Rutilio Grande

Rutilio Grande García (5 July 1928 in El Paisnal – 12 March 1977 in Aguilares) was a Jesuit priest in El Salvador. He was assassinated in 1977, along with two other Salvadorans. He was the first priest assassinated before the civil war started and a close friend of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero. After his death, the Archbishop changed his conservative attitude toward the government and urged the government to investigate the murder. His beatification, through his status as a martyr was approved by Pope Francis on 21 February 2020, with the beatification ceremony to be held on 22 January 2022.[1][2]

Rutilio Grande

Rutilio grande.jpg
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Ordination30 July 1959
Personal details
Birth nameRutilio Grande García
Born(1928-07-05)5 July 1928
El Paisnal, El Salvador
Died12 March 1977(1977-03-12) (aged 48)
Aguilares, El Salvador
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Title as SaintVenerable; Martyr

Life and workEdit

Oscar Romero (center) and Rutilio Grande (Right side) in 1979.
Rutilio Grande.

Rutilio Grande was born on 5 July 1928, the youngest of 7 children, to a poor family in El Paisnal, El Salvador. His parents divorced when he was young and he was raised by his older brother and grandmother, a devout and strong Catholic woman. At the age of 12, Rutilio was noticed by Archbishop Luis Chavez y Gonzalez during his annual visit to their village and was invited to attend the high school seminary in San Salvador, the capital of the country.

At the age of 17, following the final year of high school seminary (minor seminary), Grande entered the Jesuit process of the formation called the novitiate. Thus began a period of time outside of El Salvador. Grande first traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, since there was no Jesuit novitiate in Central America. Initially, Grande felt called to the missions of the Church in Oriental countries of the East. After two years in Caracas, he pronounced his vows of poverty, chastity and, obedience and then traveled to Quito, Ecuador to study the humanities, which he completed in 1950. The following three years were spent as a professor in a minor seminary in El Salvador where he taught sacred history, history of the Americas and of El Salvador, and writing.[3]

Grande continued his studies for the priesthood at the major seminary of San José de la Montaña, where he became friends with Romero, a fellow student. Grande was ordained a priest in 1959. He returned to Spain in 1962 to complete studies left undone due to his physical and mental struggles. In 1963 he attended Lumen Vitae Institute in Brussels, Belgium, where he studied new directions in pastoral ministry inspired by Vatican II. He was particularly influenced by his experiences of an inclusive liturgy which insisted upon the widest and deepest lay participation possible at that time. As his biographer stated, "Very probably at this moment his fundamental lines of pastoral action matured. Certainly, a part of this epoch in pastoral theological development was to always look for the greatest participation possible by the base or least empowered part of a community, and to never proceed autonomously or without hearing the community."[4]

He returned to El Salvador in 1965 and was appointed director of social action projects at the seminary in San Salvador, a position he held for nine years. From 1965 to 1970 he was also prefect of discipline and professor of pastoral theology.[5] He taught a variety of subjects including liturgy, catechesis, pastoral theology, and introduction to the mystery of Christ (philosophy). He also fully utilized the social sciences in an effort to understand the reality within which he lived and ministered. During this time, Grande initiated a process of formation for seminarians which included pastoral "immersions" in the communities they would someday serve. This included time with people listening to their problems and their reality. Grande put it this way, "the first contact with the people was to be characterized by a human encounter; to try to enter into their reality in order to leave with common reality."[4]

This innovative aspect of formation lasted for a year or two, and then the Bishops asked that seminarians be sent back to their dioceses during their breaks so they could be supervised and relationships with the Bishop could be better established. Grande eventually had a falling out with the leadership of the seminary over his methods for formation and evangelization. He disagreed with the insistence that seminarians separate their intellectual formation from their pastoral formation. Grande sought equilibrium between prayer, study, and apostolic activity.

