On February 21, Pope Francis approved the beatification of Padre Rutilio Grande, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest who was murdered on March 12, 1977, by a Salvadoran death squad for his advocacy for people who were persecuted by the country’s military and death squads.
His ministry and slaying inspired then Archbishop Oscar Romero (now Saint Romero) to become an outspoken critic of the country’s military and advocate for El Salvador’s oppressed.
Pope Francis has long expressed his intense admiration for both Grande and Romero. At the entrance to his room at the Vatican hotel where the Pope lives is a piece of cloth with Romero’s blood on it and notes from a catechism teaching Grande delivered. Last year during a visit to Panama, the Pope said,“I was a devotee of Rutilio even before coming to know Romero better. When I was [a priest] in Argentina, his life influenced me, his death touched me. He said what he had to say, but it was his testimony, his martyrdom, that eventually moved Romero. This was the grace.”
The official Vatican News stated the news of this beatification as follows:
“The Pope also recognized the martyrdom of the Servants of God Rutilio Grande García, a Jesuit priest, and his 2 lay companions, who were killed in hatred of the faith in El Salvador on March 12, 1977.”
“Murdered before the start of the Salvadoran civil war, Father Grande, who was a close friend of fellow Salvadoran and martyr, Saint Oscar Romero, became an icon for human rights in rural Latin America.”
“Known for his vigorous defence of poor, the Jesuit priest, an elderly man and a teenager were shot by a right-wing death squad as they were travelling in a car outside the village where he was born.”
“The horror that the assassination of Fr. Grande generated led Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador to take up the Jesuit’s mantle as a defender of the poor. Three years later, Romero would succumb to the assassins’ bullets for his outspoken criticism of the military and work on behalf of El Salvador’s oppressed.”
“The decree on the martyrdom of Fr. Grande and his two companions does away with the need for a miracle through their intercession to qualify for beatification, the final step before sainthood, for which a miracle would be required. The beatification date will be declared at a later date.”
In March 2003, this blogger was in El Salvador and attended a memorial mass for Father Grande at the church in the village of El Paisnal, where he had served as the parish priest, and stopped to pay my respects at Grande’s memorial on the road to the village where he had been murdered.
On October 2, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo delivered a speech in Rome at the Holy See’s Symposium on Working with Faith-Based Organizations. He also met with Pope Francis and with two Vatican officials.
After mentioning some of the main points of last week’s session on religious freedom at the U.N. that was organized by the U.S., the Secretary recalled, “Then-Pope – now Saint – John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan combined the moral authority of the Holy See with the prosperity and example of the United States, the freest nation on earth, to fight the evil empire [the Soviet Union]. Through patience and unity of purpose, they prevailed. Their words and deeds helped save – helped leave the Soviet leviathan on that ash heap of history.”
“More than 80 percent of mankind [now] lives in places where religious freedom is threatened or entirely denied. Approximately 71 million people around the world are displaced as refugees. Roughly 25 million people are caught in human trafficking situations.”
“And it’s no coincidence that it has happened as unfree societies have proliferated. Because when the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority. That’s why Cuba cancelled National Catholic Youth Day back in August.”(Emphasis added.) He also had negative words about violations of religious freedom in China, Syria, Iran and Burma.
“We must recognize the roots of religious repression. Authoritarian regimes and autocrats will never accept a power higher than their own. And that causes all sorts of assaults on human dignity.
On “the issues most fundamental, on the issues of human dignity and religious freedom, these issues that transcend everyday politics, on the enduring struggle of the individual’s right to believe and worship, we [the Holy See and the U.S.] must – and I know we will – march together.”
The Secretary then discussed the Second U.S. Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the U.S.-led gathering on religious freedom at the U.N. last week and the U.S.-initiated Religious Freedom Alliance.
The State Department’s initial statement merely said that Secretary Pompeo had “a private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis.” A subsequent statement adced this summary: “The Pope and the Secretary “reaffirmed the United States and Holy See commitment to advancing religious freedom around the world, and in particular, protecting Christian communities in the Middle East. The Secretary and Pope Francis also discussed the continued efforts of the United States and the Holy See to promote democracy and human rights globally.”
The Vatican, on the other hand, merely confirmed the meeting’s having taken place, but offered no details. The Associated Press added, “There was no indication that Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, sought any type of spiritual solace from Pope Francis during their meeting.”
