Pope Francis honors newly beatified El Salvador martyrs for their ‘heroic example’

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

 

Four martyrs are beatified at a Mass in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Jan. 22, 2022. / Camilo Freedman/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images.

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has commended the “heroic example” of four martyrs killed in the 1970s and 1980s who were recently beatified in El Salvador.

Franciscan Father Cosme Spessotto, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, and two lay companions were declared blessed at a beatification Mass in San Salvador on Jan. 22.

“They stood by the poor, bearing witness to the Gospel, truth, and justice even to the point of shedding their blood,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address the following day.

“May their heroic example inspire in everyone the desire to be courageous workers of fraternity and peace.”

Blessed Cosme Spessotto was shot by a machine gun while kneeling in a pew near the tabernacle on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on June 14, 1980.

The Franciscan priest, who had come to El Salvador as a missionary from Italy, had offered Mass earlier that evening for a university student who had been killed by the military. He remained in the empty church in prayer when two people entered the parish and killed him.

According to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Spessotto did not support either the left-wing guerillas or the right-wing paramilitary groups that were clashing in El Salvador at that time, but sought dialogue and reconciliation between the parties and tried to help the weakest and the poor.

Despite this, Spessotto had received death threats. His superiors suggested that he leave El Salvador, but he expressed a desire to stay.

Spessotto wrote: “To die a martyr would be a grace I do not deserve. To wash away all my sins, faults, and weaknesses with the blood shed for Christ would be a free gift from the Lord for me. As of now I forgive and pray for the conversion of the authors of my death.”

Born in 1923 in the northern Italian province of Treviso, Spessotto entered the minor seminary at the age of 12 and made his religious profession as a Franciscan as Europe was engulfed in World War II in 1940.

After he was ordained a priest in 1948, he expressed a desire to his superiors to be sent to China as a missionary but was sent instead to El Salvador in 1950.

He built a parish church in San Juan Nonualco, where he served as a missionary for 30 years before he was martyred at the age of 57.

The Vatican decree on his martyrdom was published on May 26, 2020.

The three other beatified martyrs were all born in El Salvador.

Father Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest and professor of pastoral theology educated in Europe, spoke out boldly to condemn the repressive action of the military and the ruling oligarchy against the poor and the marginalized, according to the Vatican.

He was driving back with five other people in the car on March 12, 1977, from a Mass offered as part of a novena in preparation for the feast of St. Joseph, when the vehicle was attacked by armed men.

The priest was instantly killed, along with a 16-year-old boy named Nelson Rutilio Lemus, who often assisted at Mass, and Manuel Solórzano, a 72-year-old catechist and father of 10.

St. Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador at the time, was deeply shaken by the assassination and personally presided over the funeral Mass.

“In the motivation of love, there cannot remain absent justice, there can be no true peace and true love on the basis of injustice, violence, intrigue,” Romero said, according to the Vatican’s martyrdom decree.

“True love is what brought Rutilio Grande to his death together with two farmers. This is how he loved the Church, he died with them, and with them he presented himself to the transcendence of heaven.”

About 5,000 people, 25 bishops, and 600 priests were present at the beatification Mass in San Salvador’s Plaza del Divino Salvador del Mundo, according to Suyapa Medios.

Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, an auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, gave the homily at the Mass.

“Our martyrs can help us recover memory and hope so that we do not give up the dream of a reconciled and peaceful country, a country as our God wants it: just, fraternal, and supportive,” the cardinal said, according to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.


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