Last Saturday, 22nd January, in the main square of the capital city San Salvador and in front of the cathedral, four men were beatified – all murdered by orders of the military government of El Salvador. The ceremony represented a new spirit in the countries of Central and South America where right-wing military governments have dominated the populations, crushing them in poverty under the power of wealthy families and the armed forces.
Fr Rutilio Grande SJ and his sacristan, Nelson Lemus (70), and a young boy, Manuel Solorzano (15), were murdered on 12th March, 1977. The fourth man, a Franciscan priest, Cosme Spessotto, was shot dead on 14th June, 1980.
Bishop Oscar Romero came to see the three murdered men and a week later decided that in the whole of the archdiocese there would be only one Sunday celebration of mass – in front of the cathedral in San Salvador. Over 100,000 gathered for the mass which was broadcast throughout the country, in spite of being opposed by the government and the papal nuncio. Oscar Romero was determined. The sight of the three murdered men had changed him in an instant: from being a quiet conservative bishop he became a strong voice in speaking for justice for the poor. That change cost him his life. A little later he was murdered by soldiers whilst actually celebrating mass.
In November 2021 a conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops was due – but Pope Francis suggested an assembly to include people and religious and priests. That assembly indicated the old structures of the Church are outdated and the laity, and especially women, must take responsibility for the Church’s mission.
This beatification is a powerful reminder that the Church is changing. The power of its Institution, so corrupt in history and in many parts of our world even today, is fading. The people of God must lead the mission and the good bishops will walk with them.
These details come from an article in The Tablet by a Jesuit priest, Martin Maier. I thought you would be caught by the sorrow and courage.
(30th January 2022)