Author: Josu M. Alday, CMF
Translator: Chris Newman, CMF
Publisher: Claretian Missionaries
General Commission for the Beatification
The martyrial Congregation of the Claretian Missionaries is being officially recognised by the Church through several Decrees of Beatification. For us, they were already martyrs. Being ‘Blessed’ has only confirmed the significance of martyrdom in the life of so many of our brothers: Priests, Brothers and Students. Most of them were young men. The youngest, Bro. Nicolas Campos, professed at just sixteen years of age.
We rejoiced in 1992 to receive the news of the beatification of the 51 Barbastro Martyrs. There was an outburst of enthusiasm from the oldest members, who had been formed under the memory of the martyrdom of those young men, to the youngest, who felt strengthened in their vocation
We also rejoiced in 2005 for the beatification of Fr. Andres Sola, martyred in Mexico, together with a young priest and a lay man. In 2013, we celebrated the beatification of 23 Claretian brothers in Tarragona: 7 from Tarragona and La Selva del Camp and 16 from Sigüenza and Fernan Caballero.
Now in 2017 we celebrate the beatification of no less than 109 martyrs, headed by Mateu Casals (Priest), Teofilo Casajus (Student) and Ferran Saperas (Brother). With this beatification, which is being celebrated in the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, the Spirit of the Lord comes to us with his gift of fortitude and blessing for our Claretian Family and for the martyrial Church of every age.
A Martyrial Congregation
The seed of martyrdom had already been planted in the ground in the person of the Founder himself, St. Anthony Mary Claret, in the assassination attempt against him in Holguin, Cuba (1856); in the young priest Fr. Francesc Crusats, shot during the revolution of 1868 in La Selva del Camp, Tarragona; in Fr. Andres Sola, assassinated in the anticlerical persecution of Mexico (1927); and later in the 20th Century, in the more than two hundred of our brother missionaries during the religious persecution of the Spanish Civil War. They are too many brothers of our family to remember by name. Some died on different days and places. Others, executed particularly in places so Claretian such as Sallent or Vic, birthplace and tomb respectively of the Founder. Learned men and humble domestic workers. Catalans, Basques, Castillians, from all of Spain. The majority, in the first months of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936; a few, in 1937.
On 20 July 1936 four missionaries were shot in Jaen: the first in a long list that would become more than 270. There was hardly a day during the first four months of the conflict when one of our brothers of the Congregation was not sacrificed. Catalonia, Huesca and in the centre of Castilla were the most bloodstained Claretian places: 138, 54 and 45 respectively. Cantabria, Andalucia and Extremadura were also stained. In the Basque Country there was an exceptional execution by firing squad: perpetrated by the national insurgents on the person of Fr. Jose Otano Miqueliz.
The martyrs were to die as they had lived: as a group, in Community, like those of Barbastro, supported and joyful, young men who were in the final years of their studies for the priesthood, dreaming of mission territories. No one fled. With youthful step and Christian fortitude, sensing that they were going to die as martyrs: ‘Six of our companions are already martyrs; soon we expect to be as well, but before that we want to say that we die forgiving those that take our life’. The rest is already known. There’s a truck, by night, then next to a roadside ditch, some on their knees, others with their arms in a cross, waiting for the volley from the firing squad: ‘For you, my God, I give my blood’. The Church has recognised them as Blessed from a martyr seminary. Now they are our intercessors.
Fourteen missionaries, young theological students, came to Cuidad Real from Zafra to be safer. Invited to continue their journey to Madrid with a special safe-conduct pass, they boarded the train to cries of ‘They’re monks, don’t let them get on the train; kill them’. The train left, but on arriving at the station at Fernan Caballero, two militiamen ordered the train to stop. The fourteen young men got down from the train, they lined them up and the deadly shots rang out. They were beatified in 2013.
The Community in Jaen were on retreat when the militia tried to force the main entrance of the house. When the Superior came to calm the situation, he was met with stones and bullets. The rest of the community were assassinated in the garden, in a primitive and savage manner. After Fr. Jenaro Millan was killed, they put two sticks in his eyes and hung his rosary on them.
On the 30 July seven missionaries were shot by firing squad in Madrid. Six in Don Benito, Badajoz, on the 23 August. Four in Tarrasa on the 5 September and five on the 22 November in Paracuellos del Jarama; among them was the great musician Fr. Juan Iruarrizaga. All were in groups, as brothers, consoled by fraternal and vocational togetherness. But not everyone had the consolation of community support. More than fifty went to the wall of death alone, with the uncertainty of so many things, but valiantly, filled with faith in the Christ of the Resurrection and of Life.
Regarding Fr. Jose de Zabala-Arana, the great Basque writer who edited Basque language text books, it is still not known where he was killed or by whom. For this reason, he is not among the Cause of the Martyrs of Castro-Urdiales, Cantabria. He was the Superior of San Vicente de la Barquera, Cantabria. Wanting to know the fate of his brothers of the community, he was detained on the road from Bilbao to San Vicente. Nothing more is known. Only that he was a good son of the Heart of Mary and of his Basque people. And likewise, many others without dates or testimonies, but sacrificed for the cause of Jesus. Their silence is exemplary. Their names remain as a family heirloom, although without recognition in the protocols of the martyrial process.
In total, there were more than two hundred brothers of our family. With very similar biographies as martyrs and at the same time each one special. Brief experiences of faith in the Spirit of the Resurrected and of the hand of Mary. Two hundred and forty, two hundred and seventy? In any case, they were many. Today we want to remember them all by name: the hundred and ten priests; the ninety philosophy and theology students and the more than seventy lay brothers. Communities from Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia, Andalucia and Castilla destroyed in number and missionary vitality. With the only consolation of having given valiant witness to their faith in the Christ who had called them to follow him by the hand of Mary, in the style of Claret, configured with Him in his Death and Resurrection.