Shortly after this falling out with Church leadership, and reconciliation over his criticism of the seminary system, Grande would attend the Latin American Pastoral Institute (IPLA) in Quito, Ecuador beginning in 1972. There he learned the method of conscientization of Paulo Freire and combined it with the pastoral theology of the Medellín Conference (a meeting of Latin American Bishops in 1968). Attendance at this Institute was a turning point for Grande, for he was finally able to integrate Vatican II, the teaching of the Latin American Bishops, and his own reality in Salvador in a ministry that had explosive consequences.[6]

Upon his return to El Salvador in 1973, Grande embarked on a team-based Jesuit evangelization "Mission" to Aguilares, El Salvador. Deeply engaged in the lives of the people he served, Grande led with the Gospel but did not shy away from speaking on social and political issues, which had profound consequences for the Church. He could be credited with promoting a "pastoral" liberation ministry that began in scripture and allowed lay people in El Salvador to work for social transformation without resorting to Marxist analysis. Grande was prophetic on issues of land reform, the relationship of rich and poor, liturgical inclusiveness, workers' rights, and making the Catholic faith real for very poor people. He was fond of saying that "the Gospel must grow little feet" if Christ is not to remain in the clouds.[7] Grande had been master of ceremonies at Romero's installation as bishop of Santiago de María in 1975 and remained a friend and confidant of Romero, whom he inspired through his ministry and through the ultimate sacrifice he made.[8]

Grande had served in the parish of Aguilares off and on from 1967 to 1977. He was responsible, along with many other Jesuits, for establishing Christian base communities (CEBs, in Spanish) and training "Delegates of the Word" to lead them.[9] Grande spoke against the injustices at the hands of an oppressive government and dedicated his life's work to organizing the impoverished, marginalized rural farmers of El Salvador as they demanded respect for their rights.[10] Local landowners saw the organization of the peasants as a threat to their power.[11]

Grande challenged the government in its response to actions he saw as attempts to harass and silence Salvadoran priests. Father Mario Bernal Londono, a Colombian priest serving in El Salvador, had been kidnapped January 28, 1977 – allegedly by guerrillas – in front of the Apopa church near San Salvador, together with a parishioner who was safely released. Bernal was deported by the Salvadoran government. On 13 February 1977, Grande preached a sermon that came to be called "the Apopa sermon," denouncing the government's expulsion of Londono, an action that some later believed helped to provoke Grande's murder:

I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers since all the pages are subversive – against sin, it is said. So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter. They would accuse him, the man-God ... of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and, that is, against the minorities. Ideas against God, because this is a clan of Cain's. Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again. And they have said so.[12][13]

Death and aftermathEdit

On 12 March 1977 Rutilio Grande was assassinated by the security forces of El Salvador, just outside the village where he was born, suffering martyrdom for the people he served and loved.[7]

On that day shortly after 5:00 PM, a VW Safari left a small town in El Salvador known as Aguilares. In the vehicle were three people – an elderly man named Manuel Solorzano, a sixteen-year-old boy named Nelson Lemus, and Rutilio Grande. On the way out of town, near the train tracks, the vehicle stopped to give three small children a ride. They were leaving Aguilares, a small dusty town roughly an hour north of the capital of San Salvador. Their destination was the town of El Paisnal, roughly 3 miles away, where Grande was traveling to continue a novena in celebration of the town's feast day. As the bell was tolling to gather the people near the small church situated in the central plaza of El Paisnal, Grande and his entourage made their way along the narrow dusty road that connected Aguilares and El Paisnal. As they passed the small village of Los Mangos, the children recall seeing groups of two or three men located on the banks of the small canals on either side of the road. Behind the VW was a small pick-up truck that had followed them from Aguilares. In a low voice, Grande is quoted as saying "We must do what God wants." As the pick-up came closer to the VW, a hail of bullets fell from the sky impacting the car. Later, a doctor who examined the bodies indicated that Grande was killed by bullets coming both from the front and rear of the vehicle. The weapons and ammunition used were common to the local police. The bullets from the front of the vehicle hit Grande's jaw and neck and penetrated his skull. From the rear and left, he was shot through the lower back and pelvis. All told, he was killed by 12 bullets. When the bodies were found it appeared that 72-year-old Manuel Solorzano tried, in vain, to protect Grande, as his body completely covered him. "Nelson sat quietly in his seat with a bullet in his forehead." The three children who had been given a ride were screaming in the far back of the vehicle. A man whom they recognized ordered them to leave, which they did, full of panic. They passed by the bodies of the three others, not even seeing them. As they ran down the road toward El Paisnal, they heard one final shot. Covered in blood and dirt, they did not stop running until they had arrived in El Paisnal.

