A message from Father Nick 100

The Pilgrim Church of God

This hundredth “message” will also be the last for now. Our first one was a simple message of encouragement. Those that followed aimed at keeping contact with each other when we could not all be together for mass and the sacraments – two whole years! Inevitably, they reflected personal interests and could offer only glimpses of the world’s encounter with God. Alas, they also reflected a limited personal experience. There has been so little of Africa, the Far East and Latin America in them, yet these are the regions where, perhaps, the great lessons of our time are to be learned.

Recently, the Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande was beatified. He had dedicated his life to the poor communities of El Salvador and was killed in 1977, just before the most violent phase of repression began. He was a friend of Oscar Romero – now St Oscar Romero – and became an inspiration to the archbishop. Romero found new courage and purpose in Grande’s example. After he too was killed in 1980, his successor, Archbishop Rivera y Damas said, “One martyr gave life to another martyr”.

But Rutilio Grande’s death also bore another kind of fruit. He was killed with two of his lay helpers, Manuel Solorzano, an elderly man, and Nelson Lemus, a teenage boy. They were beatified with him, and that fact confirms a deeply apostolic aspect of the Salvadorean Church. During its time of intense suffering, its members, lay and clerical alike, supported each other with enormous love and respect.

When he took up his episcopal ministry, Oscar Romero was an aloof, authoritarian figure. The death of Rutilio Grande began to change him, but it was his ever-increasing closeness to his people that made him a different person. They helped him to become a truly great bishop, and he helped them to become a truly Christ-centred flock. Long after his death, to mention their martyred archbishop’s name in El Salvador was to conjure up the warmest smile from old and young alike.

It also gave a special character of joy to their liturgy and to the way they shared their reading of the Word of God. They saw each other in the light of Christ, and this affected all their gatherings. They were not celebrating themselves but rather the presence of Christ in them, with the precious responsibility it gave them in the world. The idea of pilgrimage figured in one or two of our earlier messages, and it is worth noting that during all their suffering the people of El Salvador thought of themselves as the Pilgrim Church of God. This formed a refrain in one of their hymns, and I can hear them sing the words today.

Somos en la tierra semilla de otro reino,
Somos testimonio de amor,
Paz para las guerras y luz entre las sombras,
Iglesia peregrina de Dios. 
We are in [this] world the seed of another kingdom.
We are a testimony of love.
 Peace instead of wars, and light within the darkness.
[The] Pilgrim Church of God.

May our sharing in the Synod help us too to be pilgrims.