Chapter III Claretian Martyrs

CHAPTER III: CLARETIAN MARTYRS

 FRANCIS CRUSATS, PROTOMARTYR OF THE CONGREGATION (1868)

The first sparks of the storm flashed in 1864. As early as then Fr. Serrat in Segovia took some precautions thinking of places of refuge and even counting on the not at all unlikely contingency of people’s being assassinated, given the anti-religious character the Revolution seemed to be taking.

In the height of the revolution the Claretian Missionaries of La Selva del Campo heard rumours that they would be beheaded unless they renounced their vocation. Fr. Crusats answered: “Lord, pierce my heart lest I abandon my vocation. Would that I could shed my blood for Christ!” The revolutionaries arrived at the house on 29 September. No one resisted them. Fr. Reixach, in a moment of negligence and taking advantage of the night’s darkness, escaped after knocking down one of the captors. They took revenge with Fr. Crusats. Enraged with fury, they beat him up till he lost consciousness and then shot him twice. But Crusats was still alive. At last they pierced his throat with a dagger and he died on the spot. Fr. Crusats was the Congregation’s first martyr.

When the news reached Fr. Claret, he wrote: “I eagerly wished to be the first martyr of the Congregation; but I was not worthy, another one beat me to it. I congratulate the martyr and saintly Crusats and compliment Fr. Reixach for the privilege of being wounded. I give my congratulations to the entire Congregation too, for the bliss of being persecuted.”

 CLARETIAN MARTYRS IN MEXICO

Since the revolution of Benito Juárez, the Government had been drafting an ever more secularised legislation that proclaimed the separation between church and state, the sale of ecclesiastical properties, the civil marriage, the suppression of ecclesiastical exemptions and the expulsion of religious from the country.

 Mariano González (1914)

In March 1913 there was a revolt against the regime of General Huerta: that of Venustiano Carranza. The Church made a call to peace, an act that Carranza interpreted as support of Huerta. This unleashed the anticlerical wave: persecutions, exiles, assassinations.

The Claretians of Tepic were put in jail together with the bishop. Most of them were able to escape, but Bro. Mariano González remained to take care of the house and church of Toluca. At the beginning, because he was a native Mexican, they let him be, but later on he was imprisoned. Because he refused to reveal the whereabouts of his community brothers, he was shot on 22 August 1914. After the execution he was exposed to the public with a placard that said: “For being a thief of national properties.”

 Andrew Solá (1927)

When Plutarco Elías Calles took over the presidency in 1924 the situation became tense. The Church’s Hierarchy, after consulting with Rome, decided to close the churches and suspend the services throughout the country. The reaction of the people was immediate and the government expelled all bishops, priests and lay people involved.

In this atmosphere the assassination of Fr. Andrew Solá took place. He was working as a priest in hiding. He went about baptising, celebrating marriages and distributing the Eucharist round the houses. He stayed in a private house together with another Jesuit priest who was imprisoned. Some acquaintances of both took interest in the situation of the Jesuit with the intention of bringing food and clothes to him in jail. The police followed them and found the whereabouts of Fr. Solá. They accused him and a young man of raiding a train and condemned both to death. On the way to execution, Fr. Solá harangued his companions, encouraging them to suffer for Christ. He gave his watch to one of those who were executing him and forgave them all. He crossed his arms before his breast and, before he received the shots, he shouted: “Long live Christ the King!” He did not die on the spot, but his executioners left him lying on the floor until he bled to death. He had time to give instructions to those present and a message for his mother.

Fr. Solá’s cause of beatification is the most advanced of those instituted in the Congregation. Fr. Sola is beatified in Mexico along with two of his companions..

CLARETIAN MARTYRS IN SPAIN (1936)

What happened in the Spain of 1936 that almost 7,000 persons including bishops, priests, religious men and women were assassinated in the republican zone merely for being so?

Ever since the French revolution, the church and the modern world have followed parallel ways in Spain as well as in the whole of Europe. Some times one prevailed, at other times the other. During the Bourbon Restoration (1875-1931) the Church recovered its previously lost privileges and maintained an intransigent and belligerent attitude in front of anything that sounded liberal. When the throne fell and the Republic was established, the confrontation between the two ways of understanding Spain came to the fore. For the radical republicans and the leftist groups, the dominant role of the Church in the Spanish life was the fundamental cause of its social, political and economic backwardness. For the Catholics, Spain could only be understood from the standpoint of the nation’s Catholic unity.

