Born September 8, 1905 in Alio (Tarragona)
Professed August 15, 1930
Shot August 13, 1936 in Tarrega (Lérida)
In the small town of Alio, within the province and Diocese of Tarragona, Fernando was born on September 8, 1905. His parents were Don Jose Saperas, a bricklayer by profession and Escolastica Aluja. Two days later he would be baptized in the Parish of Saint Bartholomew. Years later he would receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
We begin with a unique and emotional page of history. Fernando was not a priest, but a lay brother. A 30 year old corpulent man who professed his Religious Vows in 1930, along with his fellow novices who would continue their studies as theology students: the Blessed Claretian Martyrs of Barbastro. The prestigious “INCUNABLE” priestly magazine, wrote the first and modest biography about Fernando: “The odyssey of the humble Brother FERNANDO SAPERAS is extremely impressive. It is exciting to find such a clamorous, luminous and fascinating example. Few cases like this would be found in the history of Christianity.” We are in total agreement. That is why, making an exception in the case of Fernando, we will share further more in this narration. Even where there are some strong details taken from eyewitnesses, because of all the atrocities which were committed in broad daylight. As the author of this text, I have to say – with profound modesty – that I lived in Cervera for so many years. I personally interrogated the majority of the witnesses, and I have had to make a sworn affidavit for the Beatification process, which is summarized here.
As a farmer-boy, Fernando was at his friend Borarull’s farm, located some thirteen kilometers from Cervera. On the morning of August 12th, at 8:00 in the morning, he was surprised by a group of five Red Army militia (to which three others seemed to appear). The group leader was Juan Casterás. Fernando unaffectedly said that he knew Casterás’ brother, a young seminarian. To which he received this answer: – Do you know that animal too? … After that, the militia forces Fernando to get into a large car. Then, on the road towards the City, the tragic events begins. I apologize for some scenes that need to be told, starting with the first one…
Casterás and Juan del Hostal tore off Fernando’s clothes, and had him lie face down while they held him violently. Then another militia nicknamed El Chico took off his clothes with no shame, and he pounced on Fernando like a beast. The victim began to scream loudly: -Casterás, Casterás, don’t do that to me…!
Fernando was struggling with all his power to resist, while pleaded: -Kill me if you want, kill me but don’t do that…!
The militia would not give up, and just took a few moments to make a plan: “When we arrive in Cervera, we will take you to a house of prostitution. If you have sex with a woman before us, then we will not kill you.” Bofarull as a witness states: “They repeated this no less that ten times.” But they always received the same inflexible answer: “Kill me if you want, I will not do that…!”
They arrived in Cervera and entered a bar to celebrate with a few drinks concerning the fish that had fallen, and speaking grotesquely, Casterás tells the owner a condescending joke: “Here we bring you this steak. Check it out.”
And then he told Fernando: “Don’t you like this woman, since she is slightly plump…?”
Before, Casterás offered him to “La Pereta”, who responded cheekily: “If you like to come with me, we will do it right here!”
The Lay Brother was then locked up in prison for two hours, and when the militia came for him, they told him: -Come on! Come with us, and do not be afraid. We are not bad, you’ll see.
Fernando was taken to a couple of brothels. Mr. Ramón Vilaró Pont remembers the facts, because his house was behind one of those brothels. Mr. Vilaró Pont saw how the militia grabbed Brother Saperas from his private parts, and pushed him towards one of the prostitutes, and Mr. Vilaró Pont adds the following: “You should understand that as boy of sixteen, I recorded everything in memory, and I also loved the Fathers of the University because I went to that school.”
What happened in those slums of pleasure? We can guess by phrases coming from a witness, who heard them from Casterás the next day: “What a piece that we got…! I was tired of … (whatever you want to imagine,)… He asked God for strength… We threw him to the ground, and he was acting as though nothing happened! He was as cold as ice… These people are useless. We couldn’t get anything”.
To each new provocation, Fernando always replied “I am a virgin, and I will die a virgin!” This phrase was confirmed by several witnesses. He said those words energetically and vehemently, to which the executioners made a grotesque comment: “Did he says he is a virgin? Well, we will make him our job!”