Immediately, the news of these murders was transmitted to Archbishop Oscar A. Romero of San Salvador as well as to the Provincial of the Society of Jesus, who also resided in the capital. Three Jesuits from the Provincial office, Archbishop Romero, and his auxiliary Bishop Rivera y Damas all travelled to El Paisnal. At 7:00 PM President Arturo Molina called the Archbishop to offer his condolences and promise a thorough investigation. Later, the newspapers would say that the Archbishop had called the president first. This discrepancy between the government and church accounts of what occurred continued to be a developing theme throughout the period of violence that followed (1977-1992).

The three bodies were placed in front of the altar in the church of El Paisnal and the Jesuit provincial asked that a liturgy be offered that "gives hope to the community and avoids the temptations to hatred or revenge." At 10:30 PM that same evening, Archbishop Romero presided over Mass, which lasted until midnight. The next morning, responding to a radio announcement by the Archbishop, streams of peasants began walking into El Paisnal for a 9:00 AM Memorial Mass. They came from near and far to mourn the death of their beloved priest and his friends. The next Sunday, Archbishop Romero declared a "single Mass," a memorial mass for Rutilio Grande at the cathedral in San Salvador, as the only Mass to be offered in the country. The move drew criticism from Church officials, but more than 150 priests joined the Mass as celebrants and over 100,000 people came to the cathedral to hear Romero's address, which called for an end to the violence.[14][15] During the final funeral procession, one that would ultimately inter these bodies in the floor of the church in El Paisnal directly in front of the altar, the slogan could be heard: "Rutilio's walk with El Paisnal is like Christ's journey with the cross."

After the Mass on 12 March, the Archbishop had spent hours listening to stories of suffering local peasant farmers, and hours in prayer. The next morning, after meeting with his priests and advisers, Romero announced that he would not attend any state occasions nor meet with the president – both traditional activities for his longtime predecessor – until the death was investigated. As no investigation ever was conducted, this decision meant that Romero attended no state occasions whatsoever in his three years as archbishop.[14] He also appointed another Jesuit, Jon de Cortina, to succeed Grande as pastor. Romero's sermon said in part:

The true reason for [Grande's] death was his prophetic and pastoral efforts to raise the consciousness of the people throughout his parish. Father Grande, without offending and forcing himself upon his flock in the practice of their religion, was only slowly forming a genuine community of faith, hope, and love among them, he was making them aware of their dignity as individuals, of their basic rights. His was an effort toward comprehensive human development. This post-Vatican Council ecclesiastical effort is certainly not agreeable to everyone, because it awakens the consciousness of the people. It is work that disturbs many; and to end it, it was necessary to liquidate its proponent. In our case, Father Rutilio Grande.[16][13]

Canonization processEdit

The canonization process for Grande, opened in March 2014 by the Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar, was ceremonially closed on Aug. 16, 2016. The documents concerning the process were submitted to Rome, where it will be handled by the Jesuit order.[17] In March 2018, the Salvadoran ambassador to the Vatican noted that Pope Francis was a strong advocate of the canonization of Rutilio Grande, whose path to sainthood had been delayed by "misunderstandings and slander."[18] Early in 2019, when Pope Francis was asked how the cause for Rutilio's beatification was going, he replied that "well informed people tell me that the declaration of martyrdom is going well."[19]

The Holy See announced on 21 February 2020, that Pope Francis, having met with the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, formally approved the beatification of Father Grande and his two lay companions, though the rite was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hence a tentative date of August 2020 was scrapped.[20] It was announced on 27 August 2021 that the beatification rite shall be celebrated on 22 January 2022 with Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez to preside on the pope's behalf.[2]

Since 1977Edit

Museum exhibit about Rutilio Grande
  • On 15 March 1991, a group of Salvadorans returning from Nicaragua after 11 years of being refugees founded Comunidad Rutilio Grande. Among the group's many projects is "Radio Rutilio," a radio station featuring local youth as broadcasters of community news and announcements.[21] The community also participates in a partnership with a Lutheran congregation in the United States to provide secondary education to children in the Rutilio Grande community.[22] In addition, the community has also maintained a sister city relationship with the town of Davis, California since 1996.[23]
  • As of 2005, Grande's nephew Orlando Erazo was the parish priest in El Paisnal.[15]