Cause of the Beatification of the Servants of God
MATEU CASALS, Priest
TEÓFILO CASAJÚS, Student
FERRAN SAPERAS, Brother
and 106 companion martyrs
|Age||Surname||Name||Place of martyrdom||Date||Place of birth|
|68||Pr||Blanch Ferrer||Jacint||Barcelona||21.08.1936||Vilanova de Sau-Barcelona|
|52||Bro||Capdevila Costa||Joan||Barcelona||25.07.1936||Sovellas – Girona|
|38||P||Casals Suner||Càndid||Barcelona||29.07.1936||La Nou-Barcelona|
|24||S||De Esteban Rada||Adolfo||Barcelona||31.07.1936||Berbinzana-Navarra|
|39||P||Junyent Estruch||Antonio||Barcelona||19.08.1936||Valcarissas – Barcelona|
|60||P||Valtierra Alonso||Gumersindo||Barcelona||26.07.1936||S. Martín Hum.- Burgos|
|63||P||Montaner Fabré||Ciril||Moncada||28.11.1936||Villanueva Gelt- Barcelona|
|48||P||Girón Puigmitjá||Jaume||Castellfollit Riu||05.09.1936||S.Cristóbal Fonts-Girona|
|62||P||Alsina Ferrer||Joan M.||Castellvell Vilar||16.09.1936||Seva – Barcelona|
|25||S||Perich Comas||Antonio||Castellvell Vilar||16.09.1936||S.Jordi Desvalls – Girona|
|23||Stu||Ausellé Rigau||Josep||Cervera||18.10.1936||La Sellera – Girona|
|67||P||Bover Alvareda||Emili B||Cervera||20.08.1936||Castelltersol – Barcelona|
|23||S||Bueria Biosca||Evarist||Cervera||18.10.1936||Montolíu – Lleida|
|56||P||Buxó Font||Joan||Cervera||18.10.1936||Moncada – Barcelona|
|44||B||Canals Pascual||Francesc||Cervera||18.10.1936||S. Andrés Barca-Barcelona|
|26||P||Cortadellas Segura||Enric||Cervera||25.08.1936||Olujas – Lleida|
|21||S||Loncán Campodarve||José||Cervera||18.10.1936||Azlor – Huesca|
|69||P||Matute Tobías||Heraclio||Cervera||18.10.1936||Alesanco – Rioja|
|76||B||Reixach Vilaró||Bonaventura||Cervera||18.10.1936||Olost – Barcelona|
|23||B||Ríus Camps||Ramon||Cervera||02.09.1936||Santa Fe – Lleida|
|48||B||Roca Buscallá||Ramon||Cervera||23.09.1936||Alpens – Barcelona|
|60||B||Ros Nadal||Josep||Cervera||18.10.1936||Artesa – Lleida|
|73||B||Rovira Font||Miquel||Cervera||18.10.1936||Vic – Barcelona|
|37||P||Serrano Pastor||José||Cervera||18.10.1936||Corella – Navarra|
|23||S||Solé Vallespí||Manuel||Cervera||18.10.1936||Fayón – Zaragoza|
|25||B||Arizaleta Salvador||Dionisio||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Guirguillano – Navarra|
|16||B||Campo Giménez de Bikuña||Nicolás||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Agurain-Salvatierra – Álava|
|21||B||Castán Messeguer||Fernando||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Fonz – Huesca|
|22||S||De las Heras Izquierdo||Eusebio||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Gumiel Mercado-Burgos|
|22||S||Elizalde Garbizu||Antonio||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Etxauri – Navarra|
|57||B||Ferrer Escolá||Josep||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Alsamora – Lleida|
|58||P||Font Font||Manuel||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Torrebeses – Lleida|
|27||P||Leache Labiano||Julio||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Monreal – Navarra|
|19||B||Marco Martínez||Francisco||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Odón – Teruel|
|23||S||Miguel Moncalvillo||Constantino||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Quintanarraya – Burgos|
|66||B||Milagro Mesa||Francisco||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Tarazona – Zaragoza|
|21||S||Pascual Abad||Emiliano||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Milagros – Burgos|
|42||P||Ribé Coma||Josep||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Centellas – Barcelona|
|25||B||Senosiain Zugasti||Juan||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Guirguillano – Navarra|
|20||S||Simón Pérez||Francisco||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Murtxante – Navarra|
|28||B||Simón Sala||Narcís||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Fornells – Girona|
|24||S||Solà Peix||Francesc||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||S.Juan Abadesas – Girona|
|58||B||Vives Coll||Pere||Mas Claret||19.10.1936||Pallejá – Barcelona|
|21||S||Pinyol Ricart||Jenaro||La Floresta||27.08.1936||Torms – Lleida|
|25||S||Tamarit Pinyol||Remigi||La Floresta||27.08.1936||Solerás – Lleida|
|20||S||Agorreta Zabaleta||Onésimo||Lleida||26.07.1936||Ujué – Navarra|
|25||S||Amalrich Rasclosa||Amat||Lleida||26.07.1936||Celrá- Girona|
|19||S||Amargant Boada||Xavier||Lleida||26.07.1936||S. Felíu Pallarols – Girona|
|22||S||Caball Juncá||Pere||Lleida||26.07.1936||Vilanoba Muga – Girona|
|21||S||Casademont Vila||Josep||Lleida||26.07.1936||S. Felíu Pallarols – Girona|
|21||S||Casajús Alduán||Teófilo||Lleida||26.07.1936||Murtxante – Navarra|
|20||S||Cerdá Cantavella||Antonio||Lleida||26.07.1936||Játiva – Valencia|
|20||S||Costa Prat||Amadeu||Lleida||26.07.1936||Merola – Barcelona|
|22||S||Elcano Liberal||José||Lleida||26.07.1936||Olaritz – Navarra|
|21||S||HortósTura||Lluís||Lleida||26.07.1936||Argelaguer – Girona|
|41||P||Jové Bonet||Manuel||Lleida||26.07.1936||Vallbona Monjas – Lleida|
|24||S||Oscoz Arteta||Miguel||Lleida||26.07.1936||Artazu – Navarra|
|22||S||Plana Rabuguent||Lluís||Lleida||26.07.1936||La Sellera – Girona|
|20||S||Vázquez de Santos||Vicente||Lleida||26.07.1936||Villada – Palencia|
|32||P||Prats Gibert||Joan||Montmaneu||17.08.1936||Selva del Campo-Tarragona|
|27||S||Vidal Balsells||Josep||Navés||22.08.1936||Sta Coloma Q-Tarragona|
