-Jose Felix Valderrabano cmf
Many innocent people died during the Spanish Civil War. The army or death squads killed honest people just because they were on the left. And in the Red zone, many Catholics, Bishops, Priests and Religious and Lay people were executed for their faith. Those who died for their beliefs, on one side or the other, deserve the respect of everyone.
Not all the Christians died for the faith; many were killed for various reasons that have nothing to do with it. And we cannot attest to the manner of death of all those who died for the faith, like the Martyrs. This is important since the Church beatifies only those who can be ascertained as having died for the faith, forgiving their executioners as Jesus did.
WHO ARE THEY?
They are 51 Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretians) killed in hatred of the faith in August 1936.
The all belonged to the Community of Barbastro. It was a large community, composed of 60 persons, dedicated to the formation of the missionaries; it was a Seminary of the Congregation.
Nine were priests who had charges of responsibility in the house and in the Seminary. Two had received priestly ordination a little more than two months earlier.
Of the 12 Brothers of the community, only 5 received the palm of martyrdom, because they did not kill the elderly nor those that were very sick.
The rest of the community (39) were seminarians who were in the last years of theology. One was a subdeacon and 11 had received minor Orders. Two Argentinians were saved from death: they were freed at the last minute because they were foreigners.
It is good to highlight the youth of the great majority of these martyrs, since it was a Seminary Community. Only 9 of these martyrs were over 25 years old; 36 of them had not reached that age, and three were only 21 years old.
WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?
There were 25 from Cataluña, 9 from Navarro, 6 from Castilla-Léon, 5 from Aragon, and 3 from Valencia. There was one each from Cartegena, Asturias and La Rioja.
Those martyrs were from 16 Spanish dioceses: Asturias (1), Barbastro (1), Burgos (before they were from Osma-Soria or Segovia) (6), Cartagena-Murcia (1), Gerona (8), Huesca (1), Lérida (4), La Calzada-Logroño (1), Pamplona-Tudela (9), Sao de Urgel (3), Solsona (2), Tarazona (1), Tarragona (3), Valencia (3), Vio (6) and Zaragoza (1).
Their families were of humble social condition; the majority of them were farmers.
WHY ARE THEY MARTYRS?
On July 20, two days after General Franco’s uprising, a group of militia raided the house of the missionaries looking for hidden arms. The immediate reason for this search could be maneuvers in the Plaza de Toros by the seminarians who were of the age for military service, to shorten their term in the army. But there was above all the calumnies that were circulating, not only in the city, but also throughout the country, about the hypocrisy of the clerics and the danger they posed. The cloistered convents of Barbastro were also searched.
Although they did not find what they were looking, in spite of a minute search, they nevertheless arrested all the missionaries. They separated the three superiors from the rest of the community and took them to prison. The rest of the community was brought to the assembly hall of the college of the Piarists.
In our Martyrs there were no political motives or reasons that justified their death. The soldiers confessed publicly and expressed before those martyrs the reason for their hatred and their condemnation: they were religious and had to die. “We do not hate you personally; what we hate is your profession”.
The Claretian martyrs of Barbastro, in various written testimonies, expressed their awareness that they were going to die because of hatred of religion, and that they would be “martyrs”:
“I will be shot because I am a religious and a member of the clergy, or for following the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. R. Illa “
“They are killing us through hatred of religion. Domine, dimitte illis. In the house, we did not put up any resistance. Our conduct in prison is irreproachable. Long live the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They are shooting us solely because we are religious. Do not weep for me. I am a martyr of Jesus Christ. Salvador Pigem”.
“Without any political motive or any form of judgment, we will all die happy for Christ and his Church, and for the faith of Spain. For the martyrs, Manuel Martinez, CMF”.
“I die innocent; I do not belong to any political party; it is forbidden by our Constitutions; we accept every legitimate power. José Brengaret, CMF”.
