Superior General Fr. Aquilino Bocos Merino, cmf
Translated: Fr. Bob Fath, cmf
1. WE START WITH THE LIVED EXAMPLE
“We are joyful to be able to suffer something for the sake of God; because they are going to kill us only for being religious or aspirants to the priesthood.” (Pablo Hall, 14 CMF)
“I’m going to be shot for being a religious and a member of the clergy, or if you will, for following the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Thanks be to the Father through Our Lord Jesus Christ, his Son, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen” (8/10/360. (Ramon Illa, C.M.F)
“We have not been found to be involved in any political cause. And although we have not been given any kind of a trial we ore all content to die for Christ and his Church and for the faith of Spain. For the martyrs.” (Manuel Martinez, C.M.F.)
1.1. Declaration of the Claretian Seminary of Barbastro as Martyr and Model Seminary
The theme “formation and martyrdom” was suggested by the fact that Pope John Paul 11 in the Beatification of the 51 Claretian Missionaries of Barbastro called this Community a “martyr seminary”, and indirectly proposed it as a model indicating that the Church, concerned with the formation of future priests, “looks with admiration at seminaries like the one in Barbastro”. 1
Certainly the fact of this declaration indirectly fills us with joy and, as the Bishop of Barbastro recognized some days ago in the cathedral, it honours a congregation having sons in the church capable of giving testimony to their faith and their love for their missionary vocation. But the Claretians have never considered the Martyrs of Barbastro as their own exclusive property. We have always considered them a gift of God for the Church and for people. In this sense we believe it is right to speak of this character of being a model for formation.
1.2. Background to This Declaration
a). THE EVENT. The Claretian Seminary of Barbastro was a formation community composed of 51 members in which 9 were priests, 37 were students nearing priestly ordination and 5 were Missionary Brothers. They ‘were all taken prisoner at the same time. The anarchists separated those in charge of the community and isolated the young men, thinking that it would be easier to break them down. What happened was the opposite. They encouraged one another and gave a community witness of their faithfulness to their vocation. As the Pope said in his Sunday meditation: “We are deeply moved by the fact that they have been called to give witness to Christ not as individuals but as a community, thus constituting, in a certain sense, ‘a martyr seminary’”.2
We have to remember that martyrdom did not simply befall the Martyrs of Barbastro, but that they were very well prepared for it. The years prior to their holocaust were years of formation for faithfuiness unto death, unto shedding their blood for Jesus and his Kingdom.
Beginning in 1931 the priests and religious of Spain were uncertain about their future. Hostility and harassment were continuous. We know the data of history. But we must add that the Claretians of Barbastro had a very clear awareness that they might be martyrs and were prepared for their martyrdom. In the life of the Founder, in the spirituality he proposed and in the history of the Congregation they found reasons for desiring and joyously living this dimension of their missionary vocation.
b) We find more background for this declaration in the words of the Pope during his Sunday meditation that same day in which he spoke of the need for a strong spirit, especìally in the moment of history in which we live, marked by many difficulties in the area of vocation recruitment and training of seminarians3. He went on to explain: There are many causes of these difficulties, but it is clear that among them is the spirit of the times, which is contrary to the spirit of God. This aids a kind of strategy that tries to dissuade young men from becoming priests and from giving themselves completely to Christ in celibacy, a surrender which is strictly required for the ministerial priesthood. Thus there is the consummate need for greater cooperation with the Spirit who ‘gives life’ through prayer and a preference for educational environinents where the Gospel is lived to the fuilest extent”. (…) “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians. May the martyrdom accepted in its fullness by the Claretians of Barbastro on their road to the priesthood become a yeast for renewal of vocations and seminaries in all nations.”4
c) Whatever we consider our cultural or ecclesial context to be, we can see we need “living witnesses” who speak to us of God, whom they themselves know and relate to as a friend, as if they are seeing the Invisible (cf. Hb 11:27). This is what the martyrs did.
The documents on vocation recruitment5 and above all on formation for the consecrated life6 and for priestly ministry7 very accurately describe, directly or indirectly, the social and ecclesial situation in which we are living. Undoubtedly there are many positive characteristics of our socio-ecclesial context, proper to a Christian civilization at the turn of the millennium and to a Church renewing itself in docility to the Spirit. But, at the same time, we find a series of tendencies very difficult to come to grips and to counter with for those called to the consecrated life and priestly ministry.
Ours is an “anemic” or “spineless” culture. As Ortega y Gasset said: “We suffer from an absurd incongruity between our true inner feelings and our ideals. The things we have been taught to prize do not sufficiently interest us, and the things we have been taught to despise interest us most strongly.” “An example,” he adds, “is that we have been taught to place the good of society ahead of that of the individual; but it is in our deepest interest to place that of the individual ahead of society’s”8. We lack the “ideals”, the utopian vision, the capacity to be enthusiastic and invigorate the decisions we are called upon to make. We love the culture of puny thinking, of relativizing value judgments, and of ambiguity in behavior. This results in subjectivism, individualism, spiritual weakness, lack of the courage of our convictions, mediocrity of life, and, as a consequence, vocational inconsistency.
This was already the case in the time of Kierkegaard who said, “If Jesus were to retum to the world, perhaps he would not be killed, but he would be rediculed. This is the martyrdom of the times of the intelligentsia. To be handed over to death belongs to a time of passion and feeling”. Today we are inclined to classify martyrs as fanatics, which is only a nice way of justifying to ourselves our own cowardice and our inability to commit ourselves to anything that demands courage and unlimited generosity.
Opposed to these characteristics are the attitudes of this group of martyrs, members of a formation community, who reveal their seriousness, firmness and enthusiastic fidelity to their call to the radical following of Christ, their unequivocal witness to the meaningfulness of religious life, their strong sense of belonging to the Church and the Congregation, and their ardent desire to collaborate in the missionary service of the Church.
d) It is appropriate to note that the cause of the beatification of the martyrs of Barbastro was well along in 1989, the year the Postulator, Fr, Javier Ochoa, died unexpectedly. Had the cause followed its normai course, it appears the beatification would have taken place during the Synod of 1990 dedicated to priestly formation.
