Church beatifies priests killed by soldiers in El Salvador

The Salvadoran Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande and the Italian Franciscan Cosme Spessotto, assassinated by the military in the prelude to the Salvadoran civil war (1980-1992), and two laymen were officially beatified by the Catholic Church this Saturday, for their martyrdom in defense of the poor and persecuted in El Salvador.

After receiving “the opinion” of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints in favor of Grande, Spessotto and laymen Manuel Solórzano and Nelson Rutilio Lemus were declared blessed by means of an apostolic letter read by Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, on behalf of the Pope Francisco.

“From now on they are called blessed (the four martyrs), and that they are celebrated every year in the places and according to the rules established by law,” the Pope’s letter states.

In this way, Grande, Solórzano and Lemus were assigned their feast on March 12 to commemorate their martyrdom, while Spessotto on June 10.

“Our martyrs can help us recover memory and hope so that we do not give up the dream of a reconciled and peaceful country,” the cardinal exclaimed during his homily, deploring the polarization that Salvadoran society is experiencing.

The event was held in a pavilion with a palm roof, as a symbol of simplicity, in the Divino Salvador del Mundo square and was attended by some 6,000 faithful, including priests and nuns, many from abroad.

On the sides of the pavilion, prints of the blessed and of Archbishop Óscar Arnulgo Romero, assassinated on March 24, 1980 and canonized on October 14, 2018, were placed.

“The fact that the Church officially accepts them as martyrs is that their life was correct, they took risks to help the poor and were faithful to a call (of service) that cost them their lives,” Rosa Chavez told AFP.

In the midst of the Cold War, when El Salvador was experiencing social unrest repressed by the military, Grande maintained “an energetic and questioning word” and Spessotto the value of “burying” the dead that the military left as a lesson in the streets, recalls the cardinal .

“The beatification is fair for these holy men,” summed up Filomena Umaña, 74, a pilgrim who came to the mass from the town of Apastepeque, 63 km east of San Salvador.

Grande was murdered on March 12, 1977 while he was crossing a highway in El Paisnal, 40 km north of San Salvador, and with him died the sacristan Manuel Solórzano (72 years old) and Nelson Rutilio Lemus (16), who also died. they were beatified.

The fatal attack on Grande was the beginning of the persecution of the Salvadoran clergy who denounced the prevailing social injustice.

Fray Cosme Spessotto was murdered on June 14, 1980 inside the church of San Juan Nonualco, 54 km southeast of the capital and where he was a parish priest for 27 years.

Relics of the murdered priests were presented at the beatification ceremony: Grande’s white handkerchief, stained with blood on the day of his murder; and a white blanket also covered in blood with which Spessotto’s body was covered.

For the Catholic Church, the relics represent the presence of both priests at their beatification.

– Killers identified –

In El Salvador, in addition to the Archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Arnulfo Romero, the military bishop Joaquín Ramos, a score of priests and thousands of lay people were assassinated. The vast majority of crimes remain unpunished.

“In both cases they were state agents (the murderers); in the case of Father Cosme, the Treasury Police, and Rutilio, the National Guard. It was fully verified,” said Rosa Chávez.

“I had a letter from the guards who were murderers. When they were in (prison) Mariona sent a letter asking for forgiveness, asking for mercy,” he said.

At the end of the civil war in 1992, the Guard and the Treasury Police were declared proscribed for multiple human rights violations.

“How is it possible that a country of Christian people has killed 20 priests?” asks the cardinal.

– Grande’s Double Legacy –

The Jesuit priest Rodolfo Cardenal, Rutilio Grande’s biographer, points out that he left a legacy as “defender of the poor and exploited peasants of the sugar cane plantation”, and at the ecclesial level, “he promoted the reform of the Church of El Salvador” to bring it closer to people and so that it adopts the commitment to improve the situation of the poor, denouncing situations that originated misery.

Grande’s murder moved Archbishop Romero to the point of pushing him to come out in defense of those oppressed by the state security forces and the fateful death squads.

Cardenal recalls that during a meeting with the Salvadoran Church in 2015, Pope Francis said that “the great miracle of Rutilio Grande was Monsignor Romero.”

In that sense, “Monsignor Romero is not understood in the pastoral work in the Salvadoran Church, in the archdiocese (in the capital) above all, without the work of Rutilio Grande and other martyr priests,” Cardenal explained.

cmm / ob / gm / lda / yow / ag

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