MARTYR FOR JUSTICE

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A Franciscan Friar, a  Jesuit priest, along with two lay companions, all victims of murder at the hands of death squads during years of terror in El Salvador, are to be beatified on January 22 in San Salvador

“I ask the Lord to give me the strength at the right time to defend the rights of Christ and the Church. To die a martyr would be a grace that I do not deserve. Washing all my sins, defects and weaknesses of past life with the blood shed by Christ, would be a free gift from the Lord. I forgive in advance and ask the Lord for the conversion of the authors of my death”.

This is the spiritual testimony left by the Italian Franciscan missionary Fr. Cosma Spessotto, OFM, killed in San Juan Nonualco (El Salvador) on June 14, 1980. On May 26 2020 his martyrdom was recognized, in hatred for the faith, with the publication of the decree of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, approved by Pope Francis .

Born on January 28, 1923 in Mansué (Italy), in 1935 he entered the Franciscans (OFM). The period of philosophical and theological formation coincided with the Second World War. He was ordained a priest on June 27, 1948. He had already developed a desire to go to China or Africa as a missionary, but requests for priests from Central America led him to go to El Salvador, where he arrived on April 4, 1950 together with two confreres. He was entrusted with the parish of San Juan Nonualco, in the department of La Paz, which he led until his death, gaining esteem and affection from the faithful. In the years of the Salvadoran civil war, he did not fail to denounce injustices and atrocities, he helped the sick and needy, collected the corpses thrown into the ditches and buried them, without making any distinctions. His work cost him several death threats. On Saturday 14 June 1980, while praying before celebrating Holy Mass, he was shot dead by some strangers in front of the main altar of his parish.

“The recognition of martyrdom aroused emotion and joy, the Catholic community in general expressed great joy”, explained the Bishop of the Diocese of Zacatecoluca, Mgr. Elías Samuel Bolaños . “Although Fray Cosme Spessotto is little known in some contexts, however, listening to the news, there was general joy. In March 2020 we received the communication that  Fr. Rutilio Grande SJ, Manuel Solórzano and teenager Nelson Rutilio Lemus Chávez had also been declared martyrs. The Catholic Church of El Salvador feels the value of martyrdom as an element of Christian life”.

Father Cosme was assassinated 40 years ago, but his memory is still alive in the community, as Mgr. Elías Bolaños points out: “In the parish where he was assassinated he is always remembered. Father Cosme Spessotto was a very humble, very pastoral friar, very devoted to his pastoral service for his faithful, he always visited them. This is how he is remembered: an unselfish, generous priest, attentive to his faithful, who defended those who had been accused of being left wing. Father Cosme was also a very spiritual man: a man of prayer, very full of love for the Eucharist”

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