The political and social situation
The political situation in Spain from the religious point of view was concerning, due to the treatment of the clergy and how the proclamation of the Republic on April 14, 1931, impacted their lives. Attacks on the Church and the anti-religious actions erupted immediately.
In the beginning of the summer, “the firery revolutionaries and began with the burning convents and churches,” causing damage to the Claretian house of Játiva. The hatred towards the priests and monks was disseminating and was fed by the Left-wing parties as well as the press. At first, many people didn’t “swallowed” these attacks as evidenced in a letter written by a martyr to his family: “To take charge of the good that is taking place in our town… the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya… but the people just heard of the death of some priests and friars… the people would sneak away to their homes and only a few listened to those who brought stories from other regions.”
That same year, on August 26, 1931, when the Claretian students of Solsona completed their studies in Philosophy, they were transferred to Cervera. They traveled wearing secular clothes with hopes on not calling attention to themselves.
However the weather wasn’t helping and they didn’t prepare for such changes. This is what the Superior of Ripoll Street in Barcelona wrote: “more or less we are not affected by the social events because we trust in the protection of our Mother in heaven.” This was apparently a common attitude among the missionaries.
In 1934, another letter states: “These days we had to sleep outside of the house. The authorities did leave the soldiers to monitor us; but then our house was easier to burn down.”
But in the house of Gracia, they did take some precautions: “For a long time, it was noticeable in Barcelona and in all Spain a rarefied atmosphere, filled with anxiety, fear and expectation. We all asked the same question: What will happen? On the streets, aversion to Religion was felt. When a priest would walk down the Street wearing his cassock. They would say: Iron touch! This was in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia.
In our house (Gracia), in anticipation of what might happen, we decided to make new identity cards (carnet). Instead of writing priest, or religious we wrote teacher. As I would later admit, it certainly helped me. And during school hours and at school, we would wear a white teacher cloak instead of the religious habit.”
But this would give fruit of perversion, as a martyr commented. In a way, it triggered a real religious persecution.
The victory in Barcelona started the military uprising of July 19 and 20, 1936; then with the participation of the CNT-FAI, it overruled the Government of the Generalitat. Its President and staff formed the Committee of Antifascist Militias to keep the Revolution in order and on July 21st, issued the decree that allowed the establishment of such agencies. With this measure, the rule of law ceased making it possible to defend the people and our properties. The power was in the hands of the revolutionaries who ruled without any laws, divine or human.
In these circumstances, it was hopeless to ask for protection of the religious or maintaining any public order. In many cases the revolutionaries started the assaults.
COMMUNITIES OF BARCELONA
In the city of Barcelona, the Claretian Missionaries had two communities during the “Marxist revolution” of 1936. Each community was quite different. One was the Provincial Curia with a public college and Church situated on Father Claret Street in the Gracia neighborhood. It was called the community of Gracia; the second community belonging to the Congregation was located on Ripoll Street, close to the old part of the city. It’s focus was dedicated to the apostolate of the press, the Coculsa editorial and preaching.
In 1936, the Curia of the Province of Catalonia, also had a college of externs and a Church which housed the popular Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with the assistance of the faithful. But the Claretian missionaries also preached popular missions, novenas, Spiritual Exercises and talks in numerous places. Therefore it is easy to assume that it had a large community.
- Members of the community
On July 19. 1936, the individual forming this community at the outbreak of the Marxist Revolution were priests, students, brothers and two lay people, for a total of 58. Their names and titles were noted in the following way:
Fr. Alberto Goñi, Provincial Superior
Fr. Agustín Blanch, Consultant
Fr. Clemente Ramos, Consultant and Secretary
Fr. Eduardo Fabregat Consultant and Local
Fr. Juan Gorgues, Minister to the Province
Fr. Cándido Casals, local Superior
Fr. Cirilo Montaner, local Consultant
Fr. Luis Morta, local Minister
Fr. Santiago Martinez
Fr. José Sirvent
Fr. Jaime Ponsa
Fr. Antonio Cortadillas
Fr. Luis Massana
Fr. Luis Ribera
Fr. Francisco Morán
Fr. Antonio Junyent
Fr. José Lletjós
Fr. Miguel Salavedra
Fr. Salvador Vilarrubias
Fr. Lorenzo Ortega
Fr. Manuel Pérez
Fr. David García
Fr. José Arumí
Fr. Julián Labastida
Fr. Francisco Bragós
Fr. Jesús Velasco
Fr. Luis Clará
Fr. Manuel Juncadella
Fr. Pedro Codina
Fr. Faustino Illa
Fr. Carlos Catá
Fr. Pedro Cormán
Sch. José Arán
Sch. Antonio Badía
Sch. Adolfo de Esteban
Sch. Francisco Font
Sch. José Oliva
Sch. José Portolá
Fr. José Ramos
Fr. Telesforo Ascarza
Fr. Cesáreo Royo
Fr. Leandro Fanlo
Fr. Jaime Torras
Mr. Mariano García
Brother Pedro Ollé
Some of these individuals arrived in Barcelona with the intentions of going abroad to other countries, such as Antonio Junyent and Telesforo Ascarza were assigned to Argentina. Tomas Planes was going to Rome, and Leandro Fanlo belong to the community, of Marseilles.