The best video resource for understanding the life and ministry of Rutilio Grande, S.J., is "Monsenor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero, produced by the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, 2011.[28] Another, less accurate movie is the film biography Romero (1989), depicting Grande's friendship with Romero, his community work and activism, and his assassination. In the film, Grande's death becomes a major motivation in Romero's shift toward an activist role within the church and the nation. This view is supported in various biographies of Romero.[14][29]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Rhina Guidos (27 August 2021). "El Salvador sets date for four beatifications in January". Crux Now. Retrieved 28 August 2021.
  3. ^ Thomas Kelly, When the Gospel Grows Feet: Rutilio Grande, S.J. and the Church of El Salvador, An Ecclesiology in Context (Liturgical Press, 2013) Chapter 5.
  4. ^ a b Thomas Kelly, When the Gospel Grows Feet, (Liturgical Press, 2013) Chapter 5.
  5. ^ Mulligan S.J., Joseph E., "Remembering a Salvadoran Martyr"
  6. ^ Thomas Kelly, When the Gospel Grows Feet, (Liturgical Press, 2013) Chapter 6.
  7. ^ a b Thomas Kelly, When the Gospel Grows Feet, (Liturgical Press, 2013) Chs. 7-9.
  8. ^ Scott, Bea. "Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Saint for the Rest of Us", Just Good Company: A cyber journal of religion and culture, April 2003
  9. ^ Penny Lernoux, The Cry of the People, New York: Penguin Books, 1982.
  10. ^ "Commemorating Father Rutilio Grande", May 24, 2011
  11. ^ For greater detail see, Thomas Kelly, When the Gospel Grows Feet, (Liturgical Press, 2013) Chs. 7-9.
  12. ^ For a complete translation of this homily with context and commentary, see also Rutilio Grande, S.J.: Homilies and Writings, (Liturgical Press, 2015) Ch. 6.
  13. ^ a b Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El Salvador, Chapter II: Right to Life, Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (translated from Spanish), November 17, 1978,
  14. ^ a b c "Óscar Romero", by Haydee Rodriguez,, originally for the Irish Jesuit publication AMDG (undated) Archived February 14, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ a b Paul Jeffrey. After 25 years 'St. Romero of the World' still inspires, National Catholic Reporter, April 15, 2005
  16. ^ For full homily translated with commentary see Rutilio Grande, S.J.: Homilies and Writings, (Liturgical Press, 2015) Ch. 8.
  17. ^ "Rutilio Grande cause advances", Super Martyrio, 18 August 2016, retrieved 14 February 2019
  18. ^ Arocho Esteves, Junno (2 March 2018), "Pope wants canonization of slain Jesuit to move forward, ambassador says", National Catholic Reporter, retrieved 14 February 2019
  19. ^ Pope Francis (14 February 2019), Spadaro, Antonio (ed.), "'Put your lives at stake': Pope Francis in dialogue with the Jesuits of Central America", La Civilità Catolica, retrieved 14 February 2019
  20. ^
  21. ^ Greater Milwaukee Synod Sister Community: Rutilio Grande Archived 2006-01-11 at the Wayback Machine (accessed August 25, 2006)
  22. ^ Greater Milwaukee Synod El Salvador Committee Newsletter Archived 2012-04-15 at the Wayback Machine, 2006
  23. ^ Sister Cities: Rutilio Grande Archived 2007-02-28 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Cardenal, Rodolfo (2020). The life, passion, and death of the Jesuit Rutilio Grande. Chestnut Hill, MA: Institute of Jesuit Sources. ISBN 9781947617063.
  25. ^ "When the Gospel Grows Feet". Liturgical Press. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  26. ^ "Rutilio Grande, SJ". Liturgical Press. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  27. ^ "Thomas Kelly | Creighton University -". Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  28. ^ Carrigan, Ana; Weber, Juliet (20 March 2012), Monsenor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero (in Spanish), First Run Features, retrieved 3 June 2017
  29. ^ Jon Sobrino, SJ, trans. Robert R. Barr, Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990