Thursday, March 24, 2011

Commemorating Father Rutilio Grande

Saturday March 12th marked the 34th anniversary of Father Rutilio Grande's martyrdom. A priest from El Paisnal, Rutilio Grande spoke against the injustices at the hands of an oppressive government, and dedicated his life's work to organizing the impoverished, marginalized rural farmers of El Salvador as they demanded respect for their rights. Members of the army shot him to death along with two other people, in 1977 on his way to give mass. Community members and social organizations continue to commemorate his life and death every year to hold up his example of commitment to the people and communities, and of speaking out for justice as a model for youth, men, women, and children to follow today, in the midst of continued inequality.

While El Salvador is no longer at war, economic wealth and job opportunities remain concentrated in the hands of a few. A culture of violence continues, manifesting itself in one of the highest murder rates on the continent. In the midst of these and other challenges,  it is essential to build an identity Salvadorans are proud of, and remember people who touched and transformed the lives of many to believe in themselves and to work for love and justice.

This year over 800 people gathered in Aguilares to commemorate Father Grande, in an event coordinated by UCRES and the local government. Most people came from neighboring communities, though some came from other areas of El Salvador, and even a few from other countries.  From Aguilares, everyone joined in walking to The Three Crosses, the monument constructed in memory of Father Rutilio Grande, Nelson Rutilio Lemus (16), and Manuel Solórzano (72), at the site they were gunned down at on March 12, 1977. Today a paved road surrounded by dusty, tranquil looking fields runs past the monument.

The monument consists of three black crosses in memory of the three people killed, framed by a wall, with one of Father Grande's most well known quotes: Let's all go to the banquet, to the table of creation. Each of us has a bench, a place, and a mission.” Guillermo Cuellar based the words of the opening song for the Salvadoran Popular Mass on Father Grande's words. This Saturday, everyone joined in  singing Let's All Go to the Banquet” to begin a commemorative mass just across from The Three Crosses. Music from the popular mass, and other songs born out of Christian Base Communities and the liberation theology Father Rutilio practiced and preached, filled the mass. Songs with words like “When the poor believe in the poor, we can shout, “liberty,” When the poor believe in the poor, we can build brotherhood... At the Lord's table we all committed ourselves to sowing love” and “The Bible is the word of life, the Bible is the word of God.”

As mass came to a close, the morning sun sat overhead in a brilliant blue sky, filling the air with clinging heat and baking the road. Everyone re-grouped in the center of the road, holding posters and banners commemorating Father Rutilio, and joined in the Caminata, a slow, mindful walk from the Three Crosses to El Paisnal. Rutilio, Nelson and Manuel are buried in El Paisnal, and the central plaza is named after Rutilio Grande. All along the walk, UCRES high school and university scholarship students helped pass out bags of water to the walkers, and collected trash. One university student, Heidy Santamaría, said she comes to the commemoration every year. For her Father Rutilio is important because of the way he stood up for people's rights and because of the profound impact his life and death had on Monseñor Romero.

In El Paisnal following the caminata, one young woman commented, “Rutilio Grande was a defender of human rights and a friend of the people. I wish I could have met him.” She said she heard that when he first came to El Paisnal, the people would always serve him chicken, a real luxury for the economically impoverished families of the area. However, he told them that he did not want to be seen as more than anyone else just because he was a priest, and that he wanted to eat whatever the people ate. If the people ate beans, then he would eat beans too.

The many gathered sent a strong clear message that Father Rutilio Grande's acts and message of love for the people and for justice continue to move and inspire today's women, men, children, elderly, and youth to keep walking with love and demanding their rights.

More info. about Father Rutilio Grande

A beautiful piece in Spanish about the commemoration published in the Salvadoran newspaper the CoLatino:

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