“Six of our companions are already martyrs; we also hope to be soon” wrote the survivors in the “last offering to the Congregation”
As it emerges from the writings of the martyrs, their behavior in prison was always exemplary.
“They died because they were disciples of Christ, because they did not renounce their faith and their religious vows. It is difficult to imagine a death more anticipated, better accepted, offered in union with Christ sacrificed for the salvation of the world. Their fraternal life in the hall of the Piarists, their prayers, their hymns, their expressions of hope and forgiveness made us re-live the Acts of the first martyrs, the seeds and deepest roots of our Christianity” (Msgr. Fernando Sebastian, CMF, Archbishop of Pamplona).
Having been separated from their superiors, they remained firm until the end. They must have thought that it would be very easy make the young fall.
They were subjected to all kinds of trials:
1) The soldiers offered freedom to one or other of the martyrs, after having contacted their families or simply through compassion. As a group they were asked to join the army No one accepted such offers; the first through solidarity with their companions. They all knew that to accept would be in contradiction with their profession and against their faith and vocation.
2) In the middle of summer, they were given a limited amount of water; very little to drink and none for their personal cleanliness.
3) On various occasions they were subjected to mock executions. Placed in front of a firing squad, they heard the order to fire. Behind the walls that gave on the street, the people vilified, insulted and threatened them.
4) To tempt them, they introduced prostitutes into the room where they were held. The soldiers threatened them with immediate shooting if they refused them. But they prayed to be able to deal with the situation. With prudence, with personal and community discipline, and if they were really pressed, with the decision to cry out Long live Christ the King, which greatly exasperated their guards.
5) Finally, they were shot in different groups. The three superiors were killed on August 2nd. The six oldest of the group held in the hall of the Piarists received the palm of martyrdom on August 12, twenty on the 13th and another twenty on the 15th, lastly, the two that were in the hospital because they were sick, on the 18th.
ATTITUDES BEFORE MARTYRDOM
1. We note also in the written testimony of the martyrs that they died for Jesus and the Church, and like the Lord, forgiving those who were taking their lives:
“If we speak it is to encourage each other to die as martyrs; if we pray it is to forgive. Forgive them, Lord, they do not know what they are doing”. Seminarian Faustino Perez.
“As Jesus Christ on the cross died forgiving his enemies, so will I die a martyr forgiving them with all my heart and promising to pray particularly for them and for their families. Good-bye. Tomas Capdevila, CMF”.
The “Domine, dimitte illis”, is expressed and signed by many of them in their writings.
2. They died happy because they knew that martyrdom is a privilege of which they did not feel worthy, and which is pleasing to the Lord. They went to the firing squad singing religious hymns and proclaiming praises to Christ the King and the Heart of Mary.
“With a most joyful soul I write to you…. the Lord deigns to put in my hands the palm of martyrdom; and with this I send a prayer as my only testament: that when you receive these lines, you praise the Lord for the great gift of martyrdom he has deigned to grant me. I would not exchange the prison for the gift of working miracles, nor martyrdom for the apostolate, which was the dream of my life. Ramon Ula”.
“I die a martyr for Christ and the Church. I die happy, accomplishing my sacred duty. Good-bye, until we meet in heaven. Luis Liado”.
“With a heart full of holy joy, I await confidently the culminating moment of my life, martyrdom. I forgive with all my heart all those who willingly or unwillingly have offended me. I die happy. Good-bye and until we meet in heaven. Juan Sanchez Munariz”.
“We spend the days encouraging each other for martyrdom and praying for our enemies and our dear Institute. When the moment to name the victims comes, in holy serenity and eagerness we all hope to hear our name in order to go and put ourselves in the line of the elect; we await the moment with generous impatience, and when it comes, we will kiss the ropes with which they tie us and we will address words of forgiveness to the armed crowd: as they go in the truck to the cemetery, we hear them cry: Long live Christ the King”. We all die happy; no one falters or fears…” so declared the last group in their testament.
