In [Rafael Palacios] we see the new man and the zeal he had to fashion those new human beings that Latin America needs today—not just by changing structures but above all by changing hearts. It is the voice of conversion, the voice of genuine evangelization.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, June 1979
Rafael Palacios grew up in Suchitoto, El Salvador and his body lies in the Sacred Heart chapel in the city’s church of Santa Lucía. There is even a street named for him. Until recently there was a mural on the wall of the convento of the El Calvario church in town.
On June 20, 1979, at the age of 38, he was shot and killed on the streets of Santa Tecla, El Salvador, where he was working with base communities. At the time he was also serving in the Mejicanos parish whose pastor, Octavio Ortiz, had been killed in January 1979.
He had been ordained in 1963 as a priest for the diocese of San Vicente. He transferred to the archdiocese of San Salvador in the 1980s when the bishop of San Vicente suspended ten of his priests for their liberating style of pastoral work.
Father Jesús Delgado, cited in James Brockman’s Romero: A Life, noted that he “was fully convinced that Christian lay people should commit themselves to political struggle in order to bring to it the light of the Gospel and the salt of God’s Word.” But Padre Rafael did not confuse political organizing with the grass-roots church communities.
Yet he did connect faith with the life of the people, including their sufferings and persecution by a repressive government.
For example, in 1979 the communities he worked with staged a passion play in the church of El Calvario which connected Jesus’ imprisonment and death with the exploitation and repression they were suffering.
Faith should not be separated from life, a life which for much of the world is filled with suffering.
Those of us who live comfortable lives should not forget this. Nor should we forget that Jesus came among us, not with power and might, but in poverty and humility, sharing the pain and the joys of the people with whom he lived.
May the example of the martyrs, life Padre Rafael Palacios, remind us of God’s identification with the poor and suffering.
As Archbishop Romero said at Padre Rafael’s funeral Mass, cited in Brockman,