2. FORMATION IN THIS SEMIENARY-COMMUNITY OF BARBASTRO
To be accurate, we have to begin by saying that Barbastro was their Gethsemane, their Way of the Cross, their Calvary, there they died; but they had come there to this city on the Vero only a short time before. The Superiors of the Congregation transferred the young seminarians from Cervera (Llerida) to Barbastro (Huesco) where it was said the political situation was calmer and their lives would be at lesser risk. This is to say that the formation they received had been given in the previous seminaries.
What kind of formation was given them in the Claretian seminaries at that time? What values were transmitted to them? What frame of reference did those in formation have?
These seminaries were probably not much different from the centers of formation of other religious institutes. But if we look at the results, it is valid to ask ourselves what presuppositions, orientations or attitudes were encouraged in them.
Perhaps the first thing we should emphasize is what the Superior General at the time said about the martyrs, “These brothers of ours responded, as only those about to be martyred know how to respond, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit: ‘Do not be concerned about what you are going to say or how you will say it. You will be inspired with what to say at that moment, because it will not be you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father—and of your Mother added our Father (Aut. 687)—who speaks through you’ (Mt.10:20)”9.
Another characteristic to emphasize, according to those who were their companions, was the seriousness with which they lived their day to day lives. Here we are not talking about grand formation projects or established courses of study. We are rather talking about ordinary life lived according to the Constitutions and directives of the Congregation, taken on with great care and responsibility, as committed and dedicated men, full of integrity and inclined to judge life in terms of the only thing that was necessary.
In any event, the most outstanding characteristics of their formation can be indicated by the foilowing:
- A strong and solid love for the missionary vocation
- A great fidelity to the Constitutions in which they found their special way of following Jesus
- A robust missionary spirituality, appropriate for the Son of the Heart of Mary as sketched by Claret
- A deep love for the Congregation, Mother and Teacher of Claretian Missionaries
- A strong lived experience of fraternal life
- A rich social, ecclesial, and apostolic sensibility
2.1. A Formation That “Fulfils and Deepens” the Person
The first thing that surprises us when we read the biographies, letters and writings of the Martyrs of Barbastro is, on the one hand, their naturalness, spontaneity and simplicity; and on the other, the strength of their convictions, their enthusiasm for their vocation, and their joy in face of martyrdom.
In them there is no dichotomy among personal fulfilment, the life of faith, the missionary calling and martyrdom. In martyrdom they found the fulfilment of all the others. God, and love for God, was so important to the martyrs that they made everything else relative. Not even the holiest thing and the thing they most desired, the apostolate, had power before God and what God asked of them. Ramon Tua says, “I wouldn‘t exchange my jail for the gift to work miracles, nor my martyrdom for the apostolate, which has been the great dream of my life. “. Luis Javier Bandres puts it this way, “I would like to be a priest and missionary. I offer the sacrifice of my life for souls “. “I die at peace fulfilling my sacred duty,” says Luis Llado.
Their renunciation of a promised future and their acceptance of death, violent and unjust, is not a burden they simply resigned themselves to. Humanly they had no way out; it was all over. But they had placed their faith in God and knew that God would not let them fail. The testimonies they have left us of the value they saw in their martyrdom and the spirit with which they confronted it leave a deep impression. “We are all happy and overjoyed like the Apostles,” says the Argentine student Pablo Hall, “that we have been found worthy to suffer something for name of Jesus. We are all resigned to the plans of God’s will: I have been hearing this from the lips of the others and we are mutually encouraging each other with the hope of going to heaven, and with persevering unto the end…” “There is in all of us a holy serenity and an eagerness to hear our own names be called so we can join the ranks of the chosen; we await the moment with great impatience” (Faustino Perez). “The Lord has seen fit to place the palm of martyrdom in my hand. . .Sing to the Lord for such a great and outstanding gift as the martyrdom the Lord has seen fit to grant me” (R. Tua). “Long live God! I never thought I was worthy of such a singular grace!” (F. Cataian). On the different ways of expressing their joy, thanks, and hope: “We die happy, with no regrets or misgivings” (Farewell Letter to the Congregation).
2.2. A Formation According to the Claretian Charism
Each vocation in the Church has a definite shape. The Claretian martyrs of Barbastro clearly express, in their behavior and their writings, a great resonance with the spirit of Fr. Claret. Moreover, they lived out their vocation in a Claretian mystical context, that is, one that is Christocentric, Cordimarian, ecclesial, and at the service of the Gospel, always permeated with the flavour of martyrdom.
Claretian spirituality is essentially missionary. Everything in it must flow from, or be meant for, the evangelizing mission. Conformity to Christ, who was anointed and sent by the Father to proclaim Good News to the poor constitutes the vocation of the Missionary Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
St. Anthony Mary Claret captured in a brief paragraph the image of his missionaries for each one to follow. The text is this:
“A Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man on fire with love and who spreads its flames wherever he goes. He desires mightily and strives by all means possible to set everyone on fire with God’s love. Nothing daunts him; he delights in privations, welcomes work, embraces sacrifices, smiles at slander, rejoices in all the torments and sorrows he suffers, and glories in the cross of Jesus Christ. His only concern is how he may follow Christ and imitate him in praying, working, enduring and striving constantly and solely for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humankind”10.
This image was programmatic for the life of our martyrs of Barbastro. The formators made them see that this “definition of the missionary” summarizes the great currents of Claretian spirituality. They assimilated it very well, as an Argentine student, who was saved becausehe was a foreigner, relates. He writes, “Mr. Juan Baireras with a regular group charged me to tell Fr. General that he should be happy to have in the Congregation, among those whose course he guided, sons who were able to face anything, even death itself stimulated by this sublime ideal”11
These missionaries saw martyrdom as the normal crowning of the missionary life. They felt in their heart the same feelings as the Founder did.