|36||P||Sitges Obiols||Pere||S.Martí de Tous||24.09.1936||La Sellera – Girona|
|41||B||Casany Vilarrasa||Antoni||S Pere d Arquels||25.08.1936||Riudeperas – Barcelona|
|66||B||Villanueva Olza||Julián||Su (Lleida)||01.09.1936||Villanueva – Navarra|
|30||B||Saperas Aluja||Ferran||Tárrega||13.08.1936||Alió – Tarragona|
|28||P||Baixeras Berenguer||Miquel||Lleida||25.07.1936||Castelltersol – Barcelona|
|68||P||Busquet Lluciá||Joan||Lleida||25.08.1936||Montbuy – Barcelona|
|21||B||Dolcet Agustí||Ángel||Lleida||21.08.1936||Soses – Lleida|
|29||P||Lloses Trullolls||Agustí||Lleida||21.08.1936||Cervera – Lleida|
|26||P||Morell Casbiscol||Xavier||Lleida||21.08.1936||Albesa – Lleida|
|26||P||Surribas Dot||Frco Xavier||Lleida||26.07.1936||Torelló – Barcelona|
|22||P||Tamarit Pinyol||Artur||Lleida||25.07.1936||Solerás – Lleida|
|61||P||Torres Nicolau||Manuel||Lleida||25.07.1936||Almacellas –Lleida|
|62||P||Torrents Figueras||Joan Bautista||Moncada||17.03.1937||La Secuita – Tarragona|
|20||B||Cardona Dalmases||Josep||Sabadell||05.09.1936||Molsosa – Lleida|
|71||P||Reixach Reguer||Josep||Sabadell||25.07.1936||VilanovaSau – Barcelona|
|52||P||Casals Mas||Mateu||S.Quirce d Serra||05.09.1936||Bagá – Barcelona|
|61||B||Clavería Mas||Josep||Terrasa||05.09.1936||Vic – Barcelona|
|76||P||Puig Bret||Josep||Terrasa||05.09.1936||Cistella – Girona|
|59||B||Rafí Figuerola||Joan||Terrasa||05.09.1936||Vilabella – Tarragona|
|46||B||Solér Maimó||Josep||Terrasa||05.09.1936||Guardiolada – Lleida|
|53||B||Barrio Barrio||Félix||Castro Urdiales||14.10.1936||VillafMont Oca – Burgos|
|43||P||Carrascal Mozo||Isaac||Castro Urdiales||14.10.1936||Castrillo D.Juan-Palencia|
|55||P||Gelada Hugas||Joaquín||Castro Urdiales||14.10.1936||Olot – Girona|
|30||P||Alonso Santamaría||Marceliano||Alboraya||13.08.1936||Grañón – Rioja|
|33||P||Gordon de la Serna||Ignacio||Alboraya||13.08.1936||Jeréz de la Fronera-Cádiz|
|39||P||Galipienzo Pelarda||Tomás||Paterna||01.09.1936||Cascante – Navarra|
|76||B||Facerías Garcés||Miguel||Alboquers||22.02.1937||Perrarúa – Huesca|
|27||B||Costa Homs||Isidre||Cervera||11.11.1936||Taradell – Barcelona|
|26||P||Codina Ventayol||Miquel||Malla||24.10.1936||Artés – Barcelona|
|64||P||Codinach Espinalt||Joan||Malla||24.10.1936||Mura – Barcelona|
|46||P||Capdevila Porter||Josep||Manlleu||25.09.1936||Vic – Barcelona|
|63||P||Blanch Badía||Joan||SPere dArquells||31.08.1936||Puigpelat – Tarragona|
|31||B||Binefa Alsinella||Marià||Sallent||25.07.1936||Anglesola – Lleida|
|61||P||Mercer Soler||Juan||Sallent||25.07.1936||Albiñana – Tarragona|
|54||B||Mur Blanch||Marcelino||Sallent||25.07.1936||Riguepeu – Francia|
|30||P||Payás Fargas||Jaume||Sallent||25.07.1936||Castelltersol – Barcelona|
|44||P||Arner Margalef||Josep||SSadurníOsorm||07.08.1936||Alcolea Cinca – Huesca|
|31||P||Navarro Martínez||Castor||SSadurníOsorm||07.08.1936||Muela de S. Juan – Teruel|
|35||P||Aramendía Urquía||Julio||Vic||17.08.1936||Obanos – Navarra|
Vic – Barcelona
Beyond the Personal Details
It is not just the data that we want to record and celebrate but, above all, the specific believers, testimonies of the following of Christ in the style of Claret, within the Heart of Mary, authentic missionaries with a martyrial spirit. Persons of flesh and blood, of various ages, from different towns, on the road to the cross, leaving us an example of valour and fortitude that produces the grace of the Spirit. Very many of them died following a truly martyrial experience. All a mysticism that only they could feel and which, on occasions, is manifested in testimonial writings such as these:
- “I pardon all those who want to do me harm, and I give them an embrace of friendship; I hold no rancour towards anybody, nor to those who have thrown me in the house like a dog; they also did it to You.” ( Jaime Payás).
- “Don’t think that I am afraid: now more than ever I give thanks to God for having made me a religious and a priest. Religious – Priest, martyr of Jesus Christ. What greater glory could you wish for?” ( Javier Morell, to his parents from the prison in Lleida).
- “Pray to God that if they are going to kill us, we die as martyrs.” ( Isaac Carrascal, Castro Urdiales).
- “Kill me whenever you want; but this no, never! I am a virgin and a virgin I will die” ( Ferran Saperas).
- “Dear father, … Here we are without any cares, trusting only in God as He is the one who rules and governs all the events that are happening…. We think of heaven and all the things here below seem outdated and of no importance. Have no fear for my fate because, if need be, I have decided to shed my blood for the cause of Jesus Christ” (Student Adolfo De Esteban. Extract from a letter to his father of 10 of May 1936).
- “If it happens that we go together to martyrdom and I don’t remember to give you absolution, because of the shock at the time, remind me to do so. If they want to kill us, I want it to be only for God, or rather that they kill me celebrating, administering the sacraments and praying. But not for other human or political motives. If they kill us as fascists, it has little grace or merit, there are fascists of every colour. But if they kill us for celebrating Mass or for being Catholics, this is meritorious before God, this is what it is to be martyrs”. (Fr. Julio Leache).
