Tag Archives: Rafael Palacios

Father Rafael Palacios – Salvadoran martyr

On June 20, 1979, thirty-eight year old Father Rafael Palacios was gunned down in the streets of Saint Tecla, El Salvador, one of many priests, religious, and catechists killed in El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s.

Raised in Suchitoto, he studied for the priesthood in the diocese of San Vicente and was ordained in 1963. But his commitment to the poor brought him and other priests in conflict with their bishop who suspended them. He was later accepted in the archdiocese of San Salvador.

In my unpublished work on the parish of Suchitoto, I wrote this about Padre Rafael.

        Fr. Palacios was ordained a priest in Suchitoto on May 26, 1963. He then began working as a priest in Tecoluca, in the diocese of San Vicente. But his liberating style of evangelization brought him into conflict with his bishop, Monseñor Arnoldo Aparicio, who suspended him and nine other priests who were outspoken in their commitment to the poor.  Palacios was forced to leave the diocese but was taken in by the parish of El Calvario in Santa Tecla. His work there also brought him trouble. As Plácido Erdozaín relates:

“Members of his local community, born of the city’s poor, worked out an interpretation of Jesus’ imprisonment based on their own lives of exploitation. On Holy Thursday, 1979, they acted it out in a passion play in the parish of El Calvario. The old accusations surfaced again and Rafael was criticized by some of his fellow priests and some members of the hierarchy.
“He was a hard worker, poor, very quiet, and built like a prize fighter. He spoke right to the point, Despite the accusations, he kept on working as before, but now with the poorest of the poor, those who lived in and around the markets, and those who had been evicted from their miserable dwellings. He refused to be tied down by territorial or liturgical restrictions. His goal was to create communities of free Christians, there where they lived, suffered, resisted, and struggled for liberation.

Palacios worked somewhat outside of the normal canonical parish structures. However, in 1979 he was persuaded to take over the parish of San Francisco in Mejicanos after the killing of Father Octavio Ortiz in January. While pastor in Mejicanos, he also coordinated base communities in Santa Tecla and in Santa Lucía, San Salvador. He also served as the representative of the Pastoral Reflection Group to the National Committee of Christian Communities. He was also a committed member devoted to the Pastoral Reflection Group, sometimes called “the thirty” and was its secretary at the time of his death.

Fr. Palacios was killed on June 20, 1979, in the streets of Santa Tecla, on his way back from a meeting of the communities he worked with. The UGB, Unión Guerrera Blanca, the White Warriors Union, took responsibility for his murder.

A hymn written in his honor notes his attempts to have people understand their faith and live it, not as mere individuals seeking to save their souls, but as members of the community seeking the Kingdom of God. “Nuestro Dios no está en el templo / sino en la comunidad. Our God is not in the church building but lives in the community.”

He is buried in the church of Santa Lucía in Suchitoto. For several years there was a mural with the images of Padre Rafael and Monseñor Romero on the wall of the convento of the church of El Calvario in Suchitoto.

convento painting copy

Rafael Palacios, Salvadoran martyr of the base communities

On June 20, 1977, Padre Rafael Palacios was gunned down on the streets of Santa Tecla, El Salvador. He had worked with base communities and had recently been named pastor of a church whose previous pastor had been martyred.

convento painting

Padre Rafael identified with the poor and worked, accompanying them in their efforts to grow in a liberating faith through the base communities. One of his strongest actions was to arrange a Lenten Stations of the Cross with strong justice themes.

He was buried in a side chapel of the church of Santa Lucía in Suchitoto where his family lived and where he grew up.

DSC00586Blessed Monseñor Romero said this of him in a homily:

“In him 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.”

Today I’d like to share parts of the hymn that was written in his honor:

La verdad de la
anunciaste siempre fiel;
por seguir a Jesucristo
te mataron, Rafael.

The truth of the Gospel
you announced, always faithful.
They killed you, Rafael,
for following Jesus Christ.

1. Los campesinos han doblado,
anunciando si dolor
ante el cuerpo acribillado
por el odio y el rencor.
No entendieron su lenguaje,
no aceptaron su misión,
no aguantaron su mensaje
que exigió liberación.

The campesinos have bent down
announcing their sorrow
before his body riddled [with bullets]
because of hate and resentment.
They did not understand his language;
they did not accept his mission;
they could not stand his message
which demanded liberation.

2. Como a Cristo flagelaron
con un látigo feroz
con calumnias te azotaron
para hacer callar tu voz.
Caminaste hacia el Calvario
como caminó Jesús
señalado por denarios
la metralla fue su cruz.

As they scourged Christ
with a fierce whip,
with slanders they whipped you
to silence your voice.
You walked toward Calvary
as Jesus walked,
branded by money,
shrapnel was your cross.

3. Que tristeza Santa Tecla
mucho rezo y devoción
pero matas el profeta
cuando exige conversión.
Hoy nos grita con su ejemplo
vivan con sinceridad.
Nuestro Dios no está en el templo,
sino en la comunidad.

What sadness for Santa Tecla,
with much prayer and devotion.
But you kill the prophet
when he called for conversion.
Now you cry out to us with you example:
live with sincerity.
Our God is not in the church building
but in the community

4. Trabajaste por el Reino
fue en tu vida un gran ideal;
por un mundo más fraterno
denunciaste siempre el mal.
Tus palabras ahora queman
con su fuego de verdad,
el Reino de Dios comienza
al construir fraternidad.

You worked for the Reign;
it was a great ideal in your life;
for a more fraternal world
you always denounced evil.
Your words now are on fire
with your fire of truth;
the Reign of God begins
by building fraternity.

5. Aunque tu cuerpo han matado
vivirás en el Señor
y los que te han escuchado
resucitarán tu amor.
Una cruz va adelante
nos invita a caminar;
una antorcha muy brillante
ilumina nuestro andar.

Even though they have killed your body,
you will live in the Lord
and those who have heard you
will raise up your love.
A cross goes before
and invites is to walk;
a very bright light
lightens up our way.

Salvadoran martyr of the base communities

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.

Mural of Rafael Palacios and Monseñor Romero

Mural of Rafael Palacios and Monseñor Romero

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,