ROME (CNS) -- Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope
Francis has expressed strong support for the canonization of martyred Jesuit
Father Rutilio Grande, said
Manuel Roberto Lopez, El Salvador's ambassador to the Holy See.
When the ambassador asked for help in "accelerating the
beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero" in 2013, Lopez said, "the pope
enthusiastically replied, 'Yes, yes, yes. We will do that soon in my
pontificate.' He paused briefly and said, 'And right after comes (Father)
was stunned" that the pope knew how important Father Grande was and that
he already had been thinking of the slain priest's sainthood cause, Lopez told
Catholic News Service March 2.
Father Grande was known as a champion of the poor
and the oppressed at a time when
El Salvador was on the threshold of a civil war, a war that eventually killed over 70,000
His death in 1977 at the hands of El Salvador's notorious
death squads is believed to have been the inspiration for his friend Archbishop
Romero -- known for being less outspoken -- to take up the mantle of defending
the poor as Father Grande did.
Lopez told CNS that although he didn't know the Jesuit priest personally,
he remembered the shock of
hearing "the news that an innocent priest who was close to the
people and on his way to celebrate Mass was murdered."
Now, nearly 41 years after Father Grande's death, the
Salvadoran ambassador said he is in awe at the impact the martyred priest's
life and death has today.
"As an ambassador, I was surprised to realize that his
person and his witness are known and venerated in many parts of the
world," he said.
El Salvador's embassy to the Holy See organized a conference Feb. 23 at Rome's
Pontifical Gregorian University on the life and death of Father Grande and the impact
of his ministry on the country's forgotten people: the poor.
The purpose of the conference, Lopez told CNS, was so that
religious men and women, students and seminarians would "know who he was
and what his ministry was about so they can learn from his example of being
close to the people, to be with the needy."
The ambassador said Pope Francis also acknowledged that like
Blessed Oscar Romero, Father Grande's road to sainthood was stalled due to misunderstandings
Speaking off-the-cuff to a group of pilgrims from El
Salvador in October 2015
following Blessed Romero's beatification, the pope said that he witnessed
Archbishop Romero's reputation trampled, even after his death.
"I was a young priest and a witness to this -- he was
defamed, slandered, his memory tarnished, and his martyrdom continued, including
by his brothers in the priesthood and in the episcopate," the pope said.
"This is not hearsay; I heard those things."
Lopez told CNS that the pope also heard similar criticisms after
Father Grande's martyrdom.
"During that meeting, the pope said it very clearly. He
said that after his death, he continued to be martyred, after his death he was
martyred through hearsay which, for the pope, is something terrible,"
Lopez told CNS.
The pope also said that, as a priest, he heard several
bishops accuse Father Grande
and Blessed Romero "of being responsible for the death of 70,000
people" during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran civil war, he recalled.
For this reason, the Salvadoran ambassador said, events like
the recent conference in Rome are important so that all people can be inspired
by the example left by the slain Jesuit's life.
"It is a call, especially for the Latin American
people, to support and make known the life and ministry of Father
Rutilio," Lopez said.