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.
We celebrate the first Vespers of Sunday. Sunday, says St. Jerome, is “the day of the Resurrection, the day of the Christians, our day.”  In the late afternoon of Good Friday, our Lord died with the Psalms of his people on the lips and introduced “into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 83). We offer with joy this evening sacrifice, united to the Lord Jesus.
Sunday shines more than the other days, but on [this] Sunday, the glory of the Lord shines in a special way in his martyrs. They ennoble the holy Churches of the Lord. The martyrs demonstrate the power of God’s grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, because no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12.3). They are the witnesses of the Lord. And his martyrdom is “praise and glory of grace” (Eph 1.6). So they glorify the King of martyrs as he [the Lord] is the cause and foundation of Christian martyrdom. He is “the faithful witness” (Rev 1:5). His life and death are an Easter proclamation that “the birthday of the saints, the Church proclaims the paschal mystery in the saints who suffered with Christ and have been glorified with him” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 104).
This Church of Tarragona, ecclesia Pauli, sedes Fructuosi, receives you all with affection and joy and gives to you all the kiss of peace and of communion.
In the first place, greetings to Cardinal Angelo Amato, who tomorrow morning, in the name of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will proclaim the blessedness of this great multitude of brothers. Greetings to the Cardinals, to my brother Bishops. Also, to you, dear priests and deacons. To you dear Religious Brothers and Sisters, joyful because of the glorification of your brothers and sisters. To all the holy people of God, who with praise and joy, venerate and celebrate the glory of the martyrs. Peace to all. Let us all be joyful in the Lord and may the gesture of the venerable and ancient Lucenaria be eloquently put: Lumen Christi cum pace! We radiate, brothers and sisters, this light bearer of peace. The joyous peace of the disciples of Christ, that he has given us and that nothing or no one can take from us.
The glorification of our brothers and sisters, as I wrote in my pastoral letter, is not made against anyone nor even in the favor of anyone. The martyrs are of the Lord, belong to the victory of the Lord, and not of that of men. They are an annunciation of peace and of reconciliation. It is simply the Church that, returning to the tradition of the first centuries, cannot forget those who died for the Lord and for the Gospel. They were written in the book of Truth by their blood. They are those that followed the Lord intimately. As we have heard in the Canticle of this Vespers service: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 P 2:21).
When our martyrs are beatified tomorrow in the Sunday liturgy, none of us will experience one iota of resentment for those who persecuted them. Neither shall we have the satisfaction of having an act of historic justice done in a worldly way. How can we not forgive if all of them died, in imitation of the Lord, with words of forgiveness on their lips? The first fruit, one could say, the first grace of these new martyrs, would be the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation. The Lord redeems the whole of history always, and these, the martyrs, redeemed with their silent immolation, that story of death, shameful. The Lord looks with compassion on one side and the other, the Lord looks with compassion on both the executioners as on those who died. The ultimate gaze of the martyrs was this: a gaze that forgave. May this gaze also be our gaze.
Martyrdom is the most perfect expression of faith, of hope, and of charity. The martyr, in his total commitment to God loves the Lord in the most intense and possible form, with whole heart and as the only thing needed. He humbly experiences and accepts his total nothingness and the absolute necessity to be sustained by grace, he deeply obeys the will of God and freely allows himself to be stripped of all he possesses in the world, including his own life, so participating in the poverty of Christ on the Cross.
We evoke, then, with an immense and tender love, the biographies of our martyrs. All were men and women of God, who, in sanquine, “washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb.” First to our brother bishops of Lleida, Salvi Huix, the bishop of Jaén, Manuel Basulto, and are beloved Manue Borràs, auxiliary bishop of this archdiocese, and many brother priests who lived their martyrdom as the last Eucharist, offered not in the sacrament, but in their own person. Of some manner, one can say that they received the martyrdom in persona Christi for the grace they had received in their priestly ordination.
Next, to our Religious Brothers and Sisters who brought to fulfillment the proper charisms and initialed their act of profession with their own blood. They proclaim how each charism can be lived to the point of giving one’s own life.
Then, to the seven lay martyrs, worthy representatives of the holy people of the Lord. As it is said in the preface of the saints: for in crowning their merits, You crown the gifts You have given them.
It is characteristic of Christians to leave the past, they have been glorified and my predecessor in this headquarters, the venerable Cardinal Vidal i Barraquer Fransec D’Assis, from exile, with sadness and deep conviction, writes: “I console them did not miss God’s mercy. “they live in Christ and in the communion of saints intercede for us,” his death was a gain. “For us to live in the present, a present that is always time for Christians of grace.
Let us put ourselves in tune and in obedience to our Holy Father Francis. He so insistently tells us that the Church is not self-referential from the Church of the Lord. Certainly, it is not the Church that glorifies her saints. It is the Lord who does it! There must not be even a hint of self-glorification present among us this Sunday. We should be the Church that participates in the mission and in obedience to the Son, who with the strength of the Holy Spirit goes out of herself and wants to be radiant with the light of the Lord of glory, that destroys and unmasks all the darkness of the world. And that comes humbly to meet a society where men need a greater love, where the poor are to be loved and the Church should have in her a celebration of life, since Christianity is an affirmation of life. An announcement of the saving love, from the conviction that there is no human existence is not loved by God.
And for another part, our martyrs were not ashamed of their baptism, their priestly condition, their religious consecration or their being Christians, Catholics. In a limited moment they did not hide or renege their condition. I ask the Lord, through the intercession of our martyrs, that our Christians may leave all anonymity, they don’t hid the treasure of the faith, that they may be a light in the bushel to illuminate all. Never shameful of the faith! The world needs these Christians! “The world needs evangelists, who are not sad or discouraged, impatient or anxious, but servants of the Gospel, whose life radiated the fervor of who they have received, before all in themselves, the joy of Christ.”2
Whoever expressed our feelings better than anyone else is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the soloist of the people of God. She gives soul and song to the Church and is it now we will sing in the Magnificat: “The Lord has remembered Abraham and his descendants forever.” Yes, the Lord’s mercy to our martyrs accompanied in the dark hour of the day of his martyrdom, and gave them a glimpse of the dawn of the Day of Resurrection. The Lord accompanies us. He always ” leads to his Church to perfection through love”. The Lord be with those who will come after us and believe in Christ. It is the mystery of the Church, earthly and heavenly, glorious and pilgrim. The Saints are the first fruits of the heavenly Jerusalem. It ecclesial communion, is the mystery of Pentecost: ” One Lord, one faith, one God and Father.” The martyrs help us live this ecclesial communion. Let us rejoice in the Lord, as said the Bishop of Tarragona, holy Fructuoso moments before his cruel martyrdom of 259 January 21: ” I’ll never go without mercy and the promise of the Lord in this world and the other.” Amen.
+Jaume Pujol Balcells
Metropolitan Archbishop and Primate of Tarragona
Tarragona, October 12, 2013
1.) In die dominica paschae, CCL 78 (1958) 550
2.) Pablo VI, Exhort, ap. Sinodal, Evangelii nuntiandi, 80