Have you ever wondered whether you would have the strength to face martyrdom?
Hundreds of men and women faced that challenge not too many years ago in Spain, and they valiantly gave up their lives rather than deny their holy faith.
On October 13th, five hundred and twenty-two worthy Catholics were beatified in Tarragona, Spain for their martyrdom during the Spanish Civil war. It was during the already bloody war that the period known as the Red Terror began in 1934. Violence began when thirty-seven seminarians, priests, and brothers were killed for holding firm to the Catholic faith.
The violence quickly escalated. As anti-Catholic sentiments were fueled, Churches were burned, and sacred religious items such as tabernacles, altars, and statues were desecrated. Perpetrators did their best to erase Catholicism from Spain.
Among those martyrs declared blessed were nineteen friars of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. Following the example of Fr. Mariano Alcala Perez – the former Master General of the Order – they remained steadfast to the Church unto death. With the spiritual life of Spain under attack, the Mercedarian friars held a special mission due to their fourth vow, “to be willing to offer their lives for those in danger of losing the faith.”
From as early as the Order’s genesis in 1218, the Mercedarian friars have valued their own lives secondary to the salvation of others. Again, during the Red Terror, these priests and brothers administered the sacraments and preached the Good News in the face of violent persecution.
Active Participation in Christ’s Sacrifice
So great was their sacrifice, that it bears repeating, that these martyrs were honored not as casualties of the war, but as Catholics singled out and killed for their Catholic faith during Spain’s oppressive regime. Although some were offered mercy if they denied the Church, they willingly gave their lives for the the greater glory of Christ’s kingdom. According to the witness of those present, their final words were the proud cry of “Long live Christ the King!”
Sunday’s Beatification Mass was held in Tarragona, Spain, and presided over by Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Holy See. The Cardinal spoke of the modern message given to us by the martyrs, the elimination of rancor and hatred, replaced by forgiveness, as well as conversion of the heart.
The Cardinal remarked, “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.”
What better witness to God’s mercy is there than the persecuted forgiving their
tormentors? This symbolizes in a special way, the charism and mission of the Order of Mercy. Surrounded by the violence of death, the light of Christ’s redeeming love shines forth brightly from his faithful servants, these Mercedarian friars.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
Sunday, October 13th nineteen Mercedarians will be declared blessed and martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. Few here in the United States realize how horrific this event called “the Red Terror” truly was or the reasoning behind it. In this short article, we can see the background which lead to the persecution and witness accounts of the actual martyrs.
The roots of the persecution of the Church was a slow process which began with a great anticlerical movement in the 19th century. In 19th century Spain the Church was closely linked to the monarchy by means of concordats. Catholicism was, in practice, the state religion, like the Orthodox religion in Greece and Romania and Anglicanism in England. The Republicans had built up so much hatred for the monarchy and everything relating to it, the Church included, that, once they seized power, they began to hit their enemies. Their first and easiest target was the Church, being defenseless. The new regime made laws against the Church; in the meantime anarchists, socialists and Communists began to use violence against people and things.
As historians have ascertained, a growing number of measures against the Catholic Church and religious practice were taken between 1931 and 1936. These oppressive laws aimed at a radical and antidemocratic conception of the separation between Church and State. Violent persecution proper began in 1934 with the “Turon martyrs,” who have already been canonized, and many other believers murdered during the Communist Revolution of the Asturias, when priests, religious and seminarians, 37 in all, were killed and 58 churches were burned. After 1936 in all the main cities, cathedrals, religious communities and parish churches were attacked, ransacked and burned. These persecutions aimed at erasing all traces of Catholic tradition in Spain. Hatred for the faith or “in Odium Fidei” went even beyond murders and found expression in thousands of sacrilegious acts: tabernacles were emptied, consecrated particles were eaten, shot at, strewn in the streets and trodden on; churches were used as stables, altars were demolished, priests and nuns were held at gunpoint in the attempt to force them to recant their faith. Let us remember that persecutions started years before the beginning of the civil war, and the Church could be accused of supporting Franco’s Falangists, referred to as “rebels.”
