BEATIFICATION OF ARCHBISHOP ROMERO, MAY 23, 2015
The two peasants killed alongside Father Rutilio Grande will accompany him to the altars as “companion martyrs.” Manuel Solorzano, 72 and Nelson Lemus, barely 15 years old, were among the passengers of the Salvadoran Jesuit on March 12, 1977 when he was ambushed by armed men in the middle of sugarcane fields, and they riddled his Safari automobile with bullets as it traveled from Aguilares to El Paisnal, killing all three. The other passengers escaped.
It is not unusual for the Church to recognize the martyrdom of those who accompany a prominent martyr like Grande, since the death of the companions would have been motivated by the same hatred of the faith as the main martyr. For example, during his trip to Korea in 2014, Pope Francis canonized Paul Yunji Chung and 123 companions. The martyrs of the Spanish Civil War have also been beatified and canonized in groups. It is customary to do so when multiple victims are killed in the same attack or wave of repression.
In the case of the El Paisnal martyrs, it is fitting to do so since the three were members of the pastoral team of the Jesus of Mercy Parish in Aguilares (the church of Father Grande). The old man, Manuel, was the guardian of the church, while the boy, Nelson, was the bell ringer. Father Grande was heading to El Paisnal to continue the St. Joseph Novena, defying threats he had received because of his closeness to the peasants. Grande asked his guardian to come along to keep him company and they picked up Nelson along the way.
Manuel Solorzano was born in 1905. He was a faithful collaborator of Father Grande, one of the most active members of the parish. His faithfulness shone forth in the last moments of his life, as he tried to cover Father Grande and Nelson during the hail of bullets, absorbing ten bullet impacts over his body. “The bullets had torn off his arm.”
Nelson Rutilio Lemus was born in 1961—he was not yet 16. He was in seventh grade. His family had been threatened because of their participation in the Delegates of the Word movement in the parish. Nelson offered to help with the ringing of the church bells and he helped out in the monastery and temple. “Nelson also carried his own cross from childhood, he was epileptic.”
“Rutilio Grande and his companions, Nelson R. Lemus and Manuel Solorzano are a symbol of hope for the people of El Salvador”, writes Father Rodolfo Cardenal in his biography (Historia de una esperanza: Vida de Rutilio Grande, 1985). “They represent a life force that cannot be killed or contained. The power of life that exceeds beyond all limits.”
At Mass over the three bodies in El Paisnal, Archbishop Romero preached that, “True love is what moved Father Rutilio Grande as he died with the two campesinos at his side. That is how the Church loves,” the Martyr-Bishop said. “She dies with them, and with them she presents herself to heaven’s transcendence.” And now she presents the three from the altars.