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The makings of a saint



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 educated in a minor seminary. He was self-doubting and scrupulous, and lived with ill health and depression. His entry into a multinational religious congregation, many of whose members came from Spain with a very different religious culture, could not have been easy. His ministry was spiritual and aimed at the deepening of Catholic life through spiritual direction, liturgy, and religious formation that grounded the Gospel in the concerns and hopes of people.


"This was Rutilio’s world — one of simple faith, of devotion, of reckoning and paying the cost of following Jesus, of building community out of inadequate materials."


That devotional and intellectual church experience inspired his work in Aguilares, which included El Paisnal, where people lived in poverty, exploited by the large landowners. As he worked with small local communities and led them to ask how the Gospel spoke to their lives, he emboldened them to seek just wages and conditions. Landowners responded violently, particularly against pastoral workers. This was the background to his killing by police near his hometown.

At the celebration of the anniversary, campesinos — the local poor — packed the factory-like church. A priest recently returned from forced exile preached a long and highly rhetorical sermon.  Afterwards in the heat of the day, we all walked in procession along the dusty side road towards El Paisnal, singing and chanting. We crossed a railway line and the drive to a hacienda lined with the green of bananas and coconut palms, before halting at three concrete crosses by the road’s edge. This was where Rutilio and his companions were killed.

One of Rutilio’s companions spoke conversationally of him and led the hymn in his honour. We then walked on to El Paisnal, a small village rising from a creek and stopped to pray in the welcoming cool and dark of his childhood church. Red and white cloth banners hung on the pillars, and there were statues of Jesus in a red robe and black hemp hair, and of Mary with the same hair, in a white and blue wedding dress and a face made up as if for a celebration. In the sanctuary were three crosses bearing the names of Rutilio and his companions.

Afterwards we went up the creek valley to its head from which we could see the lush green of the haciendas, the brown and dry hillsides, and the further hills where resistance forces had found shelter. Some distance from the road was the Rutilio Grande community comprising survivors who had returned from Nicaragua after being driven from their homes. Along the way were the walls of houses, bullet marked and burned by the army and paramilitary in the murderous clearances of the 1980s.

That day I began to understand the world of Rutilio and his companions. The ruined houses spoke of a history, a shared struggle and of the resilience to start again. They brought together the natural world and human histories, vines, trellises, walls and yards, that gave texture to the lives of the communities that had been so harried, had struggled to find justice, and had found connection in the midst of oppression.

I returned from the celebration in the JRS Ute, bumping along in the tray with a bunch of local people including Rutilio’s brother. He was a handsome man, who spoke in soft campesino Spanish, rich in expressing feeling though perhaps less adapted to abstract ideas. This was Rutilio’s world — one of simple faith, of devotion, of reckoning and paying the cost of following Jesus, of building community out of inadequate materials. A local world but universal in its appeal.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: A mural of St. Archbishop Óscar Romero and Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande in El Paisnal, El Salvador. (Jesuits Global) 

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, beatification, El Salvador, saints, Rutilio Grande



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Existing comments

“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.”

On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, rather trust in His divine providence’. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

“But who does not or has not “worried about tomorrow”?

The subject matter is difficult (for many) to confront honestly, as our life experience teaches us as does the natural world also, that a squirrel horde is to be in accord.