Pompeo along with the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich (wife of Newt Gingrich, former Republican Congressman), also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher. According to the State Department, “Secretary Pompeo thanked Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Gallagher for the Vatican’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and end the suffering of the Venezuelan people. They also discussed the importance of preventing trafficking in persons and advancing international religious freedom. On the Middle East, the Secretary noted U.S. efforts to support Christian minorities, and emphasized the importance of continued calls from the United States and the Vatican to end the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.”
Once again, the Secretary had lofty words about religious freedom, an honorable cause. But it mainly was a political promotion for things that the current administration is doing. without any mention of working with faith-based organizations, which was the apparent theme of the Holy See’s Symposium. There was no humbly walking with God as Micah 6:8 reminds us: “What does the Lord require of youbut to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 (NRSV)(emphasis added).)
And the Secretary could not let this speech occur without an unnecessary and misleading negative word about Cuba. Yes, the Office of Religious Affairs of the Cuban Communist Party did not allow most public celebrations this year of National Catholic Youth Day, except they were permitted in the city of Santiago de Cuba at the eastern end of the island and such celebrations also took place in the premises of the church’s eleven dioceses. Moreover, the cancelation of the other celebrations could have been prompted by Cuba’s current energy shortages, a substanal cause of which is the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela’s shipping oil to the island. 
A prior post discussed poet-memoirist Carolyn Forché’s four encounters with Archbishop (now Saint) Oscar Romero that were included in her memoir, What You Have Heard Is True.
Recently Forché had additional comments about Romero in an interview by Robin Lindley, a Seattle-based writer and attorney and features editor of the History Notes Network.Here is what Forché said:
“Monsignor Romero was very kind. He was a bit shy, very studious, and deeply thoughtful. He had studied in Rome.”
“As things started to deteriorate and as the killing escalated, one of his close friends, Father Rutillo Grande, a Jesuit, was murdered. Monsignor Romero went to keep vigil with his body and then began to publicly denounce the military regime. He became the only institutional voice against the oppression in the country. He was a very visible public figure, and he saw himself as a shepherd, as a bishop of his people, as someone to stay with his people and keep watch with them and take care of them. Every Sunday he would say mass in the cathedral and his homily would be broadcast all over the country on radio.”
“The right hated Monsignor Romero. He was number one on the death squad hit lists, some of which were printed in the newspapers. Yet he stood up and he denounced the oppression every Sunday. And he read out the names of the dead. He was very compelling. He said yes to the call of that moment.”
“The last time I talked to him, he told me I had to leave the country the next day. I asked if he would leave the country. He said, ‘No, my place is with my people and your place with yours now.’ That was difficult for me to accept, but Monsignor Romero knew what was coming. He knew his time was short.”
“I also thought he was a saint long before the Vatican acknowledged his sainthood. There was a kind of tranquility about him, even though he felt fear. He talked about feeling fear like any other human being. But he gave his life for his people. He didn’t abandon them. I have utmost regard and also love for him, and his loss was a grave one for humanity.”
“But now we have him among us in spirit. The people of El Salvador venerated his sanctity long before the Vatican acknowledged it.”
On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis at the Vatican canonized Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Vatican’s press release briefly stated the following:
“Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 as he was saying Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital where he lived. He was an outspoken voice for the poorest people of his country, so got caught up in a conflict between the military government and guerilla groups that claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives.”
“Thirty five years later, he was declared a martyr of the Church, killed out of hatred of the faith, and was beatified on May 23rd”
Pope Francis, who wore the bloodstained rope belt that Romero wore when he was assassinated, canonized Romero and Pope Paul VI at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before about 70,000 faithful, a handful of presidents and 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome to honor a man whom many Latin Americans consider a hero. Back in El Salvador’s capital, tens of thousands more Salvadorans stayed up all night to watch the Mass on giant TV screens outside the cathedral where Romero’s remains are entombed. Below are photographs of the crowd at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis and of photographs of Romero and Pope Paul VI hung on the exterior of St. Peter’s.
Pope Francis’ Homily
In his homily Pope Francis said that Romero “left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters.”
The homily was based upon Hebrews: 4: 12-13 (NRSV): “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” The passage from Hebrews “tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . . It really is: God’s word is not merely a set of truths or an edifying spiritual account; no – it is a living word that touches our lives, that transforms our lives. There, Jesus in person, the living Word of God, speaks to our hearts.”