- The political-social situation and dispersion of the community
In the month of July, the Revolution was awakening. In the afternoon of July 18th, some military men from Gerona which formed a cavalry barrack named Dragons of Santiago were asking for confession because they didn’t know what tomorrow would bring with a military uprising. These rumors in the community began with suspicions. Some of them thought that it would be short-lived and others couldn’t see and end.
In the afternoon of July 18, 1936, the Provincial Government received good information about the National Movement that has risen in Africa. That same afternoon, the Provincial Government met and took measures to be prudent. Subsequently, the local Government would resolve the serious situation raised by a large community and with its Senior and ill members. To avoid more stress, the community withdrew to rest as usual but taking precautions.
Early in the morning of the 19th, they could hear the firing of rifles, bursts of machine guns, planes flying and a boom of cannons. The soldiers came out of the barracks with their rifle in hand running through the streets. These actions forced the priests not to leave the house to celebrate Mass in the chaplaincies.
The uncertainty diminished when they saw the brand new cars of the CNT. At 10 in the morning, the last Mass was celebrated with a single listener, from the choir. The community spent the morning of the 19th, in prayer, reading spiritual books and as a community.
The dispersion in disarray.
For months, everyone in the community wore secular suits in anticipation of the impending tragedy. From February 16, 1936, they lived in a “revolutionary” climate fearing the worst. As one individual in the community writes: “We have seen the power Mr. Azaña shows and God knows what atrocities this man will do… You don’t have worry, for when you least expect he will make you one of his own. I have to tell you that we are already prepared.”
But they forgot to take other measures; one of the priest before eating left the house. After the meal they receive information about the burning of churches and convents. Then in vain they tried to take the sick members to the hospitals and direct the others to safe places. When the first ones left the house, there were shots coming from all directions. The mobs led by Assault Guards attacked the house and churches for three hours, from four to seven in the evening, with guns, fire bombs, and even a canon. The community members never responded aggressively or acts of resistance, although revolutionaries lied saying that the religious resisted the troop, even firing weapons. The individuals from the community actually had gathered in the refectory.
The house was on fire, the sanctuary and the college were being plundered. At seven in the evening, a mob was throwing fire bombs through the windows. The Brother Porter tried putting the fires out but it was useless. The remaining members of the community, including the Provincial who was concerned for the sick members took refuge in the infirmary- close to the Church. From there, everyone could see the fire. The revolutionary mobs entered the house. They went upstairs to the cells breaking everything and pulling partitions apart. Then they finished off the house. Another group attacked the school. In two hours everything was over.
As the fire was devouring the house, those in the house were running from place to place trying to stop the fires. Finally the smoke forced them to give up. All mutually received absolution, even the Provincial who was part of the group. “Father Arumi had a heart attack. Facing danger, the missionaries ask for a little understanding. Asking this group of assailants for compassion for those who were sick and three or four others was fruitless. They didn’t want to abandon their brothers.
Who are you? Asked the revolutionaries.
New Missionaries, we are the only ones who have stayed in the Community, to care for the sick brothers and the elderly. We turn ourselves to you and ask only that you pardon our lives.
Then everyone come here, and we will do you no harm, they said.
Father Arumi quickly became very hopeful; and as they were able, they arrived in the room; the healthy helping the sick, and all fearful of the danger they faced; one of the members sitting by a table was asking for something to stop the pain.
They were taken out to the courtyard and subjected to a registration, an old militia man said to his group: In my opinion, these friars should be shot here immediately. And he continued accusing the priests, even of having caused more victims.
Once they had fallen into the hands of the revolutionaries, the missionaries were asked: have you shot anyone. Unanimously they said no.
