Beatify 4 “martyrs of faith and justice” in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR (AP) — The Catholic Church in El Salvador on Saturday beatified two priests and two laymen killed for “hatred of faith and justice,” victims of death squads that acted with total impunity protected by the bodies of Salvadoran security and governments between 1977 and 1980.

On a sunny afternoon and with songs, hundreds of people vibrated on Saturday during the beatification ceremony of the two priests who defended peasants and workers, and the two laymen whose deaths shocked them in the midst of a bloody twelve-year civil war.

Rutilio Grande, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest who inspired Saint Óscar Romero, was a victim of death squads along with his two lay friends and compatriots, who accompanied him when he was attacked. For his part, the Franciscan priest Cosme Spessotto, originally from Italy, was shot to death while praying in front of his parish church. The four will be elevated to the category of blessed and martyrs of faith and justice 40 years after they were assassinated.

Grande, 49, was murdered on March 12, 1977, along with Manuel Solórzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16, while driving a vehicle on a rural road in the municipality of Aguilares, north of the capital. The crime was attributed to the then National Guard, one of the most repressive security forces and which was dissolved years later.

The four martyrs of faith and justice were officially declared blessed in an emotional ceremony presided over by Pope Francis’ special envoy, Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, who pointed out that the lives of the two priests and the two lay people, chosen as role models.

Catholic worshipers from across the country, many from the Aguilares and San Juan Nonualco area, turned out for the ceremony, holding images of Grande, Spessotto and the two laymen, and carrying white and yellow Vatican flags.

Pope Francis approved a decree proclaiming the Great Martyr of the Catholic faith, as well as the two laymen who were killed with him. That means they can be beatified without having to attribute a miracle to his intercession. A miracle is necessary for canonization.

His assassination and his ministry to the poor helped inspire Monsignor Romero, then the newly appointed archbishop of San Salvador.

Three years later, Romero was shot to death for openly criticizing the military and working on behalf of El Salvador’s oppressed.

The beatification constitutes the first step towards a possible canonization, although many in San Salvador already credit “Father Tilo” with the conversion of Monsignor Romero.

Francis, the first Latin American pontiff and the first Jesuit pope, declared Romero a saint in 2018.

Francisco has long expressed his intense admiration for both Grande and Romero. At the entrance of his room in the Vatican where he lives there is a piece of cloth with Romero’s blood and notes from a catechism teaching that Grande taught.

The Catholic Church demanded that the authorities clarify the crime, but no investigation was ever conducted, nor were the culprits brought to justice.

“Father Tilo”, as he was called, carried out his pastoral work in one of the poorest areas of the country, where he organized grassroots ecclesial communities in which the landowners of the area saw a threat to their power.

Nelson Rutilio Lemus, who will be remembered as the first Salvadoran teenager to be declared blessed, was the oldest of eight children, he was in seventh grade when he was murdered.

Don Manuel Solórzano was a 72-year-old Catholic layman, resident in Aguilares, very close to “Father Tilo” whom he used to accompany in his pastoral work in that area that years later was the scene of bloody combat between the army and the guerrillas.

Fray Cosme Spessotto, a Franciscan priest, was born in Italy on January 28, 1923 into a peasant family. He arrived in El Salvador in April 1950 and was gunned down by members of the Salvadoran army in San Juan Nonualco, on June 14, 1980, when he was praying in front of the altar of the parish there that he had directed since 1953. His death took place at the beginning of the civil war that lasted until 1992.

The Franciscan father received several anonymous notes that were left under the door of his office. “Little father, you leave or we kill you; “The next one will be you”, said some of these threats that never managed to make him abandon his pastoral work.

Fray Spessotto gave his life for the “sanjuanenses”, on several occasions he rejected the taking of the church of San Juan Nonualco, both by the guerrillas and by the Armed Forces and when the army captured some of his parishioners he went to look for them at the barracks and He asked the soldiers to hand them over to him, and reprimanded them for the bombings and attacks on the population.

His family in Italy told him he would leave the country, but he refused: “My family is my Church,” he told them. Friar Spessotto wrote in his spiritual testament “To die as a martyr would be a grace that I do not deserve.”

The four martyrs will be recognized as blessed of the church, in unity a Jesuit, a Franciscan and two laymen, who join Saint Romero, diocesan priest.

The Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor José Luis Escobar Alas, highlighted the spiritual and humanitarian work carried out by Father Spessotto. “When the war began, he had the courage to go after the passage of the armed forces, visiting the homes where they were left dead, he prayed their responso and helped the families with the funeral expenses.”

“In defense of the life of the innocent, he confronted the murderers, who also killed him,” added the prelate.

Romero, also called “the voice of the voiceless” for advocating for the poorest and most defenseless during the 1970s, was killed by a sniper with a shot to the heart while officiating a mass in the chapel of a hospital for cancer patients. terminal, on March 24, 1980. A few days earlier he had asked the military in a homily that “in the name of God and of this suffering people, cease the repression.”

The Vatican disclosed the letter sent by Pope Francis, which was read by the Jesuit priest Rodolfo Cardenal

Among the special guests were the Vice President of El Salvador, Félix Ulloa, the President of the Salvadoran Congress, Ernesto Durán, and the Mayor of San Salvador, Mario Durán.

The act was transmitted by the television and radio channels of the Catholic Church. The authorities placed giant screens for the parishioners who congregated in a space of more than two square kilometers.

Since it is a secular state, in El Salvador there are no figures on how many profess Catholicism, but it is estimated that the majority of the country is devoted to this religion.

From 1977 to 1989, security forces, death squads and soldiers assassinated 13 priests, including Romero, and six Jesuits from the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA). They also raped and murdered three American nuns. None of these crimes has been clarified and the material and intellectual murderers remain unpunished.

The war that came to an end with the signing of the peace accords between the government and the guerrillas in 1992 left more than 75,00 dead and some 12,000 missing.

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