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The makings of a saint

  • 20 January 2022
  Beatification is not usually discussed in Eureka Street. It is of direct interest only to Catholics. Its effects are narrowly Catholic: it entitles people in a local church to pray through a person whom they revere as close to God. It is part of due diligence to ensure that shysters and psychopaths are not treated as saints. It becomes of interest to people who are not Catholic only when the persons beatified come from their region or are of wider interest for the quality of their lives or their social attitudes.

By these standards the beatification in El Salvador on Friday of Rutilio Grande, together with Manuel Solórzano and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, hardly calls for comment. It occurs in a distant nation and Manuel and Nelson, an older man and a boy from his parish, are remembered only because they died in the car with Grande when he was murdered by police in 1977. For Jesuits around the world, of course, Grande’s death and beatification, like those of other twentieth century Jesuit martyrs, are local events. He is family. His beatification honours his preaching and living the Gospel in a community of poor and oppressed people.

Grande’s death also carried a larger significance. He was a close friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who recognized his death as part of an attack by the Salvadorean rulers on the Catholic community and particularly on the poor. Grande’s death became situated into larger ideological and geopolitical debates.  

For me Grande’s beatification has personal significance. Two years after six Jesuits, their housekeeper and daughter, were murdered in El Salvador, I spent some time there reading Latin American theology and visiting communities of people who had returned to El Salvador after being driven across the borders by the military. On the fifteenth anniversary of Rutilio Grande’s death I went to a memorial celebration in Aguilares. This crossroads town was the centre of the Jesuit local mission of which Grande had been part. 

I had already been struck by the affection with which everyone spoke of Rutilio Grande. In a society where any ministry to people who were poor exposed one to constant danger, it was natural to become hardened in order to survive. Rutilio Grande, however, was remembered and treasured for his vulnerability. He came from a large and poor family in the village of El Paisnal, was brought up by his devout grandmother and older brother, and was