Vatican City • Pope Francis has moved the Rev. Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who inspired St. Oscar Romero and was himself a victim of El Salvador’s right-wing death squads, a step closer to possible sainthood.

Francis approved a decree Friday proclaiming Grande a martyr for the Catholic faith, as well as two Salvadorans who were killed along with him. That means they can be beatified without having to have a miracle attributed to his intercession. A miracle is necessary for canonization.

Grande was killed by El Salvador’s death squads on March 12, 1977, while he was driving with an older man, Manuel Solorzano, and a teenager, Nelson Lemus.

His slaying, and his ministry in favor of the poor, helped inspire Romero, who was then the newly minted archbishop of San Salvador.

Three years later, Romero was gunned down for his outspoken criticism of the military and work on behalf of El Salvador’s oppressed.

Francis, the first Latin American pontiff and the first Jesuit pope, declared Romero a saint in 2018.

He has long expressed his intense admiration for both Grande and Romero. At the entrance to his room at the Vatican hotel where he lives is a piece of cloth with Romero’s blood on it and notes from a catechism teaching Grande delivered.

“I was a devotee of Rutilio even before coming to know Romero better,“ Francis told Central American priests during his visit to Panama last year. “When I was in Argentina, his life influenced me, his death touched me.“

“He said what he had to say, but it was his testimony, his martyrdom, that eventually moved Romero,” Francis said. “This was the grace.”