The Constitution of 1931 declared the lay State. Religion was under suspicion. Among so many problems that were posed to the II Republic, the religious question gave the impression of being the key for everything. The bishops’ reaction to the measures taken against the Church was immediate and the Catholics decided the rightist victory of Gil Robles in the 1933 elections. But dialogue and tolerance were lacking again.

At last on 18 July 1936 the national revolt took place. The initial indecision of the Government of Madrid caused Spain to be divided in two. The resolution of putting guns in the hands of the people fostered the uncontrolled, indiscriminate and bloody repression starting from 19 July. From that moment on, the persecution of the Church in the republican zone was cruel and bloody such as few have ever been there. The sum total of Church persons killed was 6,832. Only in the diocese of Barbastro, 90% of its clergy were assassinated. Fire devoured thousands of churches and public worship disappeared. It is true that the awareness of the Spanish Church with regards to social justice was scarce; but it is evident that the contacts with the bourgeois oligarchy was a mere excuse in the case of religious like the Claretians of Barbastro. All of them were as poor, or even poorer, than those who shot them. Neither was hatred due to complicity with the coup. Present studies demonstrate that the Church’s hierarchy did not participate in the coup. In fact, a good portion of the revolted soldiers did not precisely shine for their piety or church sympathy.

Then, why the religious persecution during the civil war? The answer “is still in the wind.”

 Blessed Philip of Jesus Munárriz and 50 Companions, Martyrs of Barbastro

Everything started with the revolt of 17 July 1936. In the city of Barbastro (Huesca) life went on in a serene tension. 59 Claretian missionaries, most of them young students, trusted in the words of Col. Villalba: “The troops are in the barracks. At a moment’s notice they will respond.” On the 20th, Monday, at 5:30 p.m., they came to search the house. All the members of the community were sent to jail amidst insults and threats. The jail was full to bursting. In the same square there was the school of the Piarist Fathers, with a relatively large hall. That would be the prison for the Claretians. They still could hear words of hope from the Piarists, but soon the scenery began to get gloomy. The few mattresses were taken away, they could not change and they had to wash their handkerchiefs with their drinking water. Only three times could they shave in three and a half weeks. All together they were 49 persons in a hall 25 metres long by 6 metres wide. That month of August was especially hot.

Two Argentinean students who were liberated a few days ahead of the shootings have conveyed to us the moments of moral suffering to which they were submitted. One of them, Parussini, wrote: “One day they told us that the supper would be our last meal. Once I heard the happy news, I looked for a peace of paper and I wrote a few farewell lines….” More than four times they received the general absolution believing that death was imminent. The long prison days provided time for many things, including anecdotal memories and humour. They were always full of peace, calmness and joy. One of the Argentinean students declared: “They constantly repeated to us: We do not hate your persons. We hate your profession, your black habits, your cassock.” The cause for imprisonment and execution was clear.

On Monday, August 10, although they did not know it, the last week of their life began. Eight days earlier, they had already shot Fr. Superior and the two consultors together with other priests and lay persons from the city. They had also shot the Bishop of Barbastro, Msgr. Asensio Barroso. On August 11 they received the visit of a representative of the committee. The accusations of possessing weapons and planning conspiracies could not hold water in the face of the young religious’ innocence. They were forbidden to speak in a loud voice and to group themselves more than two at a time. The Rector of the Piarists brought some books to them, but there was no more time to read: only to prepare for death.

The 12th of August would be an unforgettable day for our young men. It was 7 o’clock in the morning. Someone from the committee burst into the hall asking for the names. The black list was already made. One of the two Argentinean students wrote later: “All confessed for the last time and spent the day in prayer… All were happy to suffer something for the sake of God. All forgave their executioners and promised to pray for them in heaven.” Reading their writings gives one the shivers. They wrote in music books, on the piano stool, on chocolate wrappers: “With my heart full of holy joy, I trustfully await the greatest moment of my life: martyrdom.” “They have found no political cause. They have made not a single trial. Happily we all die for Christ, for his Church and for the faith of Spain.” “Dear parents, I die a martyr for Christ and for the Church. I die at peace fulfilling my sacred duty. Good bye, I’ll see you in heaven.” That day they took away the six eldest.