A witness says that they stripped two prostitutes and sent them over to the chaste Religious, but he would not do anything. Mr. Bravo, a guard from Cervera prison was watching Fernando one day before, narrated some few words that he received from a militant. He asked what they did with Fernando. Mr. Bravo shared the words verbatim:
“It is done! But you know what? Before we killed him, he gave us a lesson in manners. We invited him to choose a woman, the one he likes more. We made several promises that nothing will happen if he did, we even implied that he would get his freedom. But he refused and he suggested that we not continue to insist. So we told him: -Show us that you can do it! And he replied: Stop talking nonsense, that I am more capable than all of you. But I do not want to, so do with me whatever you want!”
It is very likely that all of this refers to Tarrega, because according to Casterás, the owner of the brothel in Cervera asked them to take Fernando because he didn’t want anyone: You want to believe me? Get him out of here.
Let’s go to Tárrega, city that will brag of been a guardian of one martyr. Tárrega is twelve kilometers from Cervera, and at that time it had two brothels, El Vermut and La Garza, almost facing each other. The militia arrived there and consumed a large amount of alcohol and to try to sway the Lay Brother. They began by inviting him to eat, and then tried to get him to drink some wine to make him more vulnerable… but Fernando replied wryly: -Now you want me to eat, to shoot me half an hour later?
The militants knew what to expect to achieve their purpose. We don’t have words to express the clear description of what the eyewitnesses said. The militants provoked the Brother in the most vulgar way. Without taking him aside and in a quiet place, they stripped him naked and exposed him for everyone to see, as he suffered great humiliation. I interviewed the barber, Mr. Ramón Capdevila, who went to the brothels out of curiosity, and he told me almost exactly what Mr. Jose Sierra wrote about that incident, as follow: “If you had seen what happened in La Garza and El Vermut. What they were doing to a Religious, you would have been shaken. They forced the Religious to … (guess, reader) trying to make him excited and involved with a woman. She was forced to strip naked and pulling down the pants of the Brother, but he never acceded. Then they forced him to walk naked, humiliating him. And they repeat this pressure alternating from one brothel to another, from El Vermut and La Garza.”
Brother Fernando was always praying and making the sign of the cross over him, with his eyes downcast. Another witness says: “What could the Religious do? Nothing! Always with his eyes downcast, embarrassed and without saying a word. He suffered all these brutalities, followed by punching to see if he lifted his head, and before the Crucifix they put in his sight.”
Someone who would hear the story from the militia, said that he was crying. He was the only one who testifies of the indomitable strength of Brother. Those virile tears in the middle of such a gigantic struggle for virtue, they are the highest praise of the hero and the most valuable offering before God.
Casterás violently pulled down Fernando’s pants, and he did what can’t be said here, while he was saying: “Come on, let us see if you can… so you give up the rules of what your God commands.”
It was useless. Fernando always wielded the same argument: -Don’t insist, because you’re not going to get anything.
They insulted him directly to his face: “You’re not a man!”, but he replied with unusual energy: “-You say that I am not a man? I would if I wanted the same or more than you. But I don’t want to! I prefer to die!”
Questions have been raised more than once on this humble passivity of Fernando, a burly young man of 30 years in the apex of manhood. For some people, it is a gift from God; for others, perhaps an explainable inhibition in such circumstances. Among the first group is Carmen Cotilles, who commented in her own way what she did not understand: “That person was a saint, because he showed no reaction.” Fernando himself gave his own explanation: “I would do the same or more than you, if I wish.”
The militants got nothing, so even the women sided with the Brother and said to militia: “Leave him alone, you shameful men! Whoever wants to come here, let him do it of his own free will and not by force?”
Casterás could take no more, and he confronted Carmen threatening her with his gun: “-You will be in charge of getting him. If you don’t get him, I will kill you!”
But Carmen, who had been a pupil of La Garza, and owner of El Vermut, regains her dignity as a woman, and without fear of a gun, she replies with these words according to some eye witnesses who were present: “I will not do that, and I am not afraid of your gun! I may be a whore, but I have more heart and feelings than many of you, who are savages. I will not do such a thing!”
Carmen added in her own statement of the facts: “My colleagues and I were crying”. Because all of them were behaving the same: “Now, even if he would want to, we would not do it. And take this Religious out of here, or we will leave this place.”
And moving from words to deeds, they took empty bottles and chairs in order to throw out those unwanted intruders. Carmen herself declared all these facts to the Ecclesiastical court. These facts were written by a young Theology student who was in Cervera the summer of 1948, to gather information of the events that took place and the process. He remembered how Carmen, her colleague La Cafala and the barber Capdevila, freely commented about the questions put to them in court with the utmost secrecy. Their attitude and feelings can be summed up in this recommendation that Carmen issued to the Court: “-You can make that poor man a martyr right now, because he really was one!”