- On being shot in Alboraya Marcelino Alonso pardoned his enemies and exclaimed: “Have compassion on me. Oh, my sweet Mother”. “We pardon you from our hearts,” exclaimed Fr. Jose Ignacio Gordon de la Serna, directed to his executioners: he smiled at them and his life was extinguished as a pleasing holocaust to the Lord.
- “What happiness it is to die in burning love and be reborn in your arms and to die always on your breast! Oh Death, Death, surrendering at your feet, I bow down! You alone can calm my infinite longings. Hail, great Liberator! Look at me, imprisoned in the flesh. Cut my bonds and the bird will fly away. Let me leave a burning kiss on your scythe; before the saving blade you have the straw of my life. Harvest time!….Oh, now I am happy! Jesus….., Jesus…Now I have you!” ( José María Serrano).
- “I am always prepared to give my life for God. And at Mass each day I prepare myself and I offer myself as a victim for the purpose that the Heavenly Father be served. Each day I pray for the one who is going to kill me…. As much as I have loved and done for the workers and it will be the workers who will kill me” ( Jaume Girón).
All of them were converted, by their martyrial experience, into authentic witnesses of the truth about existence. St. John Paul II in the encyclical Fides et ratio (1998) affirmed it:
“The martyrs, who are the most authentic witnesses to the truth about existence. The martyrs know that they have found the truth about life in the encounter with Jesus Christ, and nothing and no-one could ever take this certainty from them. Neither suffering nor violent death could ever lead them to abandon the truth which they have discovered in the encounter with Christ. This is why to this day the witness of the martyrs continues to arouse such interest, to draw agreement, to win such a hearing and to invite emulation. This is why their word inspires such confidence: from the moment they speak to us of what we perceive deep down as the truth we have sought for so long, the martyrs provide evidence of a love that has no need of lengthy arguments in order to convince. The martyrs stir in us a profound trust because they give voice to what we already feel and they declare what we would like to have the strength to express.” (n. 32).
In Grateful Memory
81 years on from those deaths, ‘seed of Christians’, the Claretian Congregation continues alive, grateful and happy for the new beatification of the 109. We remember their names, age and position: Priests (P), Students (S), Brothers (B), place and date of martyrdom and birth. With an average age of 39. One of 16, just professed; two of 19; many of 20, and three of 76: 49 priests, 31 Brothers and 29 Students.
- 60 from the Community of Mas Claret, Lleida.
- 15 from the Community of Vic, Barcelona.
- 11 from the Community of Lleida.
- 8 from the Community of Barcelona.
- 8 from the Community of Sabadell, Barcelona.
- 4 from the Community of Valencia.
- 3 from the Community of Castro Urdiales, Cantabria.
Unforgettable dates and places, such as the 18 October when eleven missionaries were assassinated in Cervera; and the following day, in Mas Claret, close to Cervera, eighteen were martyred; and sixteen in Lleida on the 26 July, etc. All in 1936, except two in 1937.
4.1 The Martyrs of Cervera
Since 1887 when the Claretian Missionaries took over what had been a University since 1842, the community came to number almost five hundred individuals. When the revolution came in 1936 it was the major seminary of the Claretian Province of Catalonia. From here the students in the final year left for Barbastro, as those in the first year of theology in the seminary in Solsona were ready to take their place. While Cervera had remained calm under the nationals, the revolutionary movement strongly influenced the population. Although many of the theology students had been transferred to Barbastro and others had been appointed to other places, the community was composed of 154 members: 30 priests, 51 theology students and 35 Brothers and 38 Postulants. It prompted the dispersion and the martyrdom of so many in different places and circumstances, some in groups and others alone.
4.2 The group of Lleida: 26 July 1936
Fourteen Young students with Fr. Manuel Jové, the celebrated Latin scholar of international fame, founder of the magazine Palaestra Latina, were the first martyrs of the Cervera community. They well deserved to be named:
They were young men and had walked several kilometres in a day and a half when they arrived at the small town of Montornés where they were welcomed into the homes of some families. But they were not safe. It was the 25 July. They continued their march guided by Fr. Jove who knew the area well. In Ciutadilla they were recognised by the militia and detained. At gun point they were taken to the Socialist Centre in the town, from where would begin an authentic Via Dolorosa. In the Socialist Centre, they were relatively well cared for but, following a call to the Committee at Lleida to know what was to be done with them, the order arrived that they were to stay there until they came for them. They arrived in two cars with a group of militia who were enraged, above all, with Fr. Jove who, refusing to stamp on the crucifix from around his neck that had been thrown to the floor, they tried to make him swallow it with such a heavy punch that almost smashed his face. Seeing that one of the students was praying the rosary, they also wanted to make him swallow it. It was even worse when one of the militia, who had put some condoms into Fr. Jove’s bag, when inspecting it said: “Is it true or is it not true?”. And, taking down his trousers, they were at the point of mutilating his genitals when an accusing voice shouted: “This, no!”.
After a night of being manhandled and punched they were taken by a truck driven by Ángel Armengol, a young man of 29, who was forced to be the driver. With hands and feet tied, they were taken to Lleida, under a scorching sun, almost unable to breath. Arriving in Lleida, the truck came to the cemetery and, the missionaries were got down in two rows, in front of a crowd of militia. On being asked if they renounced their religion, they responded that they preferred to die for God. They put four against the wall in view of the other eleven. The first group fell, after that two other groups of four and then, the last three. All shouted out loud: “Long live Christ the King!”. Their bodies were buried in a large common grave. It was between two and three in the afternoon on the 26 July.
4.3 The Martyrs at the Hospital
The elderly and the sick of the community of Cervera went to the hospital accompanied by Fathers Jaume Girón and Pere Sitges, superior and econome respectively. They were twelve: the priests Heraclio Matute, Lluís Jové, José María Serrano and Joan Buxó; the students Josep Ausellé, Evarist Bueria, José Loncán and Manuel Solé, together with Brothers Francesc Canals, Bonaventura Reixach, Josep Ros and Miquel Rovira. Fr. Joan Buxó stayed with them and with some others from the hospital. He had been a doctor in Barcelona before becoming a Claretian Missionary. Who would have thought that someone like Fr. Biuxo, who had healed one of the most feared militiamen of the region, would be martyred by them?