Fr. Claret discovered in the Proto-martyr Stephen his image of ministry of the Word and of fighting against the Principalities and Powers. From the very beginning of his priestly ministry he felt the strong desire to go to the missions (i.e., foreign missions) to save souls, even though it meant undergoing a thousand labours, even though he might have to suffer death (Aut. 112). He thirsted to shed his blood for Jesus Christ12 In his life he had an abundance of suffering and persecution which became the basis for his identification with Christ. He was persecuted in Cuba because of his commitments on behalf of his family, of freedom for the slaves,
and of correcting the moral behaviour of the clergy (cf. Aut. 518). And in Holguin, he received the seal of martyrdom, shedding his blood. 13 The 12 years he spent in Madrid as confessor to the Queen were, in his words, a bloodless martyrdom, “Twelve years of martyrdom. “14 He ended his days persecuted, in exile and finally a refugee in the hospice of a French monastery. His interior attitude was always greatly oriented toward martyrdom: “I have always wanted to die a poor man in some hospital or oii the scaffold as a martyr, or to be put to death by the enemies of the holy religion we profess and preach, thus sealing the virtues and truths I have preached and taught with my blood”15 This feeling that martyrdom was the ultimate and absolute ideal explains the passion and enthusiasm with which these young men shouted for, sang to and acclaimed Christ the King, the Heart of Mary, the Church and the Pope.
The offering of their life is the supreme act of their missionary life. As Cardinal Arturo Tabera, Bishop of Barbastro and initiator of the canonization process, said, they are “Missionaries who preached, many their first mission, all of them their last, giving the world the authentic sermon of their young soul, poured out for Christ- like the 12 original missionaries, the ones sent out to conquer the world”. The apostolic restlessness of that seminary was translated according to personal charisms and tastes: preaching to the people, higher studies in order to teach, foreign missions (several of them spoke about China as the place of their future apostolate), care of workers, who were the poor of that time.
The presence of Mary in their preparation for martyrdom was not articulated. They always deeply felt they were Sons of the Immaculate Heart. Sbe taught them to be disciples of Jesus and apostles of his Kingdom. In the “forge of the Heart of Mary” they learned to be fervent, to be full or ardent love, and to empty themselves in oblation for the salvation of the world.
Since they were members of a Congregation which “seeks in everything… “ (CC 2), that is to say, is accustomed to be attentive to the needs of the Church and society, they died in communion and solidarity with their Bishop, with other religious and priests and with the laity. In this greatest moment of their life, in which they gave themselves freely, they lived with the sorrow that the Church in Barbastro and the people of Barbastro were suffering. Above all, they had special concern for workers, whom they excused as being victims of the ignorance and manipulation they suffered.
2.3. A Formation “Rooted in the Gospel”
In the Claretian Congregation they professed the following of Jesus unto death. They not only learned the letter of the Constitutions, the project of their missionary life, but they assimilated the spirit of the Founder who thought of nothing but how to follow and imitate Jesus Christ in working, suffering, and in procuring always and only the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls (Aut. 494).
The future martyrs knew that the primary virtue of the young missionary is the faith that inflamed the prophets, comforted the apostles in their persecutions, their tortures, and even unto their very death, and which eased the torments of the martyrs (CC 1924, n. 105). They had the conviction that they had to be ready to surrender everything—family, possessions, even life itself— before abandoning their vocations (Ibid. nn. 111 and 112), and, following Christ carrying the cross, be ready to suffer hunger, thirst, persecutions, and even their own crucifixion (Ibid. nn. 10-11). They knew that profession was a symbol of martyrdom, and they should be prepared for it in case that hour came. They carried martyrdom as an implicit gift in their inmost being. They were being formed with that consciousness, and they were learning to be faithful to their martyr roots. For them, martyrdom was the logical culmination of the missionary life. In their letters to their families during the years prior to their deaths,’16 they manifested the awareness of having to be ready for that critical and decisive moment that was coming closer and closer each day. The authenticity of their way of life made them excellent candidates for martyrdom. They proved it was easy for the religious to go on to martyrdom if he lives a life of surrender to God and neighbour without reservation and in a meaningful way.17 From this flow the fullness, the serenity and the joy in the moment of accepting the sacrifice of their lives.
The radical following of Jesus takes on a precise and definite shape in them. Among the concrete aspects that can be emphasized are: the leaving and love of family, prayer; austerity of life, self-discipline, dedication to preparation for ministry and sacrificial availability.
Their relationships with their families were the normal ones for that time. In formation they were supposed to harmonize the detachment inherent in the missionary with the tender love of a son, a brother or a cousin. Their vocation had already demanded of them an effective leave-taking of those that were dear to them and they knew very well that their service to the Gospel and to mission would take them far from their homeland. Particularly moving are the writings they left to their families: “Don’t cry for me. I am a martyr for Jesus Christ….. Mama, don’t cry. Jesus asks me for my blood; I am going to shed it out of love for Him; I will be a martyr, I’m going to heaven. I’ll be waiting for you there” (Salvador Pigem). “Soon I am going to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. Don’t weep over my death, because dying for Jesus Christ means living forever. . .At this moment, I pray that God will give you strength to bear so harsh a blow. . .Love your son now more than ever since he dies serene and tranquil because he dies for Jesus Christ” (Jose Figuero).
The life of prayer they led in the seminary during those years was not protracted, but painstaking, as it was in other formation communities. It maintained a vibrantly alive, three-fold reference to the Eucharist, to the Heart of Mary and to Martyrdom—the three inseparable aspects of Claretian missionary spirituality. These Martyrs, counselled by their Master of Novices, often prayed for the gift of martyrdom.
From their songs, their prayers, and their ejaculations we see that the “ideal of their life” was Jesus Christ, the King and Lord of history and of society. They chose Christ and maintained unyielding adherence to Him all through their testing, remaining faithful unto death.
