Four Salvadorans murdered by death squads are to be beatified on 22 January this year. Fr Rutillo Grande, a Jesuit priest and friend of St Óscar Romero, Fr Cosme Spessotto, a Franciscan friar, sacristan Manuel Solórzano, and teenage layman Nelson Rutilio Lemus will be given the title of beatus (blessed) at a ceremony in El Salvador’s capital. Fr Cosme was martyred in 1980: Fr Rutillo Grande, Manuel Solórzano, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus in 1977.
Presided over by Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, the beatification ceremony will take place in Plaza Salvador del Mundo, a public square at the heart of El Salvador’s capital city. Although members of the public will be invited to the ceremony, coronavirus related restrictions make the crowds who attended Romero’s beatification unlikely. Óscar Romero’s beatification Mass was one of the largest public gatherings in El Salvador’s history, with around 250,000 attendees.
The Salvadoran bishop’s conference has asked the faithful to join them in prayerful preparation for the beatification. Referring to the four who will be beatified, the bishops said, “Each of these witnesses of faith has an original contribution to offer to the church, so that it remains faithful in its mission of, here and now, making Jesus Christ present, dead and risen.”
Fr Rutillo Grande S.J, ordained a priest in 1959, worked extensively with marginalised communities in El Salvador before his murder aged 48. A student of Paolo Friere and a supporter of ‘liberation theology’, his death had a dramatic impact on the life of his friend, Archbishop Óscar Romero, reputedly setting Romero on the path to martyrdom himself. He was formally recognised as a martyr by Pope Francis on 21 February 2022.
Fr Cosme Spessotto OFM, who arrived in El Salvador from his native Italy in 1950, became increasingly critical of the military junta governing that country in the late 1970s, especially after the martyrdom of Rutillo Grande. After months of death threats, Spessotto was shot dead in his chapel on 14 June 1980. El Salvador’s civil war, from 1980 to 1992, left more than 70,000 dead in the Central American nation. Many priests and religious died in the conflict, including St Óscar Romero, executed by a death squad whilst celebrating mass on the 24 March 1980.