20 January 2022, The Tablet

A signpost for the Church

Blessed Rutilio Grande

A signpost for the Church

Top row: Fr Rutilio Grande and Fr Cosme Spessotto. Bottom row: Nelson Lemus and Manuel Solórzano
Illustration: CNS/Beatification Office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador


The beatification of Rutilio Grande in San Salvador comes at a time of transformation in the Latin American Church similar to the upheaval that followed the 1968 Medellín conference

Beatifications and canonisations can be pointers to the way the Church is moving. On 22 January 2022 in the Plaza Salvador del Mundo in El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande, who along with his lay companions, Nelson Rutilio Lemus and Manuel Solórzano (murdered on 12 March 1977) and the Italian Franciscan priest, Cosme Spessotto (shot dead on 14 June 1980) – will be beatified.

They represent the new start the Church made after the Second Vatican Council. They represent a missionary Church that has gone to the social and existential peripheries. They represent a persecuted Church, which has produced numerous martyrs for faith and justice.

Rutilio was born on 5 July 1928, the youngest of seven children, into a poor family in the village of El Paisnal in El Salvador. In 1945 he joined the Jesuits. He followed the order’s normal training in philosophy and theology in Venezuela, Ecuador, Spain, France and Belgium.

Until 1972 he taught in the national ­seminary in San Salvador, where he tried to include in formation the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and the second conference of the bishops of Latin America at Medellín in 1968, which had recognised that the level of poverty on the continent “cried out to Heaven”. In the same spirit, in 1975 the Jesuit order redefined its mission in the world as both preaching of the faith and struggling for justice. Rutilio put the preferential option for the poor at the centre of a new concept of a missionary rural ministry. His aim, Rodolfo Cardenal wrote after his death, “was to train priests who would be at the service of the people and not clerical bosses”.

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