The same day they were taken prisoner they had sung before the Blessed Sacrament:
O Jesus, I always want to love you without measure.
How happy would The to give my life for love of Thee!
At that same act they also sang the hymn which they repeated in whispers during their captivity and feariessly sang out in the truck that carried them off to martyrdom:
Jesus, you know I your soldier will abide,
Fighting ever at your side.
One banner, one ideal held high,
Marching on—until I die.
And what ideal hold you so high?
For you, my King, my Pride,
to shed my blood and die!
Fr. Pedro Casaldaliga, who intimately felt the influence of these Martyrs, being a formator in Barbastro, emphasized the Gospel rootedness of this Community-Seminary. In a hymn composed for their beatification he says:
Missionaries of Barbastro,
Biood united in holocaust,
Of the house of Claret,
Companions of his ideals,
Of Jesus of Nazareth. (. . .)
The three vows, day by day,
Made you an oblation
In the forge of the Heart of Mary
And today you know
how to die straight and tall
Amidst song and forgiveness,
Claretians with the mission
Of witnesses to the faith (…)
Interest in being well prepared for the ministry that was inculcated in them seems to be a typical aspect of formation at that time. Claretians always tried to be, following St. Anthony Mary Claret, men of the people. There are those who confuse being men of the people with being common. But one must be careful to avoid this equation. Fr. Claret was a very cultured man, paying attention to all the biblical, theological, and pastoral currents of his time. He made the effort to pass on his learning to the people whom he saw thirsting for the Word ot God. We know the affection of the Martyrs of Barbastro for virtually everyone. Even beyond what they would have ordinarily been capable of, they dedicated themselves to those activities that would help them in the ministry of the Word, both written and lived, in missions, in specialized studies. Suffice it to say they did not waste a minute of their time. In that interest of being well prepared is included the sacrificial availability of their life. They were disposed to go wherever their superiors indicated they should offer their missionary service of the Gospel.
1.4. A Community Formation For Mission
Three characteristics of the form of community life lived by these missionaries of Barbastro can be highlighted:
— A sense of belonging to the Congregation
— The mystique of missionary fraternity
— The urgent necessity of love and forgiveness for enemies
a) To capture their sense of belonging one need only read their Farewell Letter to the Congregation: Beloved Congregation: The day before yesterday, the 11 six of our brothers died with a generosity befitting martyrs. Today, the 13th , 20 more have won the palin of victomy. And tomorrow, the 14th the remaining expect to die. Glory to God! Glory to God!
How nobly amid heroically your sons have borne themselves, O beloved Congregation! We are spending the day encouraging one another for martyrdom and praying for our enemies amazed for our beloved Institute. When the moment comes for them to designate the next victims, we all feel a holy serenity and an eagerness to hear our own names called so that we can come forward and take our place in the ranks of the chosen.
We have been looking forward to this moment with great impatience. When it came for those already chosen, some of them have kissed the ropes with which they are bound, others directed words of forgiveness to the firing squad. As they drove off in the truck to the cemetery, we could hear them shouting “Long live Christ the King!” The angry mob shouted back “Death fo him! Death to him!” but nothing intimidated them.
They are your sons, O beloved Congregation; these young men, surrounded by pistols aiid rifles, yet they have the calm courage anid daring to cry out “Long live Christ the King!” on their way to the cemetery.
Tomorrow the rest of us will go, and we have already chosen the watchwords we will shout even as the shots are being fired: to the Heart of our Mother, to Christ the King, to the Catholic Church, and to you, the common Mother of us all. My comrades tell me that I must’ begin the “Viva”s and they will respond. I will shout at the top of my lungs, and in our enthusiastic cries you will be able to discern how much we love you, Beloved Congregation, since we will carry the memory of you even into these deep regions of suffering and death. We all die happily, with no regret or misgivings. We all die praying God that the blood that falls from our wounds will not be shed in vengeance, but will rather transfuse your veins and stimulate your growth and expansion throughout the world.
Farewell, Beloved Congregation. Your sons, Martyrs of Barbastro, salute you from prison amid offer you our sufferings and anguish as a holocaust to expiate our failings and as a witness to our faithful, generous and everlasting love. The martyrs of tomorrow, the 14th, are fully aware that they die on the Eve of the Assumption. And what a special awareness it is! We ore dying because we wear the cassock, and we are dying precisely on the same day we were invested in it.
The martyrs of Barbastro greet you, as I do, the last and most unworthy of their number, Faustino Perez, C.M.F.
Long live Christ the King! Long live the Heart of Mary!
Long live the Congregation! Farewell, dear Institute.
We are going to heaven to pray for you. Adios, adios!
With this heart-telt and tender exclamation “These are you sons, beloved Congregation! “, repeated insistently, the Martyrs of Barbastro testify to their identity with, and belonging to, one universal Missionary Community. Their deep love for the Congregation, “faithful, generous, and perpetual”—as they said—is a love that is not childish of narcissistic. By the various references they make in these or equivalent words (“beloved Institute “) they reveal a well tested vocational maturity. They understand the body of the Congregation as a whole suitably articulated in which each one has his proper gift (Priests, Students and Brothers) and in which each different function is esteemed. It is a great concern to theirs that the Superior General receives, through the freed Argentines Pablo Hall and Atilio Parussini, the testimony to their fidelity to, and love for the Institute, their Farewell Letter, the handkerchief soaked with sweat, and notification of the sufferings and joys of each one to them. For them this tender relationship with the Congregation was second nature. In it they had found a new family, had learned to follow Jesus Christ unto the ultimate consequences ot fulfilling the Constitutions. They felt they were members to a body in solidarity for the evangelizing mission.
