Above: Father Rutilio Grande Garcia
Image in the Public Domain
RUTILIO GRANDE GARCIA (JULY 5, 1928-MARCH 12, 1977)
Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr in El Salvador
It is a dangerous thing to be a Christian in our world.
–Father Grande, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 113
Father Rutilio Grande Garica, born into an impoverished family at El Paisanal, El Salvador, on July 5, 1928, identified with and worked among the poor and the oppressed, who were numerous in El Salvador, a nation-state with a long history of repressive military rule and a veneer of representative government. His activism cost him his life.
Grande knew when he was an adolescent that he had a vocation to the priesthood. At the age of 17 years he joined the Society of Jesus. Our saint, ordained a priest in 1959, thought at first that his priestly vocation was to model perfection. During the 1960s, however, he changed his mind. His priestly vocation, he concluded, was actually to model loving service and self-sacrifice.
Grande became a leftist priest unpopular with the conservative Roman Catholic establishment that supported the repressive governments of El Salvador. In 1965 he began to serve as the director of social action projects at the seminary in San Salvador, the capital. Our saint, who held that position for nine years, used it to encourage future priests to not to seek prestige but instead to spend time with the rural poor and to identify with them. This alarmed enough prominent people to lead to our saint’s reassignment as parish priest in the small town of Aguilares. There he trained catechists and preached against social injustice, such as that of the variety that was government policy. This angered local elites, who sought to have him silenced.
Grande preached a crucial sermon at a Mass in honor of Father Mario Bernal, a Colombian-born priest whom the government had recently arrested and deported without charges. On February 13, 1977, our saint condemned the government of El Salvador, the feudal conditions under which it condemned the majority of the people to live, and the hypocrisy of professing Christians who tolerated these realities. He said, in part:
I’m quite aware that very soon the Bible and the gospel won’t be allowed to cross our borders. We’ll get only the bindings, because all the pages are subversive. And I think that if Jesus himself came across the border at Chalatenango, they wouldn’t let him in. They would accuse the Man-God, the prototype of man, of being a rabble-rouser, a foreign Jew, one who confused the people with exotic and foreign ideas, ideas against democracy–that is, against the wealthy minority, the clan of Cains! Brothers, without any doubt, they would crucify him again. And God forbid that I be one of the crucifiers!
–Quoted in Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), page 114
Within a month Grande was dead. He was driving a campesino and an adolescent boy in his van when government gunmen used machine guns to kill them. This was the first time the El Salvadoran government had murdered a priest; it was certainly not the last. Grande’s death prompted his friend, Oscar Romero, the new Archbishop of San Salvador, to speak out against government brutality toward the people. Romero followed our saint in martyrdom three years later.
Our Lord and Savior commanded his followers to take up their crosses and follow him. Rutilio Grande Garcia took up his cross and followed Christ to his own Golgotha, one with bullets, not nails.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 14, 2017 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE ELDER, HER FAMILY, AND SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE YOUNGER
THE FEAST OF CIVIL RIGHTS MARTYRS AND ACTIVISTS
THE FEAST OF KRISTEN KVAMME, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT SAVA I, FOUNDER OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND FIRST ARCHBISHOP OF SERBS
Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.
Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.
Help us, like your servant Rutilio Grande Garcia,
to work for justice among people and nations,
for the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60