That’s odd, at this very moment I heard a shot from inside the house.
How can you say that no one shot and now one of you just shot at me? And for this reason you are going to be shot.
Suddenly a voice was heard on another floor which said:
It wasn’t the priests who shot. It was me.
And in spite of everything, they were made prisoners and taken to the police station of Gracia on the Calle Puigmartí, No. 32.
The Church had been saved because the doors were lined with iron, which resisted the blows. At one o’clock in the morning, the mobs returned with iron plates and strong hammers to dismantle the door. They set the pews ablaze and whatever they could burn. Within a half hour, the dome of the Church fell down and everything was destroyed.
The next day, July 20th, the Commissioner declared their innocence and let them go free. Finally the sick members were brought to the Victoria Clinic. But the Marxist Revolutionaries continued with the destruction of crucifixes, pictures, furniture, etc. and with these thing set the rest of the building on fire.
The School, being of a more modern construction suffered less impact, so that when the Negrín Government was transfered to Barcelona, they turned the school into a auto repair workshop.
Martyrdom and acceptance of the same
About ten or fifteen days before the outbreak of the Religious persecution by the Marxist, Father Alberto Goñi, Provincial Superior, in a Sunday sermon delivered from the pulpit of the sanctuary, talked about what could happen, he said:
If it was necessary to give our life, we will give it for you.
In the morning of July 19, 1936, the faithful who went to the 9 am Mass, spoke with the missionary priests and found all of them hopeful and ready to shed their blood for Christ.
Once the members of the community were dispersed, “traces of these brothers of ours was impossible to follow in any way until the end.” On the other hand, the city of Barcelona became a place of refuge for people coming from outside with anonymity that went unnoticed by many. Each managed as well as he could. Fr Faustino Illa took refuge in several places, running into danger in each place, until October when he decided to complete his military instruction and enlist in the Army until the end of the war. Father Santiago Cabezón did the same in joining the Army. He was expelled from Jativa and at first hid in his sister’s house until August, and because of the registrations was forced to become a Red soldier until he could take advantage of the opportunity to move to Spanish National Army.
Twelve members of the community were shot.
In the restored temple, October 17, 1941, they dedicated a plaque to the 18 martyrs of Barcelona. At the top of the list was Father Candido Casals.
Community residing on Calle Ripoll
The community residing on Calle Ripoll was a Generalitit for the Claretians. It was from here members would receive assignments from the Superior General and were from different provinces in Spain and the mission lands. Some came from the missions of Spanish Guinea to deal with matters like the Missionary magazines. This community was composed of the following members.
Fr. Gumersindo Valtierra, Superior
Fr. Pedro Pous, Consultor
Fr. Marcos Ajuria, Consultor
Fr. Joaquín Girvent, House Minister
Fr. Fernando Mallén
Br. Laureano Muñoz
Br. Joaquín Vilanova
Br. Marcos Canals
This community had as its main occupation the editorial publication which encompassed a floor of a building. It had no Church or oratory open to the public or other signs that could draw the attention from the Marxist Revolutionary Party. This fact was that it could be considered as a guarantee of safety, even some others Claretians came to take refuge there. At the beginning it was so. But, if one takes into account the law concerning Associations of 1933, it was a simple illusion.
Dispersion of the community
On the afternoon of July 20th, Mr. Cipriano the doorman of the building warned them that according to information, their stay in the floor was already dangerous. In view of this, they removed the Blessed Sacrament and said goodbye to each other with a hug and the promise of prayers. On July 21, 1936, the community disbanded and each of its members sought refuge where they could. Some went to the house of friends and relatives of other missionaries.
The militia arrived and made a recording of those they could find, or made a list and the photo of all the individuals and the addresses of the houses where they had stayed. The same happened when they imprisoned the Superior, who had in his possession the list of the shelter for each one. With this information, when they recorded the missionaries whereabouts, they couldn’t be deceived with false explanations. For this reason all of the missionaries were captured minus one.
The Claretian Missionaries of these two communities who paid the price with their blood to Marxism numbered twenty. But they were unable to open the Canonical Process of all of them because on the last days, the majority of them were unaccounted or where they were buried is unknown. The causes are first; that it was not possible to find witnesses to the events, since many of the witnesses were also the murderers. Secondly; to collect specific data was difficult because the criminals acted with secrecy and clandestine.
They have only found testimonies at the last moment of eight missionaries, of which we address below.
III. The Martyrs