The religious sisters of the Heart of Mary were at the hospital. Everything was operating normally, including religious services. But from 26 September, after a search by the militia of the FAI, all the Masses were suspended. Fr. Giron sensed within himself that martyrdom was close: “Each day at Mass I pray for the one who is going to kill me”. On hearing of the shooting of the fifteen of the group of Fr. Jove, his heart responded in such a way that he feared his own death. “If I die of this”, he said, “I will then not be a martyr. To die in these circumstances, it is preferable that they kill me. I prefer to be a martyr”. It happened like this: on leaving the hospital on the 3 September he would die by firing squad on the 5th near to Tora, specifically in Castellfollit de Riubregós, Barcelona. Once dead, the militia took his watch and fountain pen.
And Fr. Sitges? From there he walked towards Igualada, as just one more farm worker along the way. He spent four days in a cave, then afterwards, the same as always. Close to the small town of Sant Martí de Tous he was shot and left abandoned. After four days, a boy found the body. In his clothes, a rosary and a small crucifix with a relic of Fr. Claret. The Committee of the town ordered his body to be doused in petrol.
The other twelve remained at the hospital in Cervera. It seemed that everything was calm and it was night time. Everyone was resting at the suggestion of Fr. Buxó. Then a voice shouted out to them: “Come, everybody up! Get up, we have to take you to a sanitorium”. As for a transfer, nothing. They were all shot. Including Bro. Francesc Canals who was neither old nor sick but there to nurse them all. And the same for the student Evarist Ausellé, who had sought refuge in the hospital. They could have fled, but they didn’t. They preferred to stay with their brothers and suffer martyrdom together. There was still Fr. Joan Buxó. He had cared for the militiaman Enrique, with a broken leg. And it was he who was one of the three that shot him after saying to him: “Where do you want me to give you the injection?” Fr. Joan wanted to kiss the hands of those who were going to kill him but they responded: “Kiss your own!” They allowed Fr. Buxó and the three lay men who were with him to pray before dying. It was the 18 October 1936.
4.4 Martyrdom of the Group at Mas Claret
A farmstead known by the name of Mas Claret was the property of the Claretian community of Cervera, at some seven kilometres from the city.
On the 18 July 1936, living at Mas Claret were four priests: Manuel José Bonet, Manuel Font Font, Julián Pastor Redondo and José Mir Tristany; two students: Francisco Solá Peix and Pedro Adern; and five brothers: Pedro Vives Coll, José Ferrer Escolá, Esteban Mestres, Narciso Simón Sala and Francisco Bagaría Ayats. The latter three were the ones one carried the main burden of the work on the farm. The others helped where they could as their being there was for reasons of health.
On the 21 July, all the missionaries living in the ex-university building of Cervera, more than a hundred, were forced by the City Council to leave within the hour. The most numerous group left in trucks towards Solsona; they got as far as the town of Tora some fifteen kilometres distance from Cervera and from Tora they retraced their steps to San Ramón and rested in the Mercedarian Convent of the town.
On the 23 July, seeing that the religious persecution was increasing in the region, some priests at the farm of Mas Claret celebrated the Eucharist at three in the morning, distributing communion to the students and brothers and hid the more valuable sacred vessels, knowing what might happen. Fr. Mir waited to celebrate later, to give the chance to some neighbours who usually came to Mas Claret to hear Mass and receive communion. On celebrating this second Mass a consecrated host was kept for a Eucharistic service of reparation at one in the afternoon, with the presence of all those living at Mas Claret and some local lay people. That same day most of the students who were there, left the Convent at San Ramón for Mas Claret. They arrived in the afternoon.
On the 24 July at 8 in the morning the Committee of Cervera, with their President Dionisio Jover, came to Mas Claret to make an inventory of everything there was at the farm and manifested that all who were there could stay on as workers, with no one daring to absent themselves without his permission. This meant they remained as prisoners till the day they were assassinated. None of them moved from Mas Claret, nor were taken elsewhere. But to all those who had taken refuge there on the 23rd, the Committee granted them passes so they could go to their respective towns; some left and others fled without a pass.
On this same day, Fr. Felipe Calvo formed two groups of students to go to different places that seemed to offer safe asylum and thus ease the congestion at the farm of Mas Claret. Before dismissing them, he gave an impassioned talk and, given the proximity of possible martyrdom, all kissed the crucifix and vowed fidelity with great emotion. Outside the chapel of the farm they said their goodbyes, promising that whoever got to heaven first would pray for the fidelity of the others.
The first group was made up of Fr. Jové and fourteen theology students who were at Mas Claret, from where they left towards Ciutadilla: Agorreta, Amalrich, Amargant, Caball, Casademont, Casajús, Cerdá, Costa, Elcano, Hortós, López, Oscoz, Palau, Vázquez. They were all distributed in different groups to go to Vallbona and surrounding villages. But they were captured on the way and the fifteen were assassinated shortly afterwards in the cemetery of Lleida, on the 26 July between 2 and 3 in the afternoon.
The second group were aiming for Bellvís, the town of Fr. José M. Mir, and was made up of Frs. Mir and Julian Pastor with six theology students. They all arrived happily after many incidents and found refuge with various families in the town and nearby. But some were also detained, although all were safe. Shortly after, they heard that the first group had been shot.
A third group, made up, among others, of some with poor health, stayed in Mas Claret: Francisco Simón, Antonio Elizalde, Emiliano Pascual, Eusebio de las Heras, Constantino Miguel, Francisco Solá, José Ribé, Julio Leache, Narciso Simón and some more. The Committee continued to control this group with their visits to supply themselves with eggs and chickens, etc. From the 29 July, the control was more demanding: they all had to go and line up and greet the Committee, when they arrived, with a clenched fist salute. This ritual had to be repeated each day, morning and evening. On the 1 August some armed individuals, called Escamots, arrived with threats and menaces. They took Frs. Juan Agustí and Felipe Calvo and led them to the Generalitat. Brother Esteban Mestres escaped from them that same day. They fired some shots but he was able to escape, being assassinated later in Barcelona.