On a chocolate wrap the last words of the whole group to Mother Congregation are kept for posterity. They are headed by a crucial name: Faustino Pérez, student. The farewell reads:

“August 12, 1936, in Barbastro. Six of our companions are already martyrs: Soon we hope to be, too. But before this happens, we want to make it clear that we die forgiving those who are taking away our life and offering it for the Christian ordering of the working world, for the definitive reign of the Catholic Church, for our beloved Congregation and for our beloved families.

THIS IS THE FINAL OFFERING TO THE CONGREGATION, FROM HER MARTYR CHILDREN!”

(Forty signatures follow, preceded by cheers to Christ and to the Heart of Mary). And it ended: “Live immortal, beloved Congregation. As long as you have children in the dungeons such as those you have here in Barbastro, have no doubt that your fate is eternal. Would that I had fought in your ranks: Blessed be God!”

The night from the 12th to the 13th was going to be the last for some of them. All had confessed and prayed. The foreign students had heard their last confidences and had wiped away the last tears. All had lain down to rest. Two hours had not yet passed when, at midnight, the doors were opened and two militiamen entered with ropes already stained with blood. “Attention, all those who are over 26, come down from the stage,” No one moved, as there was no one that age. Nor 25, either. Then they put on the lights and read the first twenty names. After each name, a firm voice: “Present!” and they descended from the stage. They formed a single file along the wall, while their hands were bound at their backs, and their elbows two by two. “All were composed and at peace: their faces had something that seemed supernatural, impossible to describe. In all of them could be seen the same courage, the same enthusiasm; no one fainted or gave signs of cowardice.” Those who remained on the stage looked upon the scene with astonishment. They heard some forgive those who were binding them; others were seen taking the ropes from the floor, kissing them and giving them to those who were binding them. Some one shouted: “Farewell, brothers, we’ll see you in heaven!” One of the guards commented addressing those who remained on the stage: “You still have one whole day to eat, laugh, enjoy, dance, and do whatever you please. Tomorrow at this same time we shall come looking for you, as we have done with these, and we will bring you for a walk in the cool air up to the cemetery. Now you may turn the lights off and go to sleep.” The shots were heard by those who remained in the hall.

At last, at 5:30 in the afternoon, they freed the two Argentinean students Hall and Parussini who, with tears in their eyes, said good bye to those who a short time later would die martyrs. Now we have to mention one name: Faustino Perez. Heroism was evident in him with more forceful signs. Among other things, it was he who wrote the farewell dedicated to the Congregation, a farewell one cannot read without feeling a deep shiver of emotion: “Beloved Congregation. The day before yesterday, the 11th, six of our brothers died with a generosity befitting martyrs. Today, the 13th, twenty more have won the palm of victory, and tomorrow, the 14th, the remaining twenty-one of us expect to die. Glory to God! Glory to God! And how nobly and heroically your sons have borne themselves, beloved Congregation! We are spending the day encouraging one another and praying for our enemies and for our beloved Institute. When the moment comes to designate the next victims, we all feel a holy serenity and an eagerness to hear our names called, so that we can join the ranks of the chosen. We have been looking forward to this moment with generous impatience. When it came to those already chosen, we have seen some of them kiss the ropes that bound them, while others spoke words of pardon to –the armed mob. As they drove off in the van towards the cemetery, we could hear them shouting, ‘Long live Christ the King!’ while the angry mob answered, ‘Death to him! Death to him!’ –but nothing daunted them. They are your sons, beloved Congregation, these young men, surrounded by pistols and rifles, yet they have the calm courage and 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 passwords 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 bear the memory of you even into those deep regions of suffering and death.

We all die happy, with no regrets 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 spur your growth and expansion throughout the world. Farewell, beloved Congregation. Your sons, the martyrs of Barbastro, greet you from prison and offer you our sufferings and anguish as a holocaust of expiation for 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 are 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 do I, the last and least worthy of their number, Faustino Pérez, CMF. Long life Christ the King! Long live the Heart of Mary! Long live the Congregation! Farewell, beloved Institute. We are going to heaven to pray for you. Farewell, farewell!”

