This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 19: Rutilio Grande
By Cameron Bellm
Like many people, I first encountered Blessed Rutilio Grande, SJ, through his more well-known friend, St. Óscar Romero. I wanted to know more about this man who had such a profound effect on the archbishop, changing the course of his life and ministry. Romero had been the archbishop for a little less than a month when Rutilio was assassinated by a death squad in 1977, but his tenure began anew when he took up Rutilio’s mantle.
It’s easy to see why Rutilio’s life, witness and martyrdom in 1977 inspired Romero so much. Amidst the extreme oppression of the poor in El Salvador and the government’s violent repression of anyone who advocated for change, Rutilio was fearless in his commitment to the dignity of the human person and the empowerment of the laity. Despite numerous threats and warnings, Rutilio spearheaded a brilliant new pastoral ministry inspired by Vatican II; he trained people to be leaders within their own communities and to understand that the kingdom of God is not a far-off mirage but something to be worked toward right here on earth.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned about another aspect of Rutilio’s life that moved me deeply: He struggled greatly with his mental health. During his Jesuit formation, Rutilio suffered two mental health crises. The first was a response to extreme anxiety, which manifested in a catatonic state and then unintelligible speech. The second was a crisis of scrupulosity, during which Rutilio was terrified that his doubts had invalidated his ordination.
In both these cases, Rutilio’s suffering was met with compassion from his Jesuit brothers, who arranged for his medical needs and took care to honor his temperament in his assignments; they even made sure that he was given extra food to regain his strength. In this beautiful example of cura personalis, care for the whole person, Rutilio’s Jesuit community saw him not as a problem or a diagnosis, but as a person who bore the image of God.
In “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) Pope Francis calls for us to be a church of accompaniment; he writes, “The Church will have to initiate everyone — priests, religious, and laity — into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” (169) Rutilio accompanied the people of El Salvador, but before that, he allowed himself to be accompanied by his Jesuit brothers.
In the most difficult times in my life, some of which were, like Rutilio’s, directly related to my mental health, I constantly worried that I was a burden to the people closest to me. It took years for me to see something that I think Rutilio understood long before me: It is a gift to accompany others in their suffering, but no less a gift to allow others to accompany you.
Reflection: Take some time today to look back on the most challenging times in your life. Who was there for you? Thank God for them and for the gift of accompaniment, and ask for the grace and mercy to be able to accompany others.
Cameron Bellm is a Seattle-based writer of prayers, poems and devotionals. After completing her Ph.D. in Russian literature at the University of California, Berkeley, she traded the academic life for the contemplative life, informed by Ignatian spirituality and Catholic social teaching. She is the author of “A Consoling Embrace: Prayers for a Time of Pandemic” (23rd Publications, 2020). Cameron and her husband have two young sons. You can find her at cameronbellm.com and on Instagram, @cameronbellm.