3. They died with a clear apostolic sense. They all had great ministerial aspirations and the desire to work for the salvation of souls. The priesthood, the missions among unbelievers, the working class, service to the Church: nothing escaped them or was outside their apostolic concerns. But what the Lord asked of them was their life, their blood, and the offering of their heart.
“I told Father José that I cannot go to China, as I have always desired. I joyfully offer my blood for those missions and from heaven I will pray for them”. So confided Rafael Briega to one of the Argentinians who were freed.
Others confided to the same student: “Since we cannot exercise the sacred ministry on earth and work for the conversion of sinners, we will do like St. Therese: we will spend our heaven doing good on earth”.
4. Their sense of belonging to the Church and the Congregation, and the love for their families is particularly intense. In their families and the Congregation they learned to live the Christian faith and hope which supported them in trials and kept them faithful until death. In them they began to be Christians and missionaries, to know and love Jesus Christ and the Heart of Mary, to feel with the Church and the Pope, to be concerned about the people who do not know the Gospel. They were proud to be able to tell their family to rejoice because they had a son, a brother martyr; and to write to the Congregation:
“Long live the Congregation, holy, persecuted and martyred. Live on immortal, dear Congregation, and while you have sons in prison like those in Barbastro, there is no doubt that you destiny is eternal. I would have liked to fight in your ranks. Blessed be God! Faustino Perez, CMF”.
“We all die praying God that the blood that flows from our wounds not be a vengeful blood, but a blood that may enter red and living into your veins, stimulate your development and expansion throughout the world. Good-bye, dear Congregation! Your sons, martyrs of Barbastro, greet you from prison and offer their suffering and anguish as a holocaust of expiation for our failings and as a testimony of our faithful, generous and perpetual love”… the Martyrs of Barbastro, and in the name of all, the last and most unworthy, Faustino Perez, CMF.
“The young martyrs of Barbastro were true masters of spirituality for us”, said Msgr. Fernando Sebastián, CMF.
It is difficult to imagine that the martyrs would have been able to face martyrdom without and adequate formation and without an intense preparation. Certainly the times that they were living in Spain presaged a dramatic conclusion for the believers, and more particularly for priests and religious.
In the Seminary they inculcated an unreserved love for Jesus Christ and a filial surrender to the Heart of Mary, a solid piety, fidelity to their vocation and a joyful belonging to the Church and to the Congregation, asceticism and discipline, love of study. Heirs to the apostolic spirit of St. Anthony Mary Claret, they were taught to be attentive to the missionary challenges of their time and to be sensitive to the needs of the poor. They nourished their apostolic aspirations and prepared themselves for the ministry with a universal vision.
In prison their religious instinct led them to follow their spiritual life in spite of everything.
The Eucharist was the center of their life as long as they could receive it. Clandestinely they were able to receive communion for a few days. A few would keep it on their bodies and the others would approach them surreptitiously to adore Christ in the Sacrament.
They had the luck of having a priest with them so that they could approach the sacrament of penance and receive from him the absolution of their sins, and this on more than one occasion.
Prayer, the recitation of the Rosary and the office of the common of martyrs nourished their spirit, prepared them for full identification with Christ and to accept death with joy. To the end, they were able to keep religious objects and a few books, among which the Divine Office which all those who were obliged to it recited every day. They used the “Manna of the Christian” with which they were able to recite the act of acceptance of death.
The community was another important element in their formation and in their captivity. On the one hand, they tried to keep the community rhythm and discipline; but above all fraternity and mutual support was decisive in more than one case. In small groups, whenever they could, they discussed and shared; they sought ways to pass the time profitably and to mitigate their sufferings, but above all, they urged each other to die as martyrs.
From the first moment, the Claretian Congregation as well as the people of Barbastro considered these 51 Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be true martyrs, and have held their remains and memory in veneration. Many have seen in them an example of and a stimulus for Christian life, and have recommended themselves to them as to true intercessors before the Lord.