In spite of all threats, the entire 13th and the 14th went by with no incidents. When they were sleeping on the night from the 14th to the 15th of August, a group burst into the hall. All rose as one man. Bro. Raymond, the community cook, was excluded. They embraced each other while they were being bound and beaten. It was night when the 17 young men left the hall-jail. They were singing as they boarded the van. One fell on the van itself, for the blows with the rifle. Positioned by a steep slope, some standing, others kneeling, some with their arms in cross, others with the rosary or a crucifix in their hands, heard the last proposition: “You are still on time. What do you prefer: to go free to the battlefront or to die? Muffled by the gunshots, the answers were heard: TO DIE! LONG LIVE CHRIST THE KING!” There was almost absolute quiet. From the shrine of El Pueyo the blessed Virgin, on her feast day, with infinite tenderness opened her arms and received them in her HEART.

Some simple monuments occupy now the exact places of their martyrdom. Their remains rest in the church of Barbastro, in their new mausoleum. 51 in all. The story of these young men has gone round the world. Their Congregation has taken care of their memory like a treasure. Today finally we can all recognise publicly their holiness. They are “Beati,” Blessed. Their feast day is celebrated on August 13.

These were the Pope’s words during the ceremony of their beatification on 25 October 1992: “It is a whole seminary that generously and courageously face their offering of martyrdom to the Lord… All the testimonies received allow us to assert that these Claretians died because they were Christ’s disciples, because they would not deny their faith or religious vows. Therefore, with the blood they shed they inspire us all to live and die for the word of God we have been called to proclaim. The martyrs of Barbastro, following their founder, St. Anthony Mary Claret, who had also suffered an attempt against his life, experienced the same desire to shed their blood for love of Jesus and Mary, expressed in this frequently sung exclamation: ‘For you, my Queen, to give my blood.’ The same saint drew up a plan of life for his religious: ‘A son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man on fire with love, 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’.”

These are their names: Philip of Jesus Munárriz, Joseph Amorós, Joseph Badía, John Baixeras, Xavier L. Bandrés, Joseph Blasco, Joseph Brengaret, Raphael Briega, Manuel Buil, Antolín Calvo, Sebastian Calvo, Thomas Capdevila, Stephen Casadeval, Francis Castán, Wenceslao Claris, Eusebio Codina, John Codinach, Peter Cunill, Gregory Chirivas, Antony Dalmau, John Díaz, John Echarri, Louis Escalé, Joseph Falgarona, Joseph Figuero, Peter García, Raymond Illa, Louis Lladó, Hilary Llorente, Manuel Martínez, Louis Masferrer, Michael Masip, Alphonse Miquel, Raymond Novich, Joseph Ormo, Secundino Ortega, Joseph Pavón, Faustino Pérez, Leoncio Pérez, Salvador Pigem, Sebastian Riera, Edward Ripoll, Joseph Ros, Francis Roura, Theodore Ruiz de Larrinaga, John Sánchez, Nicasio Sierra, Alphonse Sorribes, Manuel Torras, Atanasio Viadaurreta and Agustín Viela.

James Girón and 59 Companions, Martyrs of Cervera

On July 21, 1936 the community was composed of 117 missionaries, 51 of them students. At 4:00 in the afternoon the mayor phoned the Superior and ordered him to evacuate the University within one hour. In a few moments the community was transformed. After changing their habit and taking with them only what was indispensable, soon they were all in the buses on their way to Solsona or the boundary. In midway they stopped in the square of Torá. They could not enter Solsona. Soon people began threateningly to surround the buses. They retraced their steps and they reached the Mercedarian convent of San Ramón, in La Manresana. Two days later they obtained their safe-conduct and the individuals were distributed. Before being separated, several students renewed their vows in an atmosphere of deep emotion. By mid-afternoon the five groups were scattered. The most numerous one went to Mas Claret.

Fr. Jové and 14 young men were discovered after two days’ walk. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. The search was thorough and done amid insults and ill treatment. One of the militiamen snatched a crucifix from Fr. Jove’s chest, threw it to the ground and wanted to force him to step on it. “I’ll rather die,” was his answer. Toward eight in the morning, bound two by two, they were loaded in a van to be brought to Lérida, but midway they turned round. Before they were shot, they were asked, one by one: “Do you also want to die for God?” “Yes, also,” they answered one by one. It was two in the afternoon.