This was the way that the popular voices of that day interpreted the events that took place. Everything that happened in brothels was known throughout Tárrega, causing a general outcry. Next day Casterás boasted in a café: “-We wanted him to go to Heaven, having tasted the good life with a women, but he did not wanted it. Then we took him to the cemetery.”
But his interlocutors threw in his face such vileness: “Hey, why didn’t you do the same with you brother, the seminarian? Why did you saved your brother? Do you think that parents and relatives feel the death of their own?”
The scenes in the brothels were really the height of shamelessness, witnessed by many. Among them was Juan Saureda, the night watchman for that Red Zone. He was so impressed that, a year before the war ended, people saw him walk the streets blessing himself, like Brother Fernando, or with the finger pointing skyward. Many times he went to medical doctor’s office with Dr. Ramón Armengol Civit, who describes how Saureda said pointing to himself: “-Juan has no soul… Juan has no cure… Juan will not be allowed to speak… Juan is lost… Juan is doomed… Juan can’t do anything…”
The poor man had to be admitted to the mental hospital of Sant Boi, where he later died.
The story of Fernando Saperas provoked outrage, much indignation and truly disgust, honoring the Christian people Tárrega. But also all admired the energy with which he defends his virtue, not exactly a modest girl, but a man in the prime of his life, and all done to be faithful with his Religious Vows which he had before the altar.
The tragedy took fifteen hours. The murderers boarded Fernando into truck, and few minutes later they were at the gate of the cemetery. They move Fernando to the left side, close to the wall. Two headlights illuminate him, like an early blaze of glory. The weight of the tragedy has failed to break his indomitable determination of a Christian Martyr, and calmly, he asks permission to speak. This dialogue was reported by Mr. Nicolás Sendrós, who hears it from the murder Pedro Segalá:
– “Forgive them Lord, they don’t know what they do…! I forgive you! I forgive you! …
And the militia replied: -“He even forgives us! Hey, and what is it that you should forgive! Aim!”
And the martyr said: “Long live Christ the King! Long live the Religion!”
Mr. Antonio Palou and his wife have perfectly heard the detonations: three double shots and a final shot. Despite the numerous bullets, Fernando does not die instantly. Mrs. Rosa Castells heard the militants comment. They left their victim lying on the ground, as he was saying: “Mother, my Mother…!” It could be the memory of his dear mother, who lived in the neighboring province of Tarragona. But it could also be a hopeful cry addressed to Mother Mary, who had lent her powerful help from heaven during his glorious combat. It is impossible not to imagine Brother calling all day to the Virgin Mary.
Jaime Clos has also heard the shots and heads for the cemetery. He was already quite old when I met with him. He even mimicked the rhythmic opening and closing the mouth of the dying, casting mouthfuls of blood. He counted the five open wounds by as many bullets in the body of this hero, as the five wounds of Christ. “Not to frighten him, I approach him with sweet words, not knowing that it is a Father from the University: Friend … Friend … He could no longer answer me!”
The unconquerable soul of Fernando was returning to God, beyond the stars…
Brother died forgiving, and God received his last plea. Juan Casterás had a seminarian brother who became an exemplary priest. Juan committed a hideous barbarity, indeed, and when the Civil War ended, he fled to France where he died after many years. His son traveled to his native village, between Cervera and Tarrega, to ask the parish priest to receive the remains in the local cemetery. But the priest said with spontaneity: “Your father? He would not have wanted to be buried by the Church.”
And the son answered: “True. This was until five years ago, when my father completely changed. Not only he was repentant of the evil that he had done, but he became deeply religious.”
The cry of the dying Christ on the cross, perpetrated in many martyrs, continues to work wonders.
Fernando’s remains were located and identified many years later and today are venerated in the parish of Tárrega. To the left of the cemetery gate, the marble slab, by a central hole, reveals in the wall the impact produced by a bullet. And a laconic inscription sings the glory of the hero:
BECAUSE HE DEFENDED HIS RELIGIOUS CHASTITY
HE WAS MARTYRED IN 13-VIII-1936
BROTHER FERNANDO SAPERAS
MISSIONARY SON OF THE HEART OF MARY
 García, P., Kill me… Not that! Fernando Saperas, C.M.F., the martyr of chastity, Tárrega 1959;