On June 20, 1979, Father Rafael Palacios was killed in Santa Tecla, one of more than twenty priests killed in El Salvador.
A native of Suchitoto, he studied for the priesthood for the neighboring diocese of San Vicente, but was suspended by the bishop for his liberating style of pastoral work. He was, however, accepted by the San Salvador archdiocese where he worked with base communities in several poor barrios in Santa Tecla and the city of San Salvador.
He was very critical of the government and allied with the progressive priests in the dioceses. Members of the parish of El Calvario in Santa Tecla where he was working, presented a Passion Play on Holy Thursday, 1979, in which they interpreted Jesus’ imprisonment and death in the light of the exploitation they experienced in their lives. That may have been the last straw. The White Warriors Union death squad took responsibility for his death.
He is buried in the Sacred Heart chapel in the church in Suchitoto. When I was there in 1992 and the following years daily Mass was celebrated in that chapel and the moveable altar was directly over his tomb. How fitting to celebrate over the tombs of the martyrs.
A hymn composed in his memory has the following refrain:
The truth of the Gospel you announced, ever faithful
For following Christ, they martyred you, Rafael.
But this verse is, for me, the most fitting, for his work with base communities:
“Nuestro Dios no está en el templo
sino en la comunidad.
Our God is not in the church building
but lives in the community.”
Today is also the anniversary of the following deaths:
- In 1923, Mexican revolutionary hero, Pancho Villa (born Doroteo Arango), was assassinated.
- In 1979, Salvadoran Marist brother Mariano Blanco, Salvadoran, was killed in a burst of gunfire by the National Guard, Estelí, Nicaragua.
- In 1998, Fr. Leo Commissari, an Italian missionary priest, was killed near São Paulo, Brazil.
- In 2001, Fr. Martin J. Royackers, S.J., waskilled in the parish of St. Theresa, Annotto Bay, Jamaica. Father Martin was a advocate of land reform.