By MARCOS ALEMÁN, Associated Press

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — The Roman Catholic Church on Saturday beatified two priests and two lay people, all victims of right-wing death squads during El Salvador’s civil war.

Reverend Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest killed alongside his friends Manuel Solorzano and teenage Nelson Lemus on March 12, 1977, was known for his ministry to the poor and inspired Saint Óscar Romero, then Archbishop of El Salvador who he himself was assassinated three years later.

Franciscan priest Cosme Spessotto, an Italian who arrived in El Salvador in 1950, was shot while praying at his parish altar by Salvadoran soldiers on June 14, 1980. He was known for his work in one of the regions the poorest in El Salvador. and his reluctance to leave even in the face of death threats.

Pope Francis’ envoy, Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, called the four role models and an example for all.

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Crowds of worshipers gathered around the yellow and white Vatican banners and portraits of the four.

Pope Francis has long spoken of his admiration for Grande and Romero, whom he declared saints in 2018. Francis is the first Latin American pontiff and the first Jesuit pope.

Beatification means that a deceased person performed at least one miracle; a second can lead to holiness.

Between 1977 and 1989, death squads and soldiers killed 13 priests in El Salvador.

Grande was 49 when he was killed while driving with Solorzano and Lemus along a rural road in Aguilares, north of the capital.

Last year, Pope Francis approved a decree proclaiming Grande, Solorzano and Lemus martyrs of the Catholic faith. This means that they can be beatified without having to have a miracle attributed to his intercession.

At the entrance to his room at the Vatican hotel where he lives is a piece of cloth with Romero’s blood on it and notes from a catechism lesson Grande delivered.

“I was a devotee of Rutilio even before I got to know Romero better,” Francis told priests in Central America during his visit to Panama in 2019. “When I was in Argentina, his life influenced me, his death touched me”.

“He said what he had to say, but it was his testimony, his martyrdom, that ultimately moved Romero,” Francis said. “It was grace.”

Romero was shot by a sniper on March 24, 1980 while celebrating mass for terminal cancer patients in a hospital chapel. A few days earlier, he had asked the military in his homily to stop the repression.

The war, which ended with the signing of peace accords in 1992, left more than 75,000 dead and some 12,000 missing.

“Father Tilo,” as Grande was known, helped organize the poor, whom landowners in the area saw as a threat to their power.

Solórzano, a 72-year-old resident of Aguilares, was close to Grande and often accompanied him on his pastoral work in an area that later became the scene of heavy fighting between army and guerrilla forces.

Lemus, the 16-year-old who rode with the men, was the eldest of eight siblings and was in grade 7 when he was killed.

Three years later, Spessotto was killed while praying at the altar of the parish he had led since 1953.

Anonymous notes had been slipped under his office door warning him to leave or he would be killed and telling him he was next. But Spessotto always refused to go, even when his family in Italy urged him to leave.

He refused to let the San Juan Nonualco church be taken over by government and guerrilla forces on several occasions. When the army captured members of his congregation, he went to the military base, demanded their release and chastised the soldiers for the attacks on the community.

The current Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas, spoke of Spessotto’s humanitarianism.

“When the war started, he had the courage to follow the path of the armed forces visiting the houses where they left the dead, praying (over the bodies) and helping the families with the funeral expenses,” he said. declared.

“To defend the lives of the innocent, he confronted the killers, who also killed him,” Escobar Alas said.

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