Friday, March 11, 2016

The conversion of Rutilio Grande

Distributing Communion at the altar rail; the Apopa Sermon.

#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy
To say “Rutilio Grande” and “conversion” is to evoke the impact that the murder of Father Grande had on Blessed Oscar Romero—what Pope Francis calls the great miracle of Father Grande. But we may not think of the conversion that had to come first—the conversion of Rutilio Grande himself. Again, Pope Francis shows us evidence of that conversion: “He left the ‘center’ to go to the peripheries.”

[See also: El Salvador’s forgotten martyr]

The Holy Father speaks with wisdom. Father Grande himself admits that his conversion process was completed with his pastoral insertion in his “peripheral” parish: Grande professed to have undergone “two conversions”: one after Vatican II, and the second when he left the seminary where he was rector and took up as pastor in his hometown of Aguilares. “He left the ‘center’ to go to the peripheries.” Or as Father Salvador Carranza explains, “we can simply say that going in a team to Aguilares marks the crossing of the Red Sea of the exodus or ‘return to Galilee’ of the followers of Jesus.”
In making this reflection as we celebrate the 39th anniversary of the assassination of Father Grande on March 12, we might be wondering whether his death is close to being recognized for the martyrdom it was, and whether we can expect an announcement to that effect in the context of this anniversary. Sources close to the process have confirmed to «Super Martyrio» that the cause is proceeding slowly, not for any substantive reasons, just the ordinary bureaucracy that characterizes these processes. Elsewhere, «Super Martyrio» has learned that the documentation for the three miracles attributed to Blessed Romero announced by the Salvadoran Church in early October of last year was just forwarded to the Vatican in January. Two women and a man recovered from incurable cancer, and a coma. The progress of the two cases—Grande and Romero—is being coordinated to try to finish the two causes together. Grande and Romero; always together!
The conversion of Father Grande has great parallels with the conversion of Archbishop Romero. For example, the decisive break in Romero’s conversion is his decision to sever relations with the government. Clearly, after March 1977, Archbishop Romero showed a complete lack of confidence in the good faith and credibility of the Salvadoran state. The same is evident in the mind of Grande, and the difference is evident if we compare two of his important sermons.
The first is the Homily on the Feast of the Transfiguration, which Grande gave in the Cathedral of San Salvador in August 1970. Invited to deliver this important speech in national life, in front of the diocesan clergy and the great statesmen, Fr. Grande appears to trust the good faith of the national leaders, exhorting them fraternally to conversion:
The Hon. President of our Republic here present and every constituted government, can be fully assured, that in this clearly evangelical line, this line of the Pope and all the bishops of the universal Church, they will always have the cooperation of the Church in our country, with a view to achieving together, jointly, the total, complete and true transfiguration of each and all of the inhabitants of this sacred land to which we were born, which we love, and for whose good we all have to aspire ...
The Church within its sphere and the Government within its own, with mutual respect within their legitimate areas must collaborate effectively, boldly and urgently in order to promote “fair, honest and appropriate laws”, as required by the “sovereignty” of the people in Article 1 of our constitution.
Seven years later, in his famous “Apopa Sermon,” Father Grande lets us glimpse that he has left behind all naive belief that government can be a partner of the Church in the pursuit of social peace:
We have said that there is in this country, a nominalist, false democracy. There is much talk, mouths are full of “democracy”. The power of the people is in the hands of a minority, not the people! Let us not fool ourselves! ...
No privileged minority in our country has, a Christian purpose for being in and of itself, but according to the vast majority who make up the Salvadoran people.
Neither do we religious minorities have such purpose, nor the conscious elites of our Christianity, including their lay leaders and ordained ministers or minorities who hold political, economic or social power. They have no reason to be unless they are for the people!
Prophetically, “Father Tilo” questions the legitimacy of the Church when it becomes a “religious minority”, an “elite of Christianity” and accuses the hierarchy of wanting to become a partner of oligarchic power in these circumstances. Where before, Father Grande had spoken of a collaboration between the religious elite and government elite, now he warns that such collaboration must never impose its own vision on the people, but must act “according to the vast majority who make up the Salvadoran people.”
In fact, before he gravitated toward the periphery, Father Grande had a guaranteed place in the center. His studies and formation had been privileged: first, Venezuela, Quito and Panama, then Spain and Belgium. His rise in the San José de la Montaña Seminary pointed upwards: he served as a teacher, pastoral animator and prefect of discipline. He could have become a great thinker, a molder of opinion within the ruling class, shaping the political discourse and thinking of the rulers. But Father Tilo decides to leave it all behind to draw near to the poor and marginalized. He would return to his hometown.
Man’s greatness is not going to the big city, is not having titles, riches, money,” Blessed Romero preached when he marked the first anniversary of Father Grande in El Paisnal. “True greatness ... is not to have gone from here to be richer in another town but to return to his people, loving his own, being more human. This is true greatness. True development consists not in having more but in being more.” (March 5, 1978 Homily.)

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