Great Signs of Holiness in the Face of Martyrdom

Homily of His Excellency,

Angelo Cardinal Amato,

Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints,

Mass of Beatification 

1.         The Spanish Church celebrates today the beatification of 522 martyr sons, disarmed prophets of the charity of Christ.  It is an extraordinary event of grace that removes all sadness and fills the Christian community with joy.  Today we remember their sacrifice with gratitude, that it is a concrete manifestation of the civilization of love preached by Jesus: “Now,” as it says in the Book of Revelation by St. John, “have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed” (Rev. 12:10). The martyrs have not been ashamed of the Gospel, but have remained faithful to Christ, who says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) They were buried with Christ in death, with Him they live through the faith in the power of God (cf. Col. 2:12).

Priest touching box, M. martyrs

Spain is a land blessed by the blood of the martyrs.  If we simply [count] the heroic witnesses of the faith, victims of the religious persecution of the 1930’s, the Church in 14 different ceremonies has beatified more than a thousand.  The first, in 1987, was the beatification of three Discalced Carmelites of Guadalajara.  Between the more numerous ceremonies, we remember those of March 11, 2001, with 233 martyrs; that of October 28, 2007, with 498 martyrs, among whom were the bishops of Ciudad Real and of Cuenca; and that celebrated in the cathedral of the Almudena in Madrid, December 17, 2011, with 23 witnesses of the faith.

Today, here in Tarragona, Pope Francis beatifies 522 martyrs, who “dealt their blood to bear witness to the Lord Jesus” (Apostolic Letter).  It is the greatest ceremony of beatification that has been on Spanish land. this last group includes three bishops Manuel Basulto Jiménez, Bishop of Jaén; Salvio Huix Mirapeix, Bishop of Lleida and Manuel Borrás Ferré, Auxiliary Bishop of Tarragona–and, furthermore, numerous priests, seminarians, consecrated men and women, young and old, fathers and mothers of families.  They are all innocent victims who endured prisons, tortures, unjust processes, humiliations, and indescribable ordeals.  It is an immense army of baptized that, with the white robes of charity, followed Christ to Calvary in order to be resurrected with him in the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem.

2.         In the obscure period of the anti-Catholic hostility of the 1930’s, your noble nation was enveloped in the diabolic fog of an ideology, that overturned thousands and thousands of peaceful citizens, burning churchs and religious symbols, closed convents and Catholic schools, destroying part of your precious artistic patrimony.  Pope Pius XI with the encyclical Dilectissima nobis on June 3, 1933, energetically denounced this libertine anti-religious policy.

We remember beforehand that the martyrs were not casualties of the civil war, but victims of a radical religious persecution, that proposed the programmed extermination of the Church.  These brothers and sisters were not combatants, did not have arms, were not encountered on the front, did not support either side, were not provocateurs. They were peaceful men and women. They were killed out of hatred for the faith, only because they were Catholics, because they were priests, because they were seminarians, because they were religious brothers, because they were religious sisters, because they believed in God, because they had Jesus as their only treasure, and loved him more than their own life.  They did not hate anyone, [but] loved everyone, doing good to all.  Their apostolate was catechesis in the parishes, teaching in the schools, caring for the sick, charity for the poor, the assistance of the elderly and marginalized.  To the atrocity of the persecutors, they did not respond with rebellion or with arms, but with the gentleness of the strong.

In this period, while they were found in exile, Don Luigi Sruazo, a Catholic, Italian diplomat and priest, in an article from 1933, published in the newspaper, El Mati of Barcelona, wrote with prophetic intuition, that the modern ideologies are truly idolatrous religions, that require altars and victims, especially victims, thousands and even millions.  He added that the aberrant increase of the violence towards the victims were much more numerous than even the Roman persecutions.2

3.         Dear brothers, before the valiant and unanimous answer of these martyrs, above all of the many priests and seminarians, I have often wondered: how does one explain their superhuman strength to prefer death before reneging their own faith in God?  Moreover of the efficacy of divine grace, the answer lies in a good preparation for the priesthood.  The in the years before the persecution, in the seminaries and in the houses of [Religious] formation they were clearly informed of the mortal danger they were to meet.  There were prepared spiritually in order to face even death through their vocation.  It was truly a pedagogy of martyrdom that made these young men and women strong and even joyful in their supreme testimony.

Mercedarian martyrs of 1936, poster

4.         Now let us ask a question: Why does the Church beatify these martyrs?  The answer is simple: the Church does not want to forget these her valiant children.  The Church honors them with public worship, so that their intercession may obtain from the Lord a beneficial rain of spiritual and temporal graces in all of Spain.  The Church, a house of forgiveness, does not look for culprits.  She wants to glorify these heroic witnesses of the gospel of charity because they deserve admiration and imitation.

Today’s celebration wants to scream again loudly to the world, that humanity needs peace, fraternity, peace.  No one can justify war, fratricidal hatred, the death of the neighbor.  With their charity, the martyrs opposed the rage of evil, as a powerful wall opposed the monstrous violence of a tsunami. By their gentleness, the martyrs deactivated the homicidal weapons of tyrants and executioners, conquering evil with good.  They are always actual prophets of peace in the world

5.         Now a second question: Why does the beatification of the martyrs from many Spanish dioceses come about here in Tarragona?

There are two reasons.  Before all else, the most numerous group of martyrs is from this ancient Spanish diocese, with 147 martyrs, including the auxiliary bishop Manuel Borrás Ferré and the young seminarians Ioan Montpeó Masip, [who was] 20 years old, and Josep Gassol Montseny, [who was] 22.

