A reflection on Rutilio Grande SJ

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 evangelisation 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 recognised by their communities and the Catholic Church. 

Fr. Grande epitomises the opposite of clericalism and cleric-centered Catholicism.  He realised 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.

By Thomas Kelly, Professor of Theology and Immersion Coordinator at Creighton University

Image: Unsplash/Billy Huynh