On the 15 August, the Committee of Cervera prohibited them to pray in community. At ten in the evening a new Calvary began. A car and a truck appeared. Not knowing what is was about, some escaped. It was the Committee, come to look for provisions. Some of the religious who appeared to offer what they were asking for, were mocked and provoked regarding chastity, with vile and profane words. This scene was the first link in a chain of provocation from the militia who were also joined by militiawomen with the same purpose. All were cajoled to blaspheme and apostatise, but all the missionaries refused.
Towards the middle of September those of the Committee began to complain that there were too many religious and that they did little work. They had to organise themselves better for work. In this atmosphere, they spent those weeks up to the 19 October 1936. They were told to put on their Sunday best for a photograph. Caught like lambs, on the pretext of a photograph, they are going to be shot down. They were grouped in fours between ropes and rifles. It would be a much more painful martyrdom. It happened between four and five in the afternoon. Then they would be burnt with straw and buried. Four of the militia took care to keep the fire going during the days they were burning the bodies, from Monday evening, the time of the assassination, until Friday early morning, when they were buried there and then. Some farm-hands were charged with the burial. Besides the militia, there were also some workers of the Farm Labourers Collective at the farm. The militia had begun to dig the trench. Thursday afternoon they departed and left the workers of the Collective in charge, for them to take care of the burial the following day. After the War, their remains were first transferred to a room in the house of the farm and later to the Mausoleum of the Congregation in the cemetery of Cervera.
The names of the 18 missionaries shot are:
- Three Priests: Manuel Font Font, José Ribé Coma and Julio Leache Labiano.
- Six Students: Francisco Simón Pérez, Francisco Solá Peix, Antonio Elizalde Garbisu, Eusebio de las Heras Izquierdo, Constantino Miguel Moncalvillo and Emilio Pascual Abad.
- Nine Brothers: Francisco Milagro Mesa, Pedro Vives Coll, José Ferrer Escolá, Dionisio Arizaleta Salvador, Juan Senosiain Zugasti, Fernando Castán Messeguer, Narciso Simón Sala, Francisco Marco Martínez and Nicolás Campo Giméz de Bikuña.
With them was also a lay member of the community Rosendo Poquet Galcerán, who was shot along with the others. There they went, on the road to martyrdom, animated by faith and the mystical Claretian vocation and in community.
4.5 Solitary Martyrs
Brother Ferran Saperas Aluja: martyr of Chastity
He was born in Alió, Tarragona on 8 September 1905. On finishing military service in Barcelona, he entered the Claretian Congregation with the vocation of a Lay Brother, a co-novice of many of the group of the martyrs of Barbastro. The community of Cervera was dispersed and not being able to remain at Mas Claret he sought refuge in the town of Montpalau, close to Mas, in the house of Mr. Riera, which was very popular as a tobacconists and bar. Not being the most appropriate place, he went to the farmhouse of his friend Bofarull, but was detained. There he declares that he is a religious and begins his Calvary. First, he is forced to blaspheme but refuses. “Kill me if you want, but this, no!”, he repeated over and over when they provoked him with obscene suggestions. Now in Cervera, they took him to some brothels, forced to consent to the most vulgar and vile proposals. Brother Saperas always responded: “I am a virgin, and a virgin I will die!”. On getting nowhere in Cervera they took him to Tárrega with the same intentions. All in vain. No need to repeat here everything that many witnesses declared regarding this in the Process. They thought about mutilating the genitals of the Brother, but they desisted. In the end, on the road to the cemetery, as they were going to kill him, he said to them: “I forgive you! I forgive you! I forgive you!”. The volley rang out and, on the ground, he said: “Mother! My Mother!”
Fr. Ángel Pérez Santamaría was assassinated at close range on the 7 August on the road to Cubells by a militiawoman. Once dead, he was tied to the back of the car and after being dragged some metres, he was disposed of.
Fr. Joan Prats, professor of Canon Law, was shot on the 17 August in Montmaneu. When the one designated to fire the shot missed, the other militia crushed Fr. Joan’s skull with rocks.
The Students Jenaro Pinyol and Remigi Tamarit were detained by the Committee of Borges Blanques while going to their families. They were allowed to write something to their parents, to pray before dying and died, facing forward, shouting “Long live Christ the King!”
Fr. Emili Bover would die in the cemetery of Cervera on the 20 August exclaiming: “I forgive you from the heart for the love of God”, and wanted to kiss the hand of the one who was going to shoot him.
The young priest Fr. Enric Cortadellas was detained when he was found in the house of his parents. It was three in the morning of 25 August when he fell under the bullets in the cemetery in Cervera. Also, the young Bro. Ramon Rius was detained. As he embraced his mother she said to him: “If they want you to renounce your faith and God, no way are you to do so. Prefer to die a thousand times before apostatising”. It was the 2 September.
On the 16 September Fr. Joan Alsina and the Student Antoni Perich were taken from the prison of Manresa together with six lay people to be shot in the cemetery of Castellvell del Vilar.
There were eight more who for lack of witnesses were not entered into the canonical process but have the same merit. They are: Frs. Josep Folqué and Dionis Ponsa; Students Josep Reixach, Irineo Jiménez and Daniel Sáenz; and Brothers Esteve Mestres and Agustín Trallero.
4.6 Two Martyrs of the Seminary of Solsona, Lleida
Of the seventy missionaries that made up the community of the Philosophy Seminary only two were going to suffer martyrdom: Student Josep Vidal and Brother Julián Villanueva. The rest had been dispersed on the 21 July to try and cross the Pyrenees to France. The church and the seminary were left in flames.
The young student, Josep Vidal, was detained on the 22 August in the farmhouse El Grifé, of the village of Navés, for being a militant of Catholic Action and a religious. In the middle of the night, there were some shots, and his body was abandoned in the middle of the road. At dawn, the driver of the bus between Solsona and Berga had to stop to remove the body.
Bother Julián Villanueva, 67, a native of Villanueva in Navarra. On being asked who he was, he openly responded to the militia: “I am a religious, Catholic, apostolic, Roman and, besides, Navarro”. On insinuating that he was lazy like all monks, he responded: “Well, you have to know that in my house they were not poor. Nevertheless, in my forty years as a religious I have always lived by my work and earned my bread. Those shoes you are wearing, they are my work”. Bro. Julián was the shoemaker of the community and had made the shoes for the students who were moving on to Cervera. In the end, they took him by car to a wood near the village of Su, Lleida where they stripped him and took the few pesetas he had with him; the rosary, medals and crucifix remained hanging round his neck and before dying, prayed on his knees saying: “Know that I am not afraid of death. I offer my life for God and for souls. I forgive you for the crime you are going to commit with me and I ask the Divine Mercy to accept my blood for your salvation”. It was 1 September 1936.