The second reason comes from the fact that, in the first centuries of Christianity, here in Tarragona, ecclesia Pauli, sede Fructuosi, patria martyrum, the bishop Fructuoso and his two deacons, Auguio and Eulogio, were martyred, burned alive in the year 259 A.D. in the city’s Roman amphitheater.

We briefly remember the martyrdom of these first two Tarragonese witnesses, because it re-proposed the essential dynamic of all persecution, that, for a moment, shows the arbitrariness of the charges, and the atrocity of the tortures, and for another, the superhuman strength of the martyrs in accepting the passion and the death with serenity and with forgiveness on the lips.

Tarragona, the See of a flourishing Christian community during the Third Century AD, was the object of a violent persecution, by order of the emperor Valerian.  Bishop Fructuoso and the deacons Augurio and Eulogio were victims of this persecution. From their martyrdom we have the Actos, that transmit to us the notary protocols of the trial, of the interrogation, of the answers, of the condemnation and the execution.3 The capture of Fructuoso and his deacons took place on Sunday morning, January 16, 259.  Taken to jail, Fructuoso continually prayed and gave thanks to the Lord for the grace of martyrdom.  Furthermore, he also continued his work as pastor and evangelist, comforting the faithful, baptizing and proclaiming the Gospel to the pagans.  After some days, on the 21st of January, the three were summoned by the consul Emiliano for interrogation.  Fructuoso and the two deacons refused to offer sacrifices to the idols, reaffirming their fidelity to Christ.  The three were then condemned to be burnt alive.  Brought to the amphitheater, the holy Bishop  shouted that the Church would never be left without a pastor and that God would keep his promise of protecting it in the future.

6.         What message do the ancient and modern martyrs offer us?  They leave us a double message.  Before all, they invite up to forgive.  Pope Francis recently has reminded us that “the joy of God is forgiving!…Here! The whole Gospel, all of Christianity, is here! But make sure that it is not sentiment, it is not being a “do-gooder”! On the contrary, mercy is the true force that can save man and the world from the “cancer” that is sin, moral evil, spiritual evil. Only love fills the void, the negative chasms that evil opens in hearts and in history. Only love can do this, and this is God’s joy!”4

We are called then to the joy of forgiveness, to eliminate from the mind and the heart the sorry of rancor and of hatred.  Jesus said “Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36). We should make a concrete examen, now, about our will to forgive.  Pope Francis suggests: “think of a person with whom we are annoyed, with whom we are angry, someone we do not like. Let us think of that person and in silence, at this moment, let us pray for this person and let us become merciful with this person.”5

Today’s celebration may be, then, the feast of reconciliation, of forgiveness given and received, the triumph of the Lord of Peace.

Mercedarian friars from the US
Mercedarian friars from the United States during the canonization.

7.         This raises the second message: the conversion of the heart to goodness and mercy.  We are all invited to convert ourselves to the good, not only to those who are declared as Christians, but also those who are not.  The Church also invites the persecutors to not fear conversion, to not be afraid of the good, to reject evil. The Lord is a good father who forgives and welcomes with open arms, his prodigal sons from the ways of evil and sin.

Everyone [of us]–good and bad–needs conversion.  We all are called to convert ourselves to the peace, to fraternity, to respect the liberty of others, to serenity in human relations. So have our martyrs acted, so have the saints worked, that–as said Pope Francis following “the way of conversion, the way of humility, of love, of the heart, the way of beauty.”6

It is a message that  concerns all the youth, calling them to live with fidelity and joy the Christian life.  But that is going against the current: “to go against the current; this is good for the heart, but we need courage to swim against the tide. Jesus gives us this courage! There are no difficulties, trials or misunderstandings to fear, provided we remain united to God as branches to the vine, provided we do not lose our friendship with him, provided we make ever more room for him in our lives. This is especially so whenever we feel poor, weak and sinful, because God grants strength to our weakness, riches to our poverty, conversion and forgiveness to our sinfulness.”7

So the martyrs have behaved, young and old.  Yes, also youth such as, for example, the seminarians of the Diocese of Tarragona and of Jaén and the twenty-one year old layman of the Diocese of Tarragona.  The have not been afraid of death, because their gaze was projected toward heaven, toward the joy of eternity without end in the charity of God.  If they lacked the mercy of men, God’s mercy was present and overflowing.

Forgiveness and conversion are the gifts that make us all martyrs. Forgiveness brings peace to the hearts, the conversion creates fellowship with others.

Our Martyrs, messengers of life and death, are our intercessors for a life of peace and brotherhood. May this be the precious fruit of this celebration in the Year of Faith.

May Mary, Regina Martyrum, remain the powerful Help of Christians.


+Angelo Cardinal Amato

Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints

Tarragona, Spain,

October 13, 2013


1.) Pronounced in Tarragona, Spain, on October 13, 2013

2.) Luigi Sruazo, Miscellanea londinese, vol. II, Anni 1931-1933, Bologna 1967, pg. 286. Article was published in El Matí of Barcelona, December 19, 1933.

3.) See the brochure very well documented PEDRO BATTLE y HUGUET, Santos Fructuoso Obispo de Tarragona y Auguri y Eulogio diáconos. Actas de las of Martyrdom, Tarragona, 1959. These Acts were also known outside the church Tarragonese. For example, the Spanish poet Aurelius Prudentius, made a detailed and faithful translation of his hymn VI Peri stephanon or Book of crowns. The same St. Augustine in the sermon of the day of the feast of Saints he comments on the text.

4.) Pope Francis, Angelus, September 15, 2013.

5.) lb.

6.) Pope Francis, Meditation, April 19, 2013.

7.) Pope Francis, Homily, April 28, 2013.

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