Fr. Grande accompanied such communities and modelled servant leadership—a leadership that brought forth the gifts of a community in service to the Kingdom of God. Fr. Grande’s lay companions, known as Delegates of the Word, were committed women and men called and recognized by their communities and the Catholic Church.
Fr. Grande epitomizes the opposite of clericalism and cleric-centered Catholicism. He realized that when a community gains agency, the Church becomes what it is supposed to be, a servant of the Kingdom of God. One of his favorite phrases was “the Gospel needs to grow feet.” Threatened by his work with the rural poor, right-wing death squads assassinated him on March 12, 1977.
Thomas M. Kelly, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology and Immersion Coordinator, Creighton University
Thomas M. Kelly, Ph.D. is Professor of Theology at Creighton University as well as Immersion Coordinator for the Ignatian Colleagues Program. Dr. Kelly has lived in Latin America with his family and continues to teach travel courses throughout Latin America on the past and present ministry of the Catholic Church. He served for two years as director of Encuentro Dominicano, Creighton’s study abroad program in the DR and has led travel courses to El Salvador, Bolivia and Peru over the past fifteen years. Dr. Kelly has published nationally and internationally on philosophical hermeneutics, liberation theology, Catholic Social Thought, Ignatius of Loyola, Ignatian Spirituality, and the Church of Latin America. Two of his most recent books include When the Gospel Grows Feet: Rutilio Grande, S.J. and the Church of El Salvador, An Ecclesiology in Context (Liturgical Press, 2013) and Rutilio Grande, S.J.: Homilies and Articles (Liturgical Press, 2015).
Photograph of Fr Rutilio Grande SJ courtesy of Archbishop Romero Trust.
Painting of Fr Rutilio Grande and St Oscar Romero courtesy of Jesuits in Britain.