“The Gospel, in particular, invites us to an encounter with the Lord, after the example of the ‘man’ who ‘ran up to him’ (cf. Mk10:17). We can recognize ourselves in that man, whose name the text does not give, as if to suggest that he could represent each one of us. He asks Jesus how ‘toinherit eternal life’ (v. 17). He is seeking life without end, life in its fullness: who of us would not want this? Yet we notice that he asks for it as an inheritance, as a good to be obtained, to be won by his own efforts. In fact, in order to possess this good, he has observed the commandments from his youth and to achieve this he is prepared to follow others; and so he asks: ‘What must I do to have eternal life?’”
“Jesus’s answer catches him off guard. The Lord looks upon him and loves him (cf. v. 21). Jesus changes the perspective: from commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love. That man was speaking in terms of supply and demand, Jesus proposes to him a story of love. He asks him to pass from the observance of laws to the gift of self, from doing for oneself to being with God. And the Lord suggests to the man a life that cuts to the quick: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor…and come, follow me’ (v. 21).”
“To you, too, Jesus says: ‘Come, follow me!’ Come: do not stand still, because it is not enough not to do evil in order to be with Jesus. Follow me: do not walk behind Jesus only when you want to, but seek him out every day; do not be content to keep the commandments, to give a little alms and say a few prayers: find in Him the God who always loves you; seek in Jesus the God who is the meaning of your life, the God who gives you the strength to give of yourself.”
Again Jesus says: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor.’ The Lord does not discuss theories of poverty and wealth, but goes directly to life. He asks you to leave behind what weighs down your heart, to empty yourself of goods in order to make room for him, the only good. We cannot truly follow Jesus when we are laden down with things. Because if our hearts are crowded with goods, there will not be room for the Lord, who will become just one thing among the others. For this reason, wealth is dangerous and – says Jesus – even makes one’s salvation difficult. Not because God is stern, no! The problem is on our part: our having too much, our wanting too much suffocates us, suffocates our hearts and makes us incapable of loving. Therefore, Saint Paul writes that ‘the love of money is the root of all evils’ (1 Tim 6:10). We see this where money is at the centre, there is no room for God nor for man.”
“Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, our heart is like a magnet: it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world’s treasure (cf. Mt 6:24); either it will live for love or it will live for itself (cf. Mk 8:35). Let us ask ourselves where we are in our story of love with God. Do we content ourselves with a fewcommandments or do we follow Jesus as lovers, really prepared to leave behind something for him? Jesus asks each of us and all of us as the Church journeying forward: are we a Church that only preaches good commandments or a Church that is a spouse, that launches herself forward in love for her Lord? Do we truly follow him or do we revert to the ways of the world, like that man in the Gospel? In a word, is Jesus enough for us or do we look for many worldly securities? “
“Let us ask for the grace always to leave things behind for love of the Lord: to leave behind wealth, leave behind the yearning for status and power, leave behind structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world. Without a leap forward in love, our life and our Church become sick from ‘complacency and self-indulgence’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 95): we find joy in some fleeting pleasure, we close ourselves off in useless gossip, we settle into the monotony of a Christian life without momentum, where a little narcissism covers overthe sadness of remaining unfulfilled.”
“This is how it was for the man, who – the Gospel tells us – ‘went away sorrowful’ (v. 22). He was tied down to regulations of the law and to his many possessions; he had not given over his heart. Even though he had encountered Jesus and received his loving gaze, the man went away sad. Sadness is the proof of unfulfilled love, the sign of a lukewarm heart.”
“On the other hand, a heart unburdened by possessions, that freely loves the Lord, always spread’ joy, that joy for which there is so much need today. Pope Saint Paul VI wrote: ‘It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song’ (Gaudete in Domino, I). Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have travelled this path.”
In my first trip to El Salvador in April 1989 I started to learn about Oscar Romero and his courageous denunciations of human rights violations by the Salvadoran government and, to a lesser extent, the rebels. For these acts he was assassinated while he was saying mass in a small, modern and beautiful chapel on the grounds of a cancer hospital across the street from his small apartment. As a Protestant Christian I came to regard Romero as my personal saint. Thus, I treasure the Roman Catholic Church’s formally recognizing him as a saint.