4.7 Other Martyrial Communities
Besides those assassinated missionaries who were associated with the formation communities, others also suffered a violent death in the communities of Lleida, Barcelona, Sabadell, Vic, Sallent, Valencia and Castro Urdiales.
When the house and church of San Pablo was plundered the eleven missionaries of the community of Lleida took refuge in a family home. There they were arrested, six were taken to the prison. Fr. Joan Busquests, 68, was left in the house and the superior, Fr. Frederic Codina, was presented before the Revolutionary Committee to be returned as well to the prison. While he was walking there, guarded by a squad of militia, in the Paheria plaza, right in the city centre, they discharged their rifles into him. One of the militia that fired had been an altar server in the church of San Pablo. It was the 21 July. He was the first of the missionaries to be assassinated in Catalonia.
The priests Agustí Lloses, Artur Tamarit, Manuel Torres, Miquel Baixeras, Lluís Albi and Xavier Morell, with the Brothers Joan Garriga and Ángel Dolcet, interned in the macro-jail of Lleida, were expecting to die from one day to the next. The first were Tamarit (brother of Remigi, assassinated 27 August in La Floresta) Torres and Baixeras (brother of one of the martyrs of Barbastro). It was 25 July.
On the 21 August seventy-four would be martyred (among them the bishop Monseñor Huix and the Claretians Lloses, Albi, Morell, Garriga and Dolcet) taken from the prison to the cemetery.
And the young priest of the La Selva de Camp community, Fr. Xavier Surribas? When they arrived at the station of Lleida he removed his summer hat and discovering that he had the clerical tonsure, a militiaman left him riddled with bullets. He was 26.
In Barcelona the Claretian Missionaries had two communities: Gracia, the Provincial Curia, school, church, house of preaching, etc. with a total of 56 members. And that of Ripoll Street as the Procure for the Missions of the then Spanish Guinea with nine missionaries. Out of them all, only 20 achieved the palm of martyrdom, following the normal routine till their death: registration, statement at the corresponding Police Station, death and the body being found.
25 July Bro. Joan Capdevila, manager of the branch of the publisher Coculsa.
The following day Fr. Gumersindo Valtierra, superior of Ripoll.
The 29th, Fr. Cándid Casals, superior of the Community of Gracia.
The 31st, the body of the student Adolfo De Esteban appeared behind the San Pablo hospital.
22 August, the body of Fr. Antoni Junyent appeared in the Clinic. He was about to buy his ticket to Argentina.
The day before Fr. Jacint Blanch was assassinated in Pedralbes.
The 27th, Fr. Tomàs Planas would be shot near to Sabadell, waiting to travel to Rome to continue his higher studies. He was 30.
The following day Fr. Ciril Montaner, eminent missionary in Equatorial Guinea, was taken from the prison of San Elias, to meet with a violent death.
In the community of Sabadell there were eleven missionaries: eight priests of advanced age who exercised the ministry of the confessional and three Brothers who took care of the house. Out of them all, only eight of them would come to be added to the list of martyrs.
Josep Reixach: at three in the morning of the 25 July was left injured the street, bleeding, he got to the Casa de la Caridad. But now it was late. Speaking to the militia he told them:
“If it was you who have fired the shots at me, I forgive you from the heart. I want to die like Jesus who also forgave those would end up sacrificing him”. He was 71.
Tomàs Planas, + 27 August.
Mateu Casals, superior of the community, + 5 September.
Josep Puig, had just celebrated his priestly Golden Jubilee, + 5 September.
Josep Clavería, Joan Rafí and Josep Cardona, + 5 September.
Joan Torrents, + 17 March 1937.
The communities of Sallent, birthplace of St. Anthony Mary Claret and Vic, birthplace of the Congregation founded by him, were also to be splattered by the blood of the missionaries.
Five in Sallent:
Josep Capdevila, superior, + 25 September in Manlleu.
Jaume Payàs, director of the school, the elderly Joan Mercer, and the Brothers Marcelino Mur and Marià Binefa, assassinated 25 July in Sallent.
The church of La Merced in Vic was left completely destroyed; the house and the novitiate burnt down. The remains of St. Anthony Mary Claret were hidden in the house of the
Bantulà family. The whole population was under the wrath of the revolution. The missionaries of the community, seventy-eight counting the novices, were persecuted and a sizeable group assassinated. The priests José Arner, master of novices, and Casto Navarro, his assistant, were the first victims on the night of the 7 to 8 August in Sant Sadurní d’Osormot, close to Vic, after eight days of waiting for martyrdom. The novices in the red zone were sent home to their families and, those in the national zone, to the Casa de Caridad.
The priests, Josep Puigdessens, illustrious professor of philosophy and Julio Aramendia, a competent spiritual writer for his 30 years, were together in Vic preparing a study on Holiness, arguing for the veracity of the Catholic Church. Taking refuge in the house of a sister of Puigdessens, and betrayed by a neighbour, very early in the morning of 17 August, they were riddled with bullets on the road to Manlleu, very close to Vic.
When Fr. Joan Blanch went to preach in the town of Guisona, he had to take refuge for more than a month in the house of the Lloses family, parents of Fr. Agustì, a martyr of Lleida, until the 31 August when some militia took him, together with the owner of the house, to end up as bodies in a ditch in San Pere d’Arquells. It was 31 August.
On the 24 October, the priests Joan Codinach, missionary in Chocó, Colombia, Miquel Codina, a young professor of theology in Cervera and the Bro. Jose Casals, an exemplary missionary at the service of the community, all received the palm of martyrdom. They had taken refuge in the farmhouse El Vivet. The militia came there to put them in the jail in Vic and put an end to their lives in Manlleu and Malla.
The final martyr of the Vic community would be the elderly and infirm Brother Miguel Facerías, tailor, farmer, cook. It was the 22 February 1937 when he celebrated his seventy-seventh birthday, and was left lying in the road to Alboquers.
Valencia was also the backdrop for martyrdom with the death of four priests from the recent foundation in an apartment near the church of San Vicent, the Martyr: Marceliano Alonso, José Ignacio Gordon, Tomás Gallipienzo and Luis Francés. They were not at home when they were detained but had taken refuge in different places and circumstances, to end up assassinated outside the city of Valencia: in Alboraya, the priests Marcelino and José Ignacio, on the 13 August; in Olocau, Fr. Luis (+ 21 August) and in Paterna Fr. Tomás (+ 1 September)
Speaking of Valencia, the Claretian Missionary Sister María Patrocinio Giner must be remembered. She was beatified together with 232 martyrs of the Archdiocese of Valencia on 11 March 2001. She was born in Tortosa, Tarragona, in 1874. For many years she discharged the task of formator of the young generations of Claretian Sisters and an educator in Carcagents, Valencia. She died a martyr in Portichol de Valldigna, Valencia, on 13 November 1936.
In the Cause of Beatification of the 109 Claretian Missionaries there are included three of the nine that made up the community of the Barquín del Corazón de María School in Castro Urdiales, Cantabria: the priests Joaquín Gelada, Isaac Carrascal and the Brother Félix Barrio.
On being forced to abandon the School, they were welcomed at a Children’s Home run by religious sisters of the Servants of Jesus to whom the priests were chaplains. The Home welcomed many girls from workers’ families. The missionaries believed their mission was to stay there together with the sisters who looked after the Home, until they became aware of the situation on hearing that other missionaries of the communities of Castro Urdiales and San Vicente de la Barquera had been shot. On 13 October, the three priests at the Home were detained and led to the convent of the Poor Clares, converted into a jail. From here, a car was awaiting them in the old Barquín School. They were assassinated near to Torrelavega.
Ecclesial Perspective of the Martyrs
This beatification of 109 Claretian Missionaries is not just an event reserved to the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Heart of Mary (Claretians), another jewel more in the martyrial treasury, but rather an ecclesial event. They are martyrs of the Church. They are martyrs for everybody. The Church has always been attentive to the voice and testimony of its martyrs. Martyrdom has been a constant in the history of the Church because from the testimony of those who gave their life for the Gospel of Jesus was born, with power, the adherence to the community of believers.
“From the earliest times, then,- the Vatican Council reminds us – some Christians have been called upon—and some will always be called upon—to give the supreme testimony of this love to all men, but especially to persecutors. The Church, then, considers martyrdom as an exceptional gift and as the fullest proof of love. By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world—as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood. Though few are presented such an opportunity, nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men. They must be prepared to make this profession of faith even in the midst of persecutions, which will never be lacking to the Church, in following the way of the cross”. (Lumen Gentium, n. 42).
It is enough to record the martyrs of Rome, of Lyon, of Cartago, of Cordoba, etc. So many martyrs throughout the history of yesterday and today, in religious persecutions such as in Mexico, in Spain of 1936, in the so called ‘Church of Silence’, in Albania, etc. Martyrs like Maximilian Kolbe, Titus Brandsma, Oscar Romero, Giuseppe Puglisi, Benedict Daswa, etc. On the 30 June 2014, remembering the martyrs of the first centuries, Pope Francis reminded us “today is still a time of martyrs:” and that in our days there are “no fewer martyrs than in Nero’s time. Christians are persecuted in the Middle East where they are forced to flee, even handled “in an elegant manner, with white gloves”. Let us pray “for our brothers and sisters who live in persecution today”. And at the Angelus on 23 June 2013 he had said:
“Martyrs are the greatest example of losing one’s life for Christ. In 2,000 years, a vast host of men and women have sacrificed their lives to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. And today, in many parts of the world, there are many, many — more than in the first centuries — so many martyrs, who give up their lives for Christ, who are brought to death because they do not deny Jesus Christ. This is our Church. Today we have more martyrs than in the first centuries!”.
The name of the persecutors, the historic and political contexts can change but the dynamic is the same
Remembering today the 109 Claretian martyrs officially recognised by the Church, let us listen to the call to continue the reflection of the martyrial spirituality that has perhaps been eclipsed and not present much in the 20th and present Century. Our brother martyrs, and all the martyrs, have shown the true face of humanity, and at the same time have demonstrated that the executioners, who believed themselves to be superheroes, in reality are reduced to beasts. The martyrs are capable of saving humanity precisely because they saved their faith. In this sense, the martyrs have much power. They have demonstrated that evil can be overcome by good. “We forgive you” were the last words spoken by our martyrs. Others didn’t get to pronounce it with their lips but only in their heart. And they have demonstrated that one can forgive when there is love.
We give you thanks, Father,
for the dedicated lives of our brothers
Mateu, Teófilo, Ferran and their 106 companion martyrs.
The blood they shed
sealed their commitment to follow your Son Jesus Christ
to the ultimate consequences.
Sustained by your grace,
they died forgiving their executioners
and offering their lives as Eucharistic bread.
Help us, Father, to welcome their witness so that we too
may be credible witnesses of the Gospel
and workers for reconciliation
in the Church and in the world.
Grant that, with the strength of the Holy Spirit
and following the example of the Heart of Mary,
we may always listen to your Word,
keep it in our heart and proclaim it to all
with the witness of a joyful and committed life.
“In these last decades, with the occasion of the beatifications of our brothers, we have contemplated with great joy the love, appreciation and fidelity to the vocation shown by so many Claretian Missionaries of all times and places. We are impressed and filled with joy also to discover the faithful and simple steadfastness with which thousands of people with whom we share the faith have preserved the gifts of God amid difficulties (Missionarii Sumus 28).
- A Martyrial Congregation
- Cause of the Beatification of the 109 Claretian Martyrs
- Beyond the Personal Details
- In Grateful Memory
4.1. The Martyrs of Cervera
4.2. The Group of Lleida
4.3. The Martyrs at the Hospital
4.4. Martyrdom of the Group at Mas Claret
4.5. Solitary Martyrs
4.6. Two Martyrs of the Seminary of Solsona, Lleida
4.7. Other Martyrial Communities: Lleida, Barcelona,
Sabadell, Sallent, Vic, Valencia y Castro Urdiales
- Ecclesial Perspective of the Martyrs