Butchers shop a bag of bones I have got
Bone stew oxo too
Starving not a brass farthing
More bones mourns and groins
Broken in two, ‘marrow is good for you’
Day after day distasteful taste does stay
Desperation, last resort food had to be bought
Wedding ring to a pawn shop I do bring
Curtain ring joke a shameful thing to have no ring
Opposite The Kings Arms, three balls displaying their charms
Brass if you ask
Passing tram thinking sausages and ham
Door latch shop with catch
Tinkle of bell polished smell
Counter, side door, planked wooden floor, nothing more
Look and pay nothing on display
No joking here, trading serious gear
A quiet hand was in command
Waistcoat hardly spoke
Shiny head, kind bespectacled face
He knew the pace of this place
‘Price bespoke’ that is my joke
First in the queue the face he knew
A blanket of finest wool a strand he did pull
Lit match he did attach
Shriveling strand, five shillings this will command
Few words spoke, cough in throat, five bobs a lot when you’re broke
Next, pair of black boots, unused here’s the proofrose
With receipt, they belong to my brother Pete
I heard his prayer, ten shillings would be fair
Half a crown “ I need more” there’s the door
Difficult to sell when the pawn does not go well
Next, Old coat always broke
Button missing no one listening
Stubbled chin cold and thin
Watery eye, no one to sigh
Sorry friend, on medals we never lend
Down at heel, a little sorry I did feel
Snuff and snuffle, outward he did shuffle
Sneeze and cough, as door latch did drop
‘Redemption,’ polished toe
Jack flash very brash
“Just in time, the watch was almost mine”
My turn, countertop my head did stop
“You’re a bit young”
My mother could not come
Confirming address with every test
Ticket given for revision
Brown envelope my address was wrote
Gold ring sits within
Pigeonhole wall, the slot was small
One-pound note no longer broke
Pledge made, three months to be repaid

So yes, our life experiences/circumstances tend to influence our thinking and behavior. My own sinfulness in regards to the subject matter was driven by insecurity and family (un-Christian) values, that emphasized finical independence. I was taught not to steal or lie, but nevertheless evil has many different faces. When in my seventh year, one of the residents in our slum street died, with no known family, a horde of children (Older) broke down the front door and stripped the house clean, while I fled with my booty, a hot water bottle, and blanket, while many adults in collusion stood by.

But even in financial independence, there is ‘no one size fits all’ since everybody has a different desired standard of living. But this desire can and often does as in my case harden one’s heart to the sufferings of others.

“Oh, that today you would hear his voice ‘harden’ not your hearts”

Thankfully although late in life, I now look back ashamedly, as my heart wells up with tears and regrets, while today with open (Detached) purse I now hold myself accountable before our Father in Heaven.

While reflecting in humility before the “Widows Mite” and now Blessed Rutilio Grande who gave all.

So ‘one size does not fit all’ as before them I am still so very small.

Nevertheless, now peace is His bequest.

kevin your brother
In Christ

Kevin Walters | 20 January 2022  

There was no time for nobly stated cause:
they were simply there among God's people.
That is all. . .
stumbling blocks of faithful service
in the way of ideology and gun. . .
Their presence is their elocution.
Christ, consummate the course
they stayed to run . . .

John Kelly | 21 January 2022  

Thank you Andrew. I would not have known of these beatifications had you not written. Well I remember the day Romero’s death was announced on ABC radio’s AM programme. In 1989 I arranged for a viewing of Oliver Stone’s film Romero by the entire group of Year 11 students from De La Salle Malvern. Rutilio Grande’s murder with the campesino and the young lad was depicted as the turning point for Oscar Romero as he came to confront what the government was doing in Nicaragua. I’m certain that many who knew him did not need Rome to rubber stamp his heroic sanctity. In their eyes, he - like Romero - were already saints. I am glad that this Sensus fideii has been now officially sanctioned.

Ernest Azzopardi | 21 January 2022  

Central America should have been colonised by the British. At least, they wouldn't have named one of their possessions The Saviour. One would think that it's one thing to have 'the poor will always be with us' in a 'Rhodesia' or 'Queensland' and another to have the same in a 'Christland'.

Perhaps the current quasi-dictator can change the name of the country to El Salvador Esta Viniendo.

roy chen yee | 22 January 2022  
Show Responses

Well said, Roy; although if Christ came for all it diminishes the importance of the religion and culture of victim and oppressor. Murderous injustice is tragically on show everywhere in the world, regardless of faith attachment or cultural connection. Thanks.

Michael Furtado | 24 January 2022  

It is good that the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus and a well regarded Jesuit like yourself connect with the remembrance of the Jesuit and other contemporary martyrs of El Salvador, Andy. It would mean much to the survivors. In recent times the Church has often been seen as a supporter of the status quo there. Not any more, to which we should add, thank God! By its attempts to encourage social justice in real time the Church is both helping where it is most needed and possibly discouraging the endless cycle of violence and retribution.

Edward Fido | 24 January 2022  

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