Remembering Father Rutilio Grande of El Salvador
Father Rutilio Grande

In the course of the year 1977, at the school where I studied, there was a subject called Religious Orientation. The teacher was a well recognized social psychologist in those days, in several high school centers. The school was the Cristóbal Colón—Christopher Columbus of the Order of St. Joseph fathers.

That year the country started off politically convulsed by an electoral fraud perpetrated on Feb. 20, when General Carlos Humberto Romero came into the presidency. Romero was previously Minister of Defense who led the massacre of university students in 1975. In the face of the fraud, the opposition national union parties occupied Plaza Libertad—Liberty Plaza—and for eight days conducted peaceful resistance denouncing fraud. A good many people joined that peaceful protest. On Feb. 28, the army repressed them.

I remember that day: During the night the army conducted a massacre in the center of our capital, San Salvador. I witnessed the crew of workers cleaning up the spilled blood in the morning. We customarily passed through downtown San Salvador and transferred going to Christopher Columbus school.

The class was taught with the Gospel in hand. We always read and afterward reflected on whatever the reading was. Everyone expressed their vision of reality. I was particularly motivated reading Exodus in my home Bible. My father had the Latin American Bible; with the Medellín texts, it was an excellent tool.

One day that February or early March, Omar Castillo arrived with a cassette recorder. We made a circle, and he played a homily of Rutilio Grande called The Apopa Sermon, which was related to the expulsion of Colombian priest Mario Bernal Londoño.

Rutilio Grande’s sermon was very strong. He said: I fear, brothers and sisters, that very soon the Bible and the Gospel will no longer be able to cross our borders. They will only leave us the covers because each of their pages is subversive…. I fear, brothers and sisters, that if Jesus of Nazareth returned right now and came from Galilee to Judea, as if he came from Chalatenango to San Salvador, I think they would come to Apopa, right now, with his words and actions, arrest him and put him in prison….

Certainly, brothers and sisters, they would return to crucify him. And I hope God frees me from being part of those who would crucify him!…. Many people prefer a funereal Christ, they want a silent, mouthless Christ who quietly passes through the streets. Many prefer a Christ with a snout for a mouth. Many prefer a Christ in our image who acts according to our interests. This is not the Christ of the Gospel! It is not the young 33-year-old Christ who gave his life for the noble cause of humanity! Brothers and sisters, some want a God who is in the clouds. They don’t want this Jesus of Nazareth, a scandal for the Jews and madness for the heathens. They want a God who won’t challenge them, who will leave those who are part of the establishment alone and not say these terrible words: “Cain, where is your brother Abel? Do not kill anyone. Don’t put your foot on someone else’s neck, don’t rule them, don’t humiliate them.”

On Mar. 12, 1977, in the street leading from Aguilares to the countryside, Rutilio Grande was assassinated. He was originally from that area. Along with the priest, also assassinated were an old man, Manuel Solórzano, and the young Nelson Rutilio Lemus.

That death impacted the life of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who in losing the best of his pastors took his place, and just like him was assassinated for serving the Gospel following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Rutilio Grande was ambushed while traveling in Aguilares. | Live Memory TVES

Some of my classmates who studied at my school were seminarians in San José de la Montaña and said they came to it motivated by Rutilio.

Of that generation from Christopher Columbus school, very few of us are left. Some are professionals, others left the country, others took the option of their militant priests: These seminarian friends took up arms on the side of the people.

Years later, in 1994, I worked in the countryside and saw where Rutilio Grande was born. Somehow this humble priest marked the lives of many. One day I asked Juan García Melara, who was mayor of this municipality, and he told me wonderful stories. Diego (García Melara’s nom de guerre) organized to demand fair payment in the sugar plantations, as part of the ecclesiastic base communities and also the Federación Cristiana de Campesinos Salvadoreños (FECCAS, the Christian Federation of Salvadoran Peasants), as well as the Unión de Trabajadores Campesinos (UTC, the Union of Peasant Workers). Neither organization exists any longer, but they have given rise to others with similar goals.

Today they say Father “Tilo” will become a saint, and that the process has already started. I believe he was like John the Baptist and Oscar Arnulfo Romero, taking the part of Jesus. Both were great friends of the people, and both started off fearing to speak out in public. But these two servants of the Gospel faced death firmly in their belief in a Jesus on the side of the poor.

Whose side are you on?

Because Rutilio was a Christian committed to the people, who worked for the unity of our communities, I try to implement the Gospel and the texts of Medellín.

This is the memoir of a dishwasher.