The Catholic Church in El Salvador beatified on Saturday two priests and two laymen killed for "hatred of faith and justice", victims of death squads that acted with total impunity protected by the Salvadoran security forces and governments among 1977 and 1980.
On a sunny afternoon and with songs, hundreds of people vibrated on Saturday during the beatification ceremony of the two priests who defended peasants and workers, and the two laymen whose deaths shocked them in the midst of a bloody twelve-year civil war.
Rutilio Grande, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest who inspired Saint Óscar Romero, was a victim of death squads along with his two lay friends and compatriots, who accompanied him when he was attacked. For his part, the Franciscan priest Cosme Spessotto, originally from Italy, was shot to death while praying in front of the altar of his parish. The four were elevated to the category of blessed and martyrs for faith and justice 46 years after they were assassinated.
Grande, 49, was murdered on March 12, 1977, along with Manuel Solórzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16, while driving a vehicle on a rural road in the municipality of Aguilares, north of the capital. The crime was attributed to the then National Guard, one of the most repressive security forces and which was dissolved years later.
The four martyrs of faith and justice were officially declared blessed in an emotional ceremony presided over by Pope Francis' special envoy, Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, who pointed out that the lives of the two priests and the two lay people, chosen as role models.
“Rutilio, Manuel, Nelson and Cosme, give names to all the innocent victims offered on the sacrilegious altar of the idols of power, pleasure and money. The blood shed by our martyrs associated with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is the seed of reconciliation and peace”, said Rosa Chávez.
Catholic faithful from across the country, many of them from the Aguilares and San Juan Nonualco area, turned out for the ceremony, holding images of Grande, Spessotto and the two laymen, and carrying white and yellow Vatican flags.
They inspired Romero
Pope Francis passed a decree proclaiming the Great Martyr of the Catholic faith, as well as the two laymen who were killed with him. That means they can be beatified without having to attribute a miracle to his intercession. A miracle is necessary for canonization.
His assassination and his ministry to the poor helped inspire Monsignor Romero, then the newly appointed archbishop of San Salvador.
Three years later, Romero was shot to death for openly criticizing the military and working on behalf of El Salvador's oppressed.
The beatification constitutes the first step towards a possible canonization, although many in San Salvador already credit "Father Tilo" with the conversion of Monsignor Romero.
Francis, the first Latin American pontiff and the first Jesuit pope, declared Romero a saint in 2018.