It was within the context of this perilous situation that the Mercedarians of the Province of Aragon were called upon by God to exercise their 4th Vow: to be willing to offer their lives for those in danger of losing the faith. In this particular period all of Spain was in danger of losing their once cherished Catholic Faith. Lead by the former Master General of the Order Fr. Mariano Alcala Perez, 18 Mercedarian religious were martyred here we have a brief witness account for each of them:
Padre Mariano Acala:“He was in a serene frame of mind, thinking about heaven and showing his hope for heaven to his relatives whom he as consoling by telling that they were not losing anything by his death. I have also heard that at the precise moment of being shot to death, he shouted: “Long live Christ the King.”
Padre Tomas Carbonell Miquel: “I saw a man coming down from the Via Bajada de la Trinidad with his arms up and his head down. I heard all those who were going by say: ‘he is a Mercedarian, he is a Mercedarian.’… A short time later, several shots rang out and everyone commented that they had killed the Mercedarian priest.”
Padre Francisco Gargallo Gascon: “…the Servant of God had accepted to shed his blood out of love for Jesus: he knew that he was running the risk of losing his life…yet he was calm, serene and completely surrendered into God’s arms. His sole preoccupation was to save the young novices who were with him.”
Padre Francisco Gargallo Gason & Padre Emanuel Sancho Aguilar: “Having placed the two Fathers and the deponent before the firing squad and as we were continuing to sing the Te Deum, the militiamen ordered me to leave their midst and to move aside. However, I must not have heard them since the Father pushed me aside so that I would be out of the reach of the guns. I heard the Servants of God forgive their executioners.”
Padre Emanuel Sancho Aguilar: “When he was speaking about martyrdom, he seemed to become excited and very enthusiastic, manifesting an intense desire to suffer it especially when speaking of the difficult times that we were approaching and he often said: ‘my sons, the greatest benefit that God could grant us would be that of dying as martyrs.’”
Padre Mariano Pina Turon: the Reds addressed him, “‘Get up, you are going to die but before that, we are going to make you swallow the Rosary.’ Before all this that man showed great fortitude and presence of mind.”
“The militiamen who got out of it were dragging a man, they put him with his back to them in an empty field and at five or six yards from where I was. The two or three militiamen who were leading him fired and he fell down from the shot.”
Friar Pedro Esteban Hernandez: “Brother Pedro, the younger of the two, could have looked for a safer refuge but he refused to abandon Brother Antonio who was quite old and very tired. I always found them resigned and in conformity with God’s will.”
Friar Antonio Lahoz Gan: “I have a devotion to him since I already considered him as a saint when he was alive. Whenever he heard the sound of the Angelus, without any concern for the place where he was or who was present, he would kneel and pray fervently even if the ground was full of rocks.”
Friar Jose Trallero Lou: “The militiamen were abusing the above mentioned Brothers with words and threatening them with their guns so that they would reveal where the other Fathers and Brothers were. Although they knew that they were not very far, the two did not reveal anything. They did not respond to the insults.”
“According to what my father, who spent the night there, told me, they attempted to take away Bro. Trallero’s (Mercedarian) metals and they tried to make him blaspheme by promising him that they would save his life but he said: ‘I will not blaspheme. Long live Christ the King.’”
“I heard the militiamen who arrested him say in order to free them and save their lives, they only asked them to shout ‘Long live the revolution and Communism, ‘to which the martyrs responded ‘Long live the Christ the King!’ ‘Long live the Catholic faith!’”
Friar Jaime Codina Casella: “When the militiamen threatened them so that they might reveal the hiding place of the other religious, he withdrew into absolute silence in spite of the threats. According to I heard, they kept urging them to shout ‘long live Russia’ and other things to which they responded ‘Long live Christ the King.’”
Padre Jose Rene Prenafeta: During the revolution he stated, “Even if they were to point a gun at my chest, I would never deny that I am a priest.”
Padre Tomas Campo Marin: While in prisoned a witness said, “Fr. Campo Marin excelled by his resignation, his gentle treatment, his zeal, offering to hear our confessions, leading the Rosary out loud and other prayers”
Padre Francisco Llagostera Bonet: “They were getting out of the truck, tied up two by two by their wrists and then in groups of fourteen, they put them in front of the wall and facing those who were to kill them. When the latter gave the order to ‘aim,’ the martyrs shouted ‘Long live Christ the King’”
Friar Serapio Sanz Iranzo: “I know that when they went to Lerida, where he was, to kill the Fathers, when he saw that they were leaving him behind, he said: ‘I too am a religious like them.’ Then the militiamen took him away with them and they assassinated him with the Fathers.”