Another group stayed in the hospital. On September 2 they were asked to leave the hospital. On the 26th they killed the chaplain. On October 17, at 11:30 in the evening, some militiamen appeared to take them out of the hospital, allegedly to bring them to a sanatorium. They knew they were going to their death. In effect, the van went directly to the cemetery where the shots were heard at first hour in the morning of the 18th. Eleven more martyrs were born to life.

There were too many people in Mas Claret in the month of July. Time went by amidst anxieties, shocks and threats. On the 19th of October, they gathered the community to take a picture. Once there, some armed men entered and invited them to go out. On the way, the priests were giving the absolution. They received the rifle shots kneeling down. Their bodies were burned and for many hours they were seen burning until they were consumed in the blaze of martyrdom.

One of the martyrs of Cervera was Bro. Fernando Saperas, called “martyr of chastity.” His biographical sketch appears in another chapter.

Joseph Maria Ruiz Cano, Martyr of Sigüenza

On the night of July 25, 1936, before they abandoned the seminary to disperse, the priests, brothers and postulants gathered in the seminary chapel of Sigüenza. Fr. Joseph Maria Ruiz, prefect of the postulants, eagerly exhorted the young men to trust in divine providence and in the protection of Mary. At the end of the talk, in a burst of fervour, he knelt down saying: “Lord, if you want a victim, here I am. Choose me. But do not let anything to happen to these innocent ones who have done evil to no one.” Then they dispersed. Fr. Ruiz took the larger group of about 35 with himself to Guijosa. Later they divided themselves. On the 26th the group of Fr. Ruiz was discovered. On the following day they seized him, brought him to hill Otero de Sigüenza and shot him there. His cause of beatification is only waiting for the date to be decided upon.

 Jesus A. Gómez, Thomas Cordero and 13 Companions,

Martyrs of Fernán Caballero (Ciudad Real)

On 23 July 1936 the people’s militias took possession of the Claretian seminary of Ciudad Real and at dawn of the 24th they all had to abandon the convent of the Carmelite Sisters where they had taken refuge. They had not yet finished eating that same day when one of the Fathers spoke with the Governor, but he couldn’t get anything of it. A few hours later, a Government delegate appeared ordering them all to remain in the house as prisoners. Four days did they remain there as such. Finally they obtained their safe-conduct to leave Ciudad Real and go to Madrid where they could be better controlled. When they reached the station, a great uproar rose up. Shouts were heard: “They are priests, don’t let them board the train, kill them….” The train departed, but when they reached the station of Fernán Caballero, two militiamen gave the order to stop the engines. The 14 students got off the train, they were placed in a row and some 37 shots were heard. Their cause of beatification is only waiting for the date to be decided upon.

 Joachim Gelada and 2 Companions, Martyrs of Santander

On July 20, 1936, a formal order was received to evacuate the seminary of Castro Urdiales. Fathers Carrascal and Gelada went to the asylum of the Heart of Jesus. Meanwhile, the seminary was transformed into military quarters, although the Popular Front agreed to let them use part of the building. Bro. Barrio lived there until July 18 when he joined the other two in the Asylum. On October 13, at 11 in the morning, a group of militiamen surrounded the property demanding the immediate surrender of the three missionaries. After an attempt to escape, they were taken prisoners and brought to the convent of Saint Clare, made into a prison. They took them out from there that same night and brought them on the way to Santander, amid insults and blows that the missionaries received with the resignation of martyrs. Soon they stopped and made them get out of the car. At the early hours of October 14 the three corpses were found in Torrelavega and buried as unknown.

 Frederick Codina and 10 Companions, Martyrs of Lérida

In the morning of July 21, the entire community was at home, except Bro. Grau. Very early the Masses began behind closed doors. Fr. Superior had to suspend the 8 o’clock Mass in view of the threat to set fire to the building. Quickly he ordered all to remove their habits and to disperse. Bro. John Garriga was caught a few steps away from home and Bro. Bergua could not even get out and was able to hide, which saved his life. They were soon discovered and taken in two groups to be assassinated, some on 25 July and the others on 20 August. Fr. Frederick Codina was interrogated apart, then led to jail on foot, but after a short distance the squad of militiamen that led him separated themselves and a discharge resounded. Fr. Codina fell dead, increasing the number of Claretian martyrs.

