We are preparing ourselves for the ecclesial and congregational celebration of the beatification of the 109 martyrs of our Congregation. Meditations on the life of our martyrs is one of the important means to be reflect about them, to participate in their martyrial spirit, to learn the meaning of fidelity to our vocation and to allow ourselves to be amazed by their courage to find the hand of God even in those depths of darkness. This helps us to be strengthened in our call to walk with the Lord. Looking at our martyrs from the Asian Christian perspective is a strength and consolation for us. The Asian Church was born and grew up amidst persecutions, which is always present with her. It reminds us always that we are not left alone in our trials and persecutions. The church is always with us supporting and encouraging to journey with the Lord for his Kingdom. Though the Christian population in our continent is little, its presence is vibrant in its being as witness for the Lord.
Gospel text for meditation: Jn 15: 18-25.
“If the world hates you, you must realise that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because my choice of you has drawn you out of the world, that is why the world hates you. Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well. But it will be on my account that they will do all this to you, because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come, if I had not spoken to them, they would have been blameless; but as it is, they have no excuse for their sin. Anyone who hates me hates my Father. If I had not performed such works among them as no one else has ever done, they would be blameless; but as it is, in spite of what they have seen, they hate both me and my Father. But all this was only to fulfil the words written in their Law: They hated me without reason”.
This gospel text presents us the cost of discipleship. The hatred for Christ falls certainly on his disciples too. The follower of Jesus is a new creature. This newness makes him to be different from the world. This is another reason for the hatred. Because the new life of the disciple can no more be in agreement with the values of corruption, unjust order, inequality, social injustice, etc. He always manifests his disagreement with the world. Therefore he is rejected. It is basically because of the absence and lack of experiencing the love, mercy and compassion of God the Father.
In the light of this Gospel text the following different aspects of martyrdom are presented.
- Martyrdom, a special grace and vocation, 2. Martyr, a witness for Christ, 3. Martyrs´ awaiting the New Life, 4. Martyrs´ Baptismal and Eucharistic calls, 5. Martyrs of the Church in Asia. Each aspect ends with 2 questions for personal reflection and meditation
- Martyrdom, a special grace and vocation
Human nature is profoundly challenged to accept even a tiny thought about pain, suffering and death. This makes an individual to trembling and fear. It is something unacceptable for all of us. But the Christian martyrs willfully and hopefully bore on themselves all tortures and ultimately the very fact of death itself for a greater cause of Jesus and his Gospel. This is a grace and vocation granted for a few. In his spiritual notes, Peter Caball Juncà, our Claretian professed seminarian of the community of Cervera, has noted down to us, “I shall pray to Jesus and Mary, I shall ask and earnestly implore them to instil in me every day more and more the strength in their service or if they want, to shed my blood for them, when the time comes”. Josep Maria Casademont Vila, another professed Claretian seminarian proposed to himself in 1928 “A holy martyrdom”. Teófilo Casajús Alduán, also a professed Claretian seminarian daringly wrote a letter about his martyrdom, “These persecutions we go through cause in me neither fear nor a shadow of sorrow. Let us know to be bold in the less favorable circumstances”. Antonio Elizalde Garbisu, one of the above said community, found martyrdom in his priesthood and wrote to his Sister Camino in 1936, “Martyrdom does not daunt me anymore; on the contrary, I consider it as the great grace I can receive in this world”. To his mother´s advice not to deny God but on the contrary to opt for martyrdom always, Ramon Rius Camps, a lay brother of the community replied, “Mother I assure you that if this moment is presented, I always would choose to give my life for God”. Fr. Jacint Blanc Ferrer was frequently telling in 1936, “Martyrdom is a grace. To suffer martyrdom is a very big thing”. Before leaving the house for martyrdom, Adolfo de Esteban Rada, bid farewell to Mrs. Angela, the woman who sheltered him in her house, “Mrs. Angela, you have been a mother for me. I am very grateful to you. I am going to die, but I die peacefully because I will be martyr and go to heaven”. Fr. Jose Arner Margalef took pride in his persecution and looked at it as a gift from God. He was inculcating in the members of his community that “all must be proud of being persecuted personally for Christ and that this was a very big grace”. A few like these brothers of our Congregation are endowed with this gift of martyrdom which is “the most sublime consummation of the Christian vocation and the greatest surety of obtaining the eschatological hope”. It is freely and courageously embraced as a response to this highest call of God by being a witness to a radical option for Him and his kingdom.
How do I look myself when I am challenged with hardships and sacrifices of my comforts?
How do I convince myself that I am for God who calls to be with him where he is and die for him?
- Martyr, a witness for Christ
The word “Martyr” means “witness” and “witness by death.” Christian Martyrdom is a witness to one’s total love and devotion to God above all else. The Christian Martyrs bear on themselves the wounds of Christ. They have their participation in their baptismal vocation. They die with Christ and raise again to life (Rom 6:4). In this sense, the martyr accomplishes in a unique manner the sublime limits of the Christian life. Thus, they are tireless in their effort to live in intimate communion with Christ and to clothe themselves in his spirit (Gal 3:5-7); they accept as their own the cause for which their Master lived and died and rose again. For this cause they were willing to confront and endure conflicts and hostilities and in fact, strengthened by the hope of the resurrection they endured the cross. As Adolfo Esteban Rada wrote to his brother Teodoro before his martