Friday 3 September 2021

Friendship: St Oscar Romero and soon to be Blessed Rutilio Grande SJ

St. Oscar Romero greeting worshippers in San Salvador, El Salvador (photo credit: Octavio Duran)

When I was a student in Year 11, one of the Jesuits at the time decided to show a film in the Theatrette called Romero. This film had a profound impact on me, as I had been unaware of the civil war in El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s, let alone the heroic role of Archbishop Oscar Romero culminating in his martyrdom while celebrating mass on 24 March 1980. My understanding and horror about the situation of El Salvador was deepened later that year when many of us gathered in the Dalton Chapel for a memorial service for the six Jesuits who were murdered on 16 November 1989 at the University of Central America. Tragically, their housekeeper, Elba Ramos, and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Celina, were also murdered by the soldiers who forced their way into the Jesuit residence.

The gradual transformation of St Oscar Romero into a prophetic and courageous leader is beautifully portrayed in the film. Romero was perceived to be a social conservative, and in many ways was an unlikely choice as the Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. At the time, his appointment was welcomed by the Salvadorian government, and consequently, many of the priests were disappointed and concerned at how committed he was to social justice. This reputation flowed from his time as a Seminary Rector in the 1960s and as the editor of the conservative San Salvador Archdiocesan newspaper, but this depiction of Romero is not entirely fair or accurate. The film and biographers explore how the seeds for Romero’s transformation as the Archbishop were sown in his younger days as a priest and from his time as the Bishop of Santiago de Maria in a poor, rural part of the country. As the Archbishop of San Salvador, St Oscar Romero spoke out fearlessly against the abuses of the Salvadorian Government, especially during his radio sermons.

The film explores the friendship of Romero with a Jesuit, Fr Rutilio Grande SJ [both pictured left]. Fr Grande was an innovator who ministered to the poor of El Salvador, trying to empower them by setting up base communities of spiritual and social development. Rutilio’s efforts were a threat to the ruling oligarchy and it ultimately led to him being assassinated on 12 March 1977, along with two lay companions – Manuel Solorzano and 16 year old Nelson Rutilio Lemus.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis officially recognised the deaths of Grande and his two companions as martyrdom. Fr Grande was the first priest in El Salvador to be killed before the country’s civil war and his death had a profound impact on the newly appointed Archbishop Romero. Shortly afterward, Romero said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’” St Oscar Romero did indeed walk the same path and was canonised in Rome on 14 October 2018.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Fr Rutilio Grande, his two companions, and a Franciscan priest, will be beatified on 22 January 2022. At Grande’s funeral mass, Archbishop Romero preached the following;

“The true reason for Grande’s death was his prophetic and pastoral efforts to raise the consciousness of the people throughout his parish. Father Grande, without offending and forcing himself upon his flock in the practice of their religion, was only slowly forming a genuine community of faith, hope, and love among them, he was making them aware of their dignity as individuals, of their basic rights. His was an effort toward comprehensive human development. This post-Vatican Council ecclesiastical effort is certainly not agreeable to everyone, because it awakens the consciousness of the people. It is work that disturbs many; and to end it, it was necessary to liquidate its proponent. In our case, Father Rutilio Grande.”

One of our Houses at the College has St Oscar Romero as their patron. Moving forward, Romero House and all of us will also be able to draw upon the life of soon-to-be Blessed Rutilio Grande SJ, as a source of inspiration.

As a Jesuit school, we seek to help each other grow into “being men and women for and with others”. St Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande responded to this invitation in their own time and place. Fortunately, it is unlikely that any of us will be called to give witness in a similar way, however, many within our community are inspiring people of service who accompany vulnerable and marginalised people in our society.

One such example is Jesse Gray, the 2017 College Captain. Since graduating from the College, Jesse has been strongly involved in the Cardoner Project, the Jesuit young adult ministry based in Broadway. As part of this experience, he spent four months working with leprosy patients in Darjeeling and he is currently living full time at De Porres, a homeless shelter run by Cana Communities in Darlinghurst. In recognition of his commitment to the poor and the marginalised, Jesse has been selected as this year’s winner of the Patrick Rodgers Memorial Service Award. You can read more about this award and Jesse’s commitment in the Faith Formation section of Viewpoint.

Earlier today, I attended a Zoom gathering for the Archbishop’s Award for Student Excellence. Archbishop Fisher makes this award to one student in each Catholic school in the Archdiocese. The award is a way of “highlighting the very positive contribution that young people make to their school and local communities” and “specifically recognises those young people who give witness to their Christian values and contribute to the faith life of the school and the parish”. This year, the Archbishop and his committee selected William Martyr, our College Captain, to be the winner of the Archbishop’s Award for Student Excellence. Congratulations Will!

On Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day. It is a time in which we can give thanks to God, our Father, for the gift of our fathers, grandfathers, and the other significant male figures in our lives. For us at Riverview, it will also be a day of sadness as we remember George Dummer, on the first anniversary of his death. In a special way, it will be an opportunity to pray for George’s parents, Murray and Jane, and his siblings Charlie and Sophia, as well as our Year 10 students, especially our boarders who continue to miss their friend and mate. As we are unable to gather in person at this time, there is an invitation to gather in as a family at 6pm on Sunday, to light a candle in memory of George, and to say a short prayer together. Further information about this can be found in this week’s Viewpoint article ‘Remembering George Dummer’ below.

As we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day, I offer you this prayer of blessing;

Heavenly Father,
you entrusted your Son Jesus,
the child of Mary,
to the care of Joseph, his earthly father.
As we celebrate Father’s Day this Sunday, bless our fathers, 
as they love, care, support and encourage for their families, 
We also ask you to bless our grandfathers and other significant men who may be father figures in our lives. 
May You continue to bless our fathers with strength and wisdom,
tenderness and patience, good health and energy;
support them in the work they have to do, whether they are working on the frontline or remotely at home, 
loving, consoling and protecting each of us who look to them,
just as we look to You for love and salvation,
We make this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Fr Tom Renshaw