Marcelino Alonso and 3 Companions, Martyrs of Valencia

When the revolution broke out in July 1936, in the old kingdom of Valencia only the house of San Vicente, established in the capital of the diocese, remained. On 23 March 1936 the mobs had assaulted and burned the house of Requena. On April 10 the members of the community of Jativa had to abandon their house too. A little later, in the beginning of May, the house of Grao was closed down. For this reason, most of them were gathered in the community of Valencia. On July 27 Fr. Francés, in view of the threats and the burning of churches, fled toward the town of Serra together with Bro. Vélez. Soon he remained alone in that town, where on July 20 he was taken prisoner and confined in the Carthusian monastery of Porta Coeli. On the 21st he was assassinated in Olocau. Frs. Alonso, Gordón and Galipienzo, after many tribulations, were made prisoners in the flat of San Vicente and brought to court from which they emerged convinced that they would be would be killed. They confessed each other and dedicated themselves to prayer. At midnight they were ordered to get out. Some armed men were waiting for them with a car. Three kilometres from Valencia, away from the road, they got off. Fr. Gordon told them: “We wholeheartedly forgive you.” They received the discharge with prayers in their lips. The bullets did not hit Fr. Galipienzo who was able to escape in the night, but a few days later he was apprehended and killed.

 Joseph Arner and 14 Companions, Martyrs of Vic

On July 21, 1936, at three in the afternoon, the burning of religious buildings began. Frs. Joseph Arner and Casto Navarro were shot in the night of August 7 to 8. Frs. Joseph Puigdessens and Julio Aramendía were taken prisoners in the house of the former’s sister, brought to the City Hall and from there directly to the place of sacrifice, along the road to Manlleu, where they were shot and finished off. Frs. Codinach, Codina and Casals took refuge in the house of the martyr Mr. Franch, in Mas Vivet. On October 8 some militiamen arrived and, seeing the defence of the family, they waited for other comrades from Vic and then they seized them and brought them to Vic. In the night of the 9th of October they were shot in the township of Malla. Bro. Isidro Costa was taken prisoner in the so-called “Valle del Hambre” (Vale of Hunger) because of some labourers who cautioned the Committee of Cervera. He was questioned, condemned to death and immediately executed being shot in the same place of his brothers of Cervera, uttering words of forgiveness for his executioners. Bro. Michael Facerías took refuge in a country house where he was taken prisoner on March 1, 1937. While they were conducting him to Vic, they assassinated him beside the bridge of the Lobo; first they shot him and then flung him down.

On the 20th of July the community of Sallent was dispersed after a laconic warning: “Get out!” Successively they apprehended Frs. John Mercer and James Payás and Bros. Mariano Binefa and Marcelino Mur. At four in the morning of the following day, feast of St. James the Apostle, they shot the four of them in the heart, in front of the cemetery. Fr. Payás left a precious written document about his dispositions, entitled “My last will.” Fr. Joseph Capdevila, superior, fled to his house near Vic and later went to a country house where he was discovered on September 24. They arrested him and threw him in jail in Vic and the following day they shot him along the road to Manlleu. Fr. John Blanch was assassinated on the 31st of August in the territory of San Pedro del Arquells, between Cervera and Mas Claret.

 Cándido Casals and 7 Companions, Martyrs of Barcelona (Gracia-Ripoll)

On July 19, 1936 the members of the community began to be upset because of the news of the burning of churches. At 3:30 in the afternoon bullets began to rain on the house. Fr. Superior ordered them to put on lay suits and disperse. Fr. Cándido Casals was arrested on 27 July. With blows of rifle butts they forced him into a van and he disappeared. The student Adolph Esteban was assassinated on 31 July, behind the St. Paul Hospital. Fr. Thomas Planas, who was staying in a flat with his brother, absolutely refused to deny his condition of priest in his declarations. Fr. Anton Junyent towards the 18th of August he left the house of his sister to look for a way to flee to Argentina where he had been assigned. His body was found in Pedralbes. Fr. Jacinto Blanch was arrested in the residence of Eugene Bofill; what they did to him is not known. Bro. John Capdevila went to lodge in the offices of Coculsa. On July 25 a car full of militiamen arrived at the house, they took him and assassinated him. Fr. Cyril Montaner, after some impressive moments in the house and in the police station, on July 20 he went to a house to lodge there. There he lived those fateful days full of fervour, offering himself to the Lord as a martyr. On November 25 he was taken prisoner and brought to the jail of San Elías from where he left a short time later to receive his martyrdom by the cemetery of Moncada. Fr. Gumersindo Valtierra, superior of the house of Ripoll, when the community dispersed on July 20, took shelter, together with Fr. Blanch, in the house of Mr. Bofill. On the 26th he went away with the intention of going to Sarrió, but he was arrested when he was leaving. Put in a van of militiamen, they brought him out at the alleyway of Julio Antonio, where he was assassinated.

 Matthew Casals and 7 Companions, Martyrs of Barcelona (Sabadell)

At dusk of July 19, 1936, the Missionaries of the community went out of the house and lodged at private houses of the town, where they stayed for several days. Early morning of July 25, some militiamen apprehended Fr. Joseph Reixach and shot him in the middle of the street. Father fell seriously wounded. He was taken to the clinic and died there on the afternoon of that same day, offering all his sufferings to Jesus and Mary. During the following days Frs. Matthew Casals, superior, Joseph Puig and Bros. Joseph Clavería, Joseph Cardona, John Rafí and Joseph Solé Maimó, the last one from the community of Cervera, were taken by surprise in the houses where they were hiding. Once in jail, the situation of the prisoners became worse about the beginning of September. About these days, the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) took over the jail, tortured our missionaries forcing into their mouths a mission crucifix and finally assassinating them on September 5 in diverse places. Fr. Casals, together with some lay people, was killed in San Quirico, shouting “Long live Christ the King!” moments before being shot. Later on, in autumn of 1936, Fr. John Torrents was arrested in Barcelona, imprisoned in San Elías and assassinated in one of the feigned transfers of prisoners from San Elías to the Model prison.

 Frederick Vila and 6 Companions, Martyrs of Tarragona

In Tarragona the burning of religious buildings started on 21 July. The community dispersed. The situation lasted only a few days. Soon some members of the scattered community were apprehended in a vessel, to wit: Fr. Frederick Vila and Bro. Antony Vilamassana. On August 25 Bro. Vilamassana was taken out of the vessel and shot in Valls. Fr. Vila was shot on November 30 along the road to Torredembarra, together with other priests and lay people, for praying the rosary before the corpse of a prisoner in the vessel where they were prisoners. Fr. James Mir was assassinated on July 29. On the way through Mollerusa, Bro. Antony Capdevila was assassinated in Vimbodí on July 23. Bros. Castellá and Andrew Feliú, natives of La Selva del Campo, lodged in their respective houses, from which the Committee of Reus brought them out on October 26, 1936 and assassinated them in that township. Bro. Sebastian Balsells was shot in a similar way.

 Other 87 Claretian Martyrs

All in all there are 51 Blessed and 132 Servants of God with their cause of beatification introduced. But there are still 87 other Claretians killed during the civil war in other places of Spain, like Don Benito, Jaén, Madrid, Úbeda, San Vicente de la Barquera, etc. The sum total was 270. In the national zone Fr. Joseph Otano, a Basque nationalist, was also assassinated. Ours was the Congregation with the largest number of martyrs during the civil war. We are not interested at all in emphasising at any moment the attitude of those who put an end to their lives. We only wanted to bring to light the wealth of a Church and a Congregation capable of forming heroes such as these, whose oblivion would be a historical omission.

 MODESTO ARNAUS, MARTYR IN CHOCÓ, COLOMBIA (1947)

The 15th of March, 1947 was the eve of the elections in Chocó, a region of the Northern Colombian forest. The Claretian missionaries had assumed, among other responsibilities, that of defending the Indians against economic and political exploitation.

Fr. Modesto Arnaus had observed the movement of the chiefs who were buying the Indians’ votes and cheated them because the majority was illiterate. On March 15, Fr. Arnaus saw that one of the chiefs returned from gathering Indians to vote. He was bringing with him 40 so they could cast their vote. The missionary, making use of his title of protector of the Indians as a representative of the central government, reached the river and ordered the Indians to get down to the ground. Joseph Acosta, which was the chief’s name, upbraided him: “And why do you interfere with politics?” Father answered: “Sir, I am not dealing with you but with the Indians who are under my protection.” This said, he made a half turn to go back to the boarding school of which he was the director. A shot was heard and Fr. Arnaus fell to the ground without even a sigh. His last words and his last missionary action had attested to a whole life of self-offering to the cause of the poor.

 RHOEL GALLARDO, MARTYR IN BASILAN, PHILIPPINES (2000)

The young Filipino Claretian Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, with hardly six years of priesthood, was assassinated on May 3, 2000 after suffering a true Calvary. He was tortured by his captors who plucked out the nails from his hands and feet. His body was found with three bullets in his back. The Moslem fundamentalists of the Abu Sayyaf group assailed the Claret School of Tumahubong, in Basilan island, Southern Philippines, on March 20, 2000, taking as hostages Fr. Rhoel, four teachers and 22 students. After long negotiations between the rebels on one side and the bishop, Fr. Provincial of the Claretians and a Moslem Ulema on the other, they could not come to an agreement: their demands were totally unacceptable.

The Philippine army was forced to attack the rebel camp in the forest in order to rescue the hostages. They found the body of Fr. Rhoel with several bullet wounds and signs of the tortures they had inflicted on him. They also killed three teachers and five children.

In spite of the kidnapping of Fr. Blanco in 1993 and the burning of the Claret School of Tumahubong, as well as many other attempts of the Moslem extremists with bombs against the faithful in Catholic churches, the Claretians still decided to continue their task, knowing that this was a high risk zone.

 BASIC BIBLIOGRAPHY

CRUSATS, F.:

Cabré, A.: “Siervo de Dios Francisco Crusats, protomártir claretiano” [Servant of God Francis Crusats, First Claretian Martyr], 1982.

MARTYRS OF MEXICO:

Cepeda, F.A.: “Biografía del joven Mariano González” [Biography of the Young Man, Mariano González], 1915.

Monasterio F.: “Los Mártires de San Joaquín. Vida del Siervo de Dios Andrés Solá” [The Martyrs of San Joaquín. Life of the Servant of God Andrew Solá], 1980.

 MARTYIRS OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR

Abad, F.: “El B. Leoncio Pérez Ramos” [Blessed Leoncio Pérez Ramos], 1993.

Barea, E.: “Un héroe entre héroes” [A Hero among Heroes], (Blessed Faustino Pérez), 1995.

Campo, G.: “Esta es nuestra sangre (51 mártires de Barbastro)” [This is Our Blood (51 Martyrs of Barbastro)], 1990.

Codinachs, P.: “El holocausto claretiano de Barbastro (1930-1936)”, Badalona 1997.

López, J.: “Sangre en la vía” (Fernán Caballero) [Blood on the railway], 1962.

Mesa, C.E.: “Jesús Aníbal, testigo de sangre” [Jesus Aníbal, blood witness], Madrid 1964.

Pujadas, T.L.: “Holocausto en primavera” [Holocaust in Spring], 1987.

Quibus, J.: “Misioneros mártires” (Cataluña) [Martyr Missionaries – Catalonia], 1949.

Pastor, J: “Siempre comprometidos” [Always Committed], 1972.

Riol, E.: “El P. José Mª Ruiz, mártir en Sigüenza” [Fr. Joseph M. Ruiz, Martyr in Sigüenza], 1939.

Rivas, D.: “Bética Mártir”, 1948.

Torres, I.: “Mártires claretianos en Santander” [Claretian Martyrs in Santander], 1954.

Vilar, M.: “Fiel a la palabra” (Fernando Saperas) [Faithful to His Word], 1987.

 MODESTO ARNAUS:

Canals, A. de Mª.: “Perfiles de martirio” [Martyrdom Profiles], 1947.

Fr. Rhoel Gallardo: The Cross Still Stand in Basilan

Palacios, J.N.: Claretian Vocation Directory, 1999.