Tony Sheen writes:
Friday, 15 November
Today we travelled 30 miles north of San Salvador to Aguilares in the Sugar plantation countryside. This is the village where Romero’s close friend Fr Rutilio Grande SJ was born and served as parish priest in 1977.
Fr Rutilio was a Jesuit priest, who was in charge of the seminary in the region. Rutilio had been influenced by the Latin American conference, which took place in 1968 in Medellin. As a result, the seminary was prominent in the promotion of Base Christian Communities as well as the Bible’s call for us to work alongside the poor.
Rutilio once famously said, “They will soon ban the bible in El Salvador.” During the civil war, you could be arrested by the military for holding a bible as it was thought to be a subversive document!
We were accompanied by Eva Menjivar, who was an active member of the parish community alongside Fr Rutilio, in El Paisnal / Aguilares in 1977. They would preach the Gospel across the parish hamlets. Eva described the events of Saturday 12th March 1977.
Fr Rutilio, a 49 year old parish priest at the time, was driving to celebrate Mass during Saturday afternoon, with an altar boy called Nelson Lamos, and his close companion, 75 year-old Manuel.
That afternoon, she got news that Fr Rutilio had been kidnapped by the secret police. She rushed to Aguilares with others to the parish church, where she was shocked to find the bodies of Fr Rutilio, Nelson, and Manual all shot dead by a death squad. There was blood everywhere.
It was Eva’s responsibility to prepare the bodies, but they had no coffins so rapped the bodies in white cloths. Father Rutilio was the first of many priests to be murdered in El Salvador. Priests who died alongside the poor.
Upon news of Fr Rutilio’s death, the recently appointed Archbishop Romero visited Aguilares immediately. Visibly shocked, Mônsenior Romero was moved to speak out about these murders. He controversially decided to cancel all Sunday Masses across El Salvador and hold one Mass in the National Cathedral in memory of the three victims. The Mass would be broadcast across the country on the radio. During the Mass, Romero denounced the murders of Nelson, Manuel and Rutilio. This was a tradition which would continue each Sunday with Romero naming the disappeared and the dead.
In the years that followed, being an active Christian was a risk to your life. Every day, Christians were kidnapped and tortured by having needles stuck down their fingernails and their ears cut off. Thier dead bodies were often found dumped on the roadside.
Some people describe Fr Rutilio as the John the Baptist before Romero’s ministry began.
Read more from Tony’s pilgrimage to El Salvador: https://cafodwestminster.wordpress.com/tag/tonypilgrimage/