Padre Enrique Morante Chic: “ The attitude of the Servant of God before those who were carrying out the religious persecution was that of his appearing serene and so proud of being a Mercedarian priest that he immediately revealed it to his assassins although he was well aware of the consequences.”
Padre Jesus Massanet Flaquer: “…the three militiamen who were leading them, shot them in the back. I saw them fall to the ground as a result of the shots. After they had picked up the corpses, one could see traces of blood on the ground.”
The assassins themselves reported that the Servant of God “had shown a great deal of serenity and he shouted ‘Long live Christ the King.’”
Padre Lorenzo Moreno Nicolas: “before he was shot, he blessed his executioners and told them that he forgave them according to what the driver, who drove him to his martyrdom, related to them.”
“His martyrdom must have been terrible…he invited him to sit on the edge of the well and he shot him. When he fell to the bottom, they continued to fire from above and after they had left, moans could still be heard, from which it was inferred that his death must have taken place after a long and painful agony if we bear in mind that the moans of the five Brothers of the Christian Schools and of the Pastor of Saint James, who were all thrown into the same well and in the same way as Father Lorenzo, were heard the day after the crime had ben perpetuated against them.”
Brother Francisco Mitja Mitja: “On the following day, along with six or eight men who were also in hiding, we went back to the same place. Among all of us, we were able to identify the cadaver as that of a Mercedarian Brother of Saint Raymond since, on account of the clothing and of the objects that he had on and even the alms that he had been given in different houses, he was easily identifiable…we could clearly deduce that he had not thrown himself down from a rock that was nearby, but that instead he had been pushed.”
In Vatican City, on December 19, 2011 Zenit.org reported Pope Benedict XVI on Monday met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, and authorized the promulgation of decrees concerning miracles, martyrdom and heroic virtues for a number of causes. Among those were Mariano Acala and 18 fellow Martyrs of the Order of Mercy. This beatification will take place on Tarragona, Spain, October 13, 2013. Here is the formal announcement from the Mercedarian Generalate:
With the title “19 Palms. Martyrs of Mercy of Aragon in 1936 “Fray Joaquin Rubio Millan published in 2010 a careful publication on the martyrdom of the nineteen martyrs of the Order of Mercy in the province of Aragon, whose list is headed by the Servant of God Mariano Alcala Perez, born May 11, 1867 and executed on September 15, 1936.
The other 18 religious who met a violent death are: Padre Tomás Carbonell Miquel, Padre Francisco Gargallo Gascón, Padre Manuel Sancho Aguilar, Padre Mariano Pina Turón, Fray Pedro Armengol Esteban Hernández, Fray Antonio Lahoz Gan, Fray José Trallero Lou, Fray Jaime Codina Casellas, Padre José Reñé Prenafreta, Fray Antonio González Penín, Padre Tomás Campo Marín, Padre Francisco Llagostera Bonet, Fray Serapio Sanz Iranzo, Padre Enrique Morante Chic, Padre Jesús Eduardo Massanet Flaquer, Padre Amancio Marín Mínguez, Padre Lorenzo Moreno Nicolás, y Fray Francisco Mitjá Mitjá.
The religious were 19 Mercedarians of the Province of Aragon who died martyrs, killed “in odium fidei” or out of hatred for the faith between July 25, 1936 and January 1, 1937 in Barcelona and Teruel, Spain. The diocesan process opened in Lleida in 1957 and concluded in 1959. The Congregation of Saints gave legal validity in Rome on June 9, 1995. The commission of theologians gave a favorable opinion on September 30, 2009. The December 13, 2011 the Congress of Cardinals and Bishops have recognized that the said servants of God were killed by fidelity to Christ and the Church. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI then approved the martyrdom of the 19 Mercedarians on 19 December 2011. The celebration will be in Tarragona, Spain, 13 October 2013.
522 Spanish martyrs obeyed imperatives of faith before the world, remember Bishop