Held up as heroic witnesses to the Catholic faith in a world that spurns belief in God, a Mercedarian priest and his 18 companions who were killed in the Spanish Civil War took a step closer to canonization in Rome Dec. 19.
Servants of God Mariano Alcala Perez and eighteen companions of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy were confirmed as martyrs by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Causes of Saints, which stated that they were killed “in hatred of the faith in Spain” between 1936 and 1937.
“This has been a long time in coming,” stated Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M., the order’s vocation director in the United States. “These men courageously chose death rather than deny their faith,” and are greatly admired by the Mercedarian brethren and others. We have been praying for this for several years, and thank God for their recognition by the Church.”
To Be Recognized as Blessed
The next step will be their formal recognition as “blessed,” which should take place in Spain sometime next year, and then the process continues toward canonization as saints.
The Mercedarian Order counts as among victims of the war 27 of its friars during this time of strife, between 1936 – 39, at which conservative rebels, led by Francisco Franco, successfully battled an atheistic regime then in power.
About one thousand Spanish martyrs have been beatified or canonized by the Church, and for some two thousand additional martyrs, the beatification process is underway. In all, nearly 7,000 priests, religious, nuns, friars and monks were martyred during what is known as Spain’s Red Terror.
It was a time of widespread bloodshed involving tens of thousands of civilians, as well as great animosity against any Church personnel, as well as many pious lay persons.
The victims were executed and tortured. The official report released in 1939 by the Very Rev. Alfred Scotti, the Order’s superior general, paints a horrible picture of suffering and hatred. In the Madrid house of the Order, nine priests were assassinated and four were killed in the College of St. Peter, Madrid. Another four were killed in the house at Harencia. At Olivar, in Aragon, ten priests were killed; four at Barcelona, six at Lerida, and three at the famous House of Ransom.
“The ways of their death were various,” according to the report, carried in the July 21, 1939 Catholic Herald, in the United Kingdom. “Some were burnt, some were shot, some died of exposure and starvation.”
Spared for Only a While
The report states,
The Rev. Mariano Pine Turon was made prisoner …. [and then] killed. His corpse was burnt. At the same period the Rev. Mariano Alcala Perez, former Superiorof the Order, was made prisoner. At the time his life was spared because of his great age. Later, when he testified that he was a member of the Order of Mercy, he was shot…. The Rev. Tomas Carbonell Miguel, Provincial of the Order in Aragon, was discovered in a house near the convent in Lerida. He was dragged to the cathedral and shot….
NearLerida, the Rev. Edouardo Massanet and Jose Uragui were battered to death. The Rev. Thomas Campo Marin was shot, with 68 other prisoners, in the cemetery at Lerida. The Rev. Fauetino Gazulla Galve, well-known historian, died of wounds, following a bombardment.
Killed for Saying “Jesus”
The report continues, “The Rev. Jose Rene Prenafreta was killed in Barcelona, for having pronounced the word ‘Jesus.’” Other priests killed include the Rev. Francesco Gargailo Gascon, Manuel Sancho Agutlar, Antonio Gonzalez Penin and Francesco Mitja.
The material damage to the Order in Spain shows a pointed hatred. “The church in Barcelona and house of the Order have been destroyed,” the report says. “In Lerida the church was turned into a cinema with a wine bar. The house in Olivar was destroyed. At Puig the church was pillaged and the statue of the Virgin cut into pieces.”
Only “Fault” — Believing in Christ
In one of Pope John Paul II’s canonizations of the martyrs of the Spanish Civil War, he said,
To this glorious band of martyrs belong many Spanish Christians, executed out of hatred for the faith in the years 1936-1939 … during the wicked persecution unleashed against the Church, its members and its institutions. Bishops, priests and religious were persecuted with particular hatred and cruelty; their only fault – if one can express it that way – was believing in Christ, preaching the Gospel and leading the people on the road to salvation. The enemies of Christ and of his teaching believed that by eliminating them, they could make the Church completely disappear from Spanish soil.
(John Paul II, “Decree of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints,” 1992)
The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy was founded in Spainin 1218 and is present in Pennsylvania, three other states in the United States, and in numerous other countries in Europe, South/Central America, Africa, and India.
Catholic Herald, in U.K., “Fate of an Order in Spanish War.”
Hagiography Circle, “Martyrs of the Religious Persecution During the Spanish Civil War.”
Oblates of Mary Immaculate postulation website, “Spanish Martyrs.”
Order of Mercy website in U.S., Historical Synthesis.
Wikipedia, “Spanish Civil War,” and ”Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War.”
Zenit, “7 Advance Closer to Official Sainthood.”