At every moment they reveal their clear awareness of belonging to, at one and the same time, the formation community of Barbastro and the whole Congregation which they call “the common Mother of us all”. They say this “of us all” as a looking toward the future; they want their blood to mean new life for the growth and development of their beloved Congregation throughout the whole world. In their most difficult moments they feel deeply linked to all their brothers and they ask us to see in their enthusiastic acclamations of the Heart of Mary, Christ the King, the Church and the Congregation itself the love they have for it. “We will carry our memomy of you even into those deep regions of suffering and death “. They were aware that their faithfulness unto death was a glory, not a loss, to the Congregation. They took for granted that martyrdom was of greater value than any other form of apostolate.
b) The martyr community of Barbastro became a model for that missionary community that was more mystical than structural, more fraternal than merely organizational, more of helping and accompanying one than of giving commands. Being in the period of initial formation did not prevent them from offering in prison the example of a wondrous maturity in the living of fraternity and of the mystery of community. They formed a community ruled by the Spirit and love for one another. The community encouraged Jose M. Blasco who felt weak and frightened in the face of death. It prayed for him and with him. It protected and helped Esteban Casadevall, harassed by a prostitute who was obsessed by him. Those missionary young men placed the community ahead of their individual interests. Salvador Pigem refused the offer to freedom from a militiaman in order to suffer the fate of his brothers in solidarity. Miguel Massip, Manuel Torras, and Brother Alfonso Miquel did the same thing.
They formed a praying community.’18 The connection between suffering and prayer blossomed in them as the gift of perseverance unto the end. They managed to keep on praying the office of the Martyrs and the Little Office of the Virgin, and above all, being able to receive Holy Communion, thus making the Eucharistic Bread the center of that imprisoned community and the life force of their intense and vibrant spirituality. The Lord, the Eucharistic Bread, secretly made Himself present among them unnoticed by their jailers. With lightning speed they learned how to become bread broken and wine poured out for the life of the world. Those communions prepared them for the ultimate and definitive handing over of their body and for facing alI the evils of the world. The sacramental presence and the welcoming of the Lord in their midst was the reason for everything we admire in these brother Martyrs.
c) They died forgiving those who took way their lives. They felt they possessed the very compassion and mercy of God. This was the supreme testimony to their love: to pardon—like Jesus—their persecutors and executioners. On a wall of the Piarist high school in which they were imprisoned this inscription could be read for many years: “We forgive our enemies… To those who are going to be our executioners we send our pardon.” When the body of Salvador Pigem was disinterred they found a page from a calendar in his pocket on which he had written, “They are killing us out of hatred for religion. Father, forgive them.” On the piano bench that was on the stage in the assembly hall these words of pardon appear, “I forgive with all my heart all who have offended me whether intentionally or unintentionally (Juan Sanchez Munarriz). “Just as Jesus hanging on the cross died pardoning his enemies, so I die a martyr forgiving them with my whole heart and promising to pray in a special way for them and their families” (Tomas Capdevila Miro). “Only the holy murmur of prayers can now be heard in this room, a witness to our anguish. When we pray it is for the forgiveness of our enemies. Save them, Lord for they know not what they do” (Faustino Perez). In the “ultimate offering to the Congregation” the proclamation of pardon is solemn, “August 12, 1936. In Barbastro. Six of our companions are already Martyrs. Soon we hope to be so ourselves. But before this happens we want to make it clear that we die forgiving those who are going to take our life, which we offer for the Christian order of the workers’ world… “. In the “Farewell Letter” this is repeated, “We spent the day encouraging one another for martyrdom and praying for our enemies”. These testimonies reveal that solidarity and reconciliation are the fruits of an overflowing love. Thus it is not strange that those who have been anointed by the Spirit and share in the fullness ot Christ should be so concerned that the blood they shed would not be the blood of vengeance, but would cause new life to spring up and be a sign of pardon and reconciliation.
1.5. The Decisive Role of the Formators
It is clear that this martyr seminary-community is indebted to excellent formation work. Going over the history of the formators they had, one can easily see the influence of these men was decisive for their living faithfully unto the end.
For 30 years the memory of the Martyrs of Mexico was very much alive in the Claretian seminaries. Among them was Fr. Andres Sola, who said to his companions in martyrdom, “If they shoot us, we will shout, ‘Long live Christ the King!” This memory inspired the young Claretians who foresaw an imminent persecution that might affect them.
They had received their love for their Claretian vocation and for the Congregation in the novitiate from a man of God, filled with Claretian enthusiasm, named Ramon Ribera.
During their years of philosophy and theology they had as a professor a man concerned with, and expert in, social themes, Fr. Jaime Giron, also a martyr. He sensitized them to the world of the workers and encouraged them to work to help them.
All the testimonies gathered from those years on formation in the Claretian seminaries of Catalonia present us with a group of formators well prepared in different areas, full of creativity and Claretian enthusiasm (among others Fr. Juan Buxo, Manuel Jove, Clemente Ramos, and Juan Augusti). In 1934 Fr. Claret was beatified. The beatification caused a huge surge of missionary fervor expressed in many different ways.
When they got to Barbastro they had Fr. Juan Diaz as their formator. He was a very cultured man, a teacher, a moralist, and full of prudence. One could say that he prepared them in an immediate way for martyrdom. On the afternoon they were arrested he spoke to the students, “He encouraged us,” says Parussini, “for those circumstances that were so uncertain. He urged us to pray more, to be calm and peaceful. He told us to abandon ourselves to the embrace of Divine Providence, through which God would provide what was best for us.” “And if they put us in prison, it will be a great glory to suffer persecution for justice’ sake, to suffer for God. And if that supreme critical moment comes when they kill us, what joy, brothers, what gloomy and honour to give our lives for Jesus, to die for our ideals…”
Their executioners thought that separating them from their superiors would weaken the resolve of these young men. This just made their fraternal communion stronger; they resolved to stay together. A collective mystique sprang up among them that sealed their unshakable moral decision. They resolved to die standing up, amidst singing and forgiveness, like Claretians in mission and witnesses to the faith (Casaldaliga).
3. THIS COMMUNITY SEMINARY SUMMONS US AND STIMULATES US
“Nothing in life has a greater effect on us than martyrs; because the martyr begins his work only after his death (S. Kierkegaard),
“The happy death is characteristic of a living and complete culture, where ideas have the ability to capture hearts” (Ortega y Gasset, J; 0C, II, 88).
3.1. The Martyrs Teach Us How to Live
The martyrs basically do not teach us how to die, but how to live. But not to live haphazardly, but in a very serious, responsible and radical way, according to the Gospel. Their memory is always both dangerous and opportune. It is dangerous because it provokes a crisis in our style of life and of formation. It is opportune because it rekindles vocational fervour in us and sets our souls on fire to back up the commitments we have undertaken.
How do these Martyrs of Barbastro summon us and stimulate us? They begin by inviting us to celebrate the triumph of Christ in them because “they have conquered by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11). They summon us to renew our life in formation and the stimulate us to be prepared to enable us to give the reason for our hope (cf. 1 Pt. 3:15).
The members of this Community-Seminary reached maturity tested by the sufferings. In the way they surrendered their life and in their words to testimony we discover a message for us today, capable of jarring us out of our complacency and impelling us toward a more prophetic and committed future. Although dead, they still speak (ct. Heb. 11:4). As Christians and as religious we have a common bond with them. We form a single Body with them. Their testimony, like that of the other martyrs of the early Church as well as the contemporary one, strengthens us and stimulates us to pursue making up what is lacking in the passion of Christ on behalf of his Body which is the Church (ct. Col. 1:24). We are called to share their passion for the great values that ruled their lives.
The happy death of the Martyrs of Barbastro, read from a formation perspective, evokes for us a very different culture than the one we are involved in today. Its symbol system is that of the spirit in which affirmation for conversion, freedom for renunciation, faithfulness for sacrifice and meaningfulness for asceticism alone find their basis. The martyrs are not arrayed in splendour by their death, but by their life, by their victorious resurrection. They lead us into the Paschal Mystery, the centre of our Christian life, our religious life, and, for that reason, the essential point of reference for formation.
In this sense the event that we are “remembering” challenges us whatever our role in formation (Superiors, formators, collaborators, etc.).. More directly it challenges the young men
who are being formed. (This is already the testimony gathered from young men who are asking profound questions.) It even challenges us on the very formation process that we are using in our formation communities.
Our decision to follow Jesus in religious life is along the same lines of the willingness of the martyrs who accepted, in their inmost being, death to this world for the sake of being permanently united to Christ and sharing in his Kingdom. Religious profession has appeared historically as a way of expressing voluntary martyrdom; it has been an apt and permanent vow of martyrdom. In the times of the early martyrs. the hermitic and monastic life was followed as a bloodless, prolonged martyrdom, interior and spiritual. St. John Damascene said, “Those who embrace the narrow way of religious life become martyrs by the spiritual orientation they adopt; those who die in bloody persecutions and those who have the angelic life are of one and the same dignity” (PL 48, 194).
When we speak of religious life as the radical following of Christ and of the formation as the process of knowing, loving and serving Christ (conformation to Him), we are implicitly emphasizing this martyrdom dimension of our consecrated life.
The great challenges the Church has is carrying out its evangelizing mission (both “ad gentes” and in the New Evangelization) demand from religious, if they want to continue to be the missionary vanguard, the limitless generosity proper to those who are capable of risking their lives to proclaim the Kingdom (cf. Mt. 8:35). The cause of Jesus, which is the cause of the poor, of the marginated and of the defenceless, needs an unconditional self-giving.
Today, given our culture of relativism, ambiguity and permissiveness, on the one hand, and indifference, pragmatism, and cowardice, on the other, is a propitious moment to emphasize this martyrdom perspective in which formation to religious life (that already carries with it a complete and constant surrender of self and presupposes the disposition to give one’s life on every occasion) has to move.
They lived values of the Martyrs of Barbastro such as love for the Congregation, assimilation of the project af Claretian life, love for the Eucharist, the Church and Màry, responsibility in the face all the challenges of that time and firmness in facing their trials, sacrificial availability, sensitivity and concern for the social problems ot the people, etc., are directions for formation that must be included in any project of formation on either the theoretical or practical level.
3.2 Invitation to Fidelity to “One’s Own” Vocation, in the Sense of Totality and Perpetuity
If we need lo highlight some practical teaching ot the young men of Barbastro it is fidelity for their vocation unto death. Their fidelity not Synonymous with obstinacy, tenacity, resistance; intransigence, or inflexibility. Their fidelity was the result of a gift they welcomed, cherished and were thankful for. It was the logical consequence of their first love, cared for and responded to They loved without reservations and had been broadly trained in renunciation and in freeing of the heart to put nothing ahead of Christ (St. Benedict, Rule, 4.2 1).
They are models in loving “one’s own” vocation in the Claretian Congregation that was for them something more than a mere institution or organizational structure. They thought of her as a Mother and Teacher who had engendered the religious life in them and had taught them to follow Jesus Christ, to serve the Church and to love the poor.
This love that bound them to their vocation and to the Congregation is a great sign of maturity in their assuming what they had learned about their vocation. Once they achieved this, there would be no trace of group narcissism in them when the martyrs expressed their love for the Congregation. For them the Congregation is the missionary community that extends throughout the whole world to proclaim the Gospel. Thus they lived their vocation with an enthusiastic, creative fidelity that opened out onto horizons of universality and solidarity. They offered their lives for the Congregation and anticipated in their holocaust what they wanted lo be a permanent task for the Claretians: a life full of evangelizing spirit and apostolic love, able to cross frontiers and carry the Word of life to all people.
The Martyrs of Barbastro teach us to be faithful to the Spirit who has desired to imitate different forms of life in the Church and have them be open-ended projects for us to carry out on behalf of the Church itself. With their alacrity in the way they confronted death they offer us a serious corrective to daydreaming and easy messianisms. They come to tell us that we cannot give up our intention of following of Jesus for the whims or caprices of the moment. In the moment of their trial, with their martyrdom, the supreme act of love for all that mattered, they remind us of the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “In your struggle against evil you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (12:4).
Today we are accustomed to a complex of things that are affecting the deepest levels of the consecrated life and calling it intoquestion all its very roots. These are things that destroy its proper nature and compromise its interior richness and its witness value. These are things that concern the Church and the Congregations, that dishearten vocation recruiters, and that sap the enthusiasm to those responsible for formation. I am referring to a complex of factors that undermine and destroy fidelity to one’s vocation. I am going to refer to only two:
a) Departures. There continues to be too strong a haemorrhage of vocations. There are many religious men and women who, either during the period of formation or after it, abandon the consecrated life without valid reasons. Examining the causes, we find a lack of true appreciation of the gift of God and of love for vocation. At the base of this is a lack of faith, or interiorization of the values of religious life and the inability to bear up under the difficulties that properly derive from religious life.
b) Mindset. The worship of the provisional has led us to uphold, at least indirectly, the temporary nature of religious consecration and the inability to make life-long commitments. The questioning of what is stable, decisive and perpetual eventually destroys life lived in fidelity. Another no less serious aspect is considering religious vocation to be merely a career. This leads only to a sterile functionalism. Only when my life in community is going well, I am personally fulfilled, and my work is giving me satisfaction, etc., is it worth the effort to follow this vocation. All this is one’s own fault and not the fault of God’s call, His will, or of the project that has been prepared for me.
The Martyrs, who were given the chance to save themselves, offer us their testimony of unshakable fidelity. Their joy in dying for Jesus, the ideal of their lives, is the most eloquent prophetic denunciation of those trends in the contemporary world that sap the torce of religious commitments. Their writings, full of Gospel wisdom, are the irrefutable contradiction of those who devalue or distort the values and demands of religious and missionary life. The members of this Community-Seminary are, before everything else, models of hope for a formation that is more coherent and consistent. They have made it possible for us to believe in what the rest of world finds impossible, inhuman or incomprehensible.
Given our responsibility for formation, we have to make radical proposals to these young men. In the first place, formation, from the very outset, musI be oriented in a way that calls for a generous response to the gift of God. This response demands perpetuity and totality. In the second place, the Congregation, in whose womb the formation process takes place, must bear witness in its life and mission that these values are possible. The proof is the people who are incarnating them joyfully and hopefully. Without this witness, the values are purely theoretical and have no power to be means of formation.
3.3 Invitation to the Trust That the Young Men Who Are
Can Assume the Radical Demands of Religious Life
Is it possible for the young men of today to take on the radical demands that we have been speaking of? Are we not too used to hearing comments on the many limitations of the youth of today that dishearten so many formators?
Each generation is different. The Martyrs of Barbastro belonged to the 1930´s. The congregational, ecclesial and social frames of reference were very different from ours. But, as we have been seeing, they incarnate values that are for all times and are those values for which we remember them.
I think the flrst thing they invite us to do is to have confidence in the young religious who are being formed. One should not try to be a demagogue or apologist for youth. One temptation we have to avoid if we want to be faithful to these young people is manipulating them or raising false hopes in them. It would be, on our part, a disservice to the “memory” of the Martyrs of Barbastro. We have to make sure we have, as the hallmark of everything we do, their contemplativeness with an attitude of listening.
The fact is that most of the Martyrs were between 21 and 25 years old when they were in the process of formation. Young men, it is true, that were called to the missionary life, but, first and foremost, young men who were still “in the process” of reaching personal and religious maturity. Be that as it may, these young men were able to be “at the peak” of their vocation and of the “tragic circumstances” they experienced in their lives. Neither their youth, nor the supposed immaturity of their personality were obstacles or hindrances to their living their supreme ideal of being united to Christ in martyrdom and offering by this the most valuable missionary service of the Congregation.
From another angle, as we have been saying, the gift of God in them was not sterile and the formators they had were excellent collaborators in realizing the plan of God in them. They were always open to the great challenges of the evangelizing mission.
I think we have to welcome the gift of God in the young men God sends us better and help with his work. Without confidence in youth we cannot form them for religious life in an adequate way. This confidence begins by accepting a new way of being and of expressing youth today. It continues by believing in their ability to take on formation projects of quality and ones that demand a lot from them. This implies, on the one hand, a formation climate of freedom and responsibility and, at the same time, discernment and accompaniment that are adequate for the taking on, and realizing of, the project of evangelical life.
These young men are the bearers of life and renewal for the Congregation and for religious life, but this is not merely by virtue of their being young. They are so to the extent that they have their own lived experience of vocational values and the testimony of the lived experience at others in their young sensibility. They are the bearers ot the gift of God for the good of the Church and of our own Institute not so that it descends intobanality or superficiality but “to be an evangelical and evangelizing yeast for the cultures of the third millennium and of the various social orders of people.
The young men have to have confidence in themselves, in their Congregation, and in the call God has given them. The older men have to have confidence that the young men are capable of continuing the evangelical life style and carrying on the apostolic mission begun by our founders that God may be better known, loved and served by all creatures.
I want to end by reading a letter a group of novices wrote some days before the Beatification. Their lines reflect the same sentiments that I have been expressing:
“They”— referring to the Martyrs— are a clear example to all -those who sincerely search for the way of the Lord, but they are so in a special way for all of us novices who have been called by the Lord.
We feel there is a common point that unites us with the martyrs of Barbastro. It is the same youthful fervour that impels us to keep on striving to fulfil the will of God whatever the cost.
We are aware of the social and political situation in Europe and in the entire world, so changed and changeable. In the midst of conflicts and wars they clearly reflect hopes for peace and brotherhood. There is a common path for the human race through cultural and economic interchange. Our nearby Expo-92 in Seville has shown us this.
But what concerns and perplexes us is the question: “How, in this grand interchange, will the presentation of the Gospel of God be realized?” “Will it merely be an insipidly organized montage of platitudes about universal brotherhood without authentic brothers who know they are such under the watchful eye of one common Father?”
We glimpse this challenge on our fledging missionary horizon where we also see a further difficulty. We foresee a new persecution, less bloody than the one of 1936, but no less violent against the unity of the Church. We refer to the changing face of Europe being brought about by the communication medias, the sects, indifference, etc.
We novices, inflamed by the testimony of our Martyrs of Barbastro, want to manifest our desire to live our Novitiate with greater enthusiasm, personal and community surrender, interiorizing, through Prayer and the Word of God, the same Spirit that animated our Martyrs.
Only in the “spirit of our Father and of our Mother” will we fulfil the only objective the Congregation pursues; “the glory of God, the salvation of people” “how to love the Lord in order to spread his Kingdom»”
When young men water down the ideal of religious life, they end up saying it is not worth the effort and leave. I do not think the young men of today are more fragile, more inconsistent, or less generous than those of other times. They are involved, it is true, in a social setting (as members of the Church and as religious) less conducive to personal integration and maturity. The cloud of difficulties confronting them is greater than that confronting other generations that were formed in a calmer and more uniform climate. This makes the process of formation slower. But nothing gives them excuse for watering down the evangelical radicalism
of our religious vocation. When we let down our standards in personal and community prayer, in our living together and our service, in asceticism and study, it is very difficult to guarantee that formation we all eagerly desire in candidates for religious and priestly life.
1. (OR, 249 (October 26-27, 1992) 4-5. The OR of October 25th, in a special edition, contains several pages of history and reflection on this. Regarding the theme that concerns us in this article we highlight the collaborative effort of Bishop Jose Saravia Martins, C.M.F., Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, entitled Il Seminario (cf. OR n 248, (October 25, 1992) Special ed., p III)
3 cf. Ibid.
5. Congregation for Catholic Education and CIVCSVA: “Development of Vocation Ministry in Local Churches.’ Rome (January 6, 1992).
6. CIVCSVA, Instruction “Potissimum,n Institutionis” Rame (February 2, 1990).
7. John Paul 11, Apostolic Exhortation: Pastores Dabo Vobis (January 25, 1992)
8 ORTEGA Y GASSET, J: Obras Completas, Madrid, 1982, II, 88.
9.Garcia, Nicholas: AC 35 (1939), 107.
10 St. Anthony Mary Claret, Autobiography, n. 494.
11 Cf. Hall, P. AC (1937) 77.
12. “ I never refused suffering; rather I loved it and even wanted to die for Jesus’ sake. I did not rashly place myself in danger, but I was glad when my superiors sent me to dangerous places, realizing that I might have the joy of dying for Jesus Christ” (Aut. 465; cf. 466).
13 “…I hope all of you will help me give profuse thanks to God far the unthinkable gift of being able to shed a little of my blood (5 pounds) far love of Him who shed his blood for me, and for being able to seal with my blood the truths of the Holy Gospel and the praises of Mary Most Holy whom I preach with such enthusiasm” (Letter to his Missionaries at Vic (May 30,1856), EC I, 1205). This Letter to his Missionaries has special charismatic value far illustrating that the Holy Founder wanted to share his experience with his brothers, inviting them to follow the same path of fidelity to proclaiming the Gospel.
14. “I have been much slandered and persecuted by all sorts of persons. I have been attacked by journalists and lampooned in pamphlets, parodied books, touched-up photographs, and in many other ways—even by the very demons. At times my nature rebelled a little, but I at once calmed myself in resignation and conformity to God’s will. I considered the example of Jesus and realized how far I was from suffering what He suffered for me, and so I kept calm” (Aut. 798).
15 Aut. 467. “In the final talk of the Exercises of 1852, already being Archbishop of Cuba, he said: “In all you do give God the glory, souls the benefits and us the labors. That these labors may involve death makes no difference. Die rich (Phil. 1:21). The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (Jn. 10:11)” Fernandez, C. El Beato Padre Antonio María Claret, Madrid, 1946, I, p. 383.
16 Here are some of their testimonies. Jesus Agustin Viela writes to his mother “…the most they can do is kill us out of hatred for God and then we will be martyrs; and is there greater glory for a mother than to say that her son died for God and the Immaculate Virgin?” (Solsona, May 4, 1931). A year later he said, “God governs everything; and if he allows us to do Something, we will be richer for being able to suffer something for his love” (Solsona, April 2, 1932). Juan Baixeras wrote to his father, “The goads of persecution instead of turning us against it, will make us pursue the way of Christian perfection all the more and will restore these early times of the Church of the martyrs and saints” (Cervera, March 5, 1936). Ramon Illa wrote to his sister who was a religious, “We do not expect great things, the holy Church will weep like a widow, but she will crown us her sons chosen to be religious with the greater blessing given to these who are persecuted. God may also want us to have the purple of martyrdom. We are not of the world and thus the world cannot persecute us” (Cervera, December 27, 1932). Two years earlier, writing to another religious sister, he said, “This year God lead me to you, not only with love, but also with reverence, to see that he had found you worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus: You cannot imagine the joy with which we would receive martyrdom here. You are more fortunate than we are. We envy you. We reverence you” (Cervera, December 21, 1934).
17 Cf. LG 44. St. John Damascene said, “Those who embrace the narrow way of religious life become martyrs by the spiritual orientation they adopt. These who die in bloody persecutions and those who live the angelic life are of one and the same dignity” (John Damascene, Instructions, IV, 34-35; PL48, 194).
18 Our martyrs manifest great confidence in community prayer and in prayer for one another “that God might give all of them the grace of perseverance”; Quibus, Misioneros Martires, I. Barbastro, 2ª ed., 97.