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Rutilio Grande, the martyred priest whose death changed St. Óscar Romero’s life

Two laymen, one Capuchin and a Jesuit, Fr. Rutilio Grande, will be beatified in El Salvador on Jan. 22. All four were killed in the late 1970s.

Fr. Rutilio Grande was an advocate for peasants’ rights during a difficult time in El Salvador. That’s why in 1977, he was assassinated alongside two laymen who were with him, a teenager and an elderly man.

His death deeply moved a local bishop and old friend of his: Óscar Romero, who from that moment on, dedicated himself to serving the poor in a unique way.

Vice-postulator, Cause of Fr. Rutilio and companions
“Rutilio’s death was a moment, an instant, in Romero’s life, which led him to turn to God with a question: What will I do? And God led him along unexpected paths, the path of the poor, and in a new way, because Óscar Romero had always served the poor, but now he was being called to become, in a certain sense, the voice of the poor.”

Rutilio Grande’s assassination came one month after Óscar Romero’s ordination as the bishop of San Salvador. It was the most politically significant position for a bishop in the country.

Vice-postulator, Cause of Fr. Rutilio and companions
“They were friends and very similar. Both with peasant backgrounds, poor, with similar temperaments. Both men were introverted, reserved, reflective, and they were able to help each other in difficult moments. That’s why Rutilio’s death, for Óscar Romero, wasn’t just any death. It was the death of his brother.”

Two lay men died alongside Fr. Rutilio. They were Manuel Solórzano and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, who were accompanying the priest on his way to celebrate Mass.

Vice-postulator, Cause of Fr. Rutilio and companions
“They knew Fr. Rutilio had received death threats, and they knew that the priest had that fear. Fr. Rutilio himself asked people not to accompany him anywhere because he knew his life could come to a fatal end at any moment. So all three died as martyrs.”

Óscar Romero and Rutilio Grande and his two companions weren’t the only ones from those difficult years in El Salvador to be declared martyrs. Another was a Capuchin friar, Cosme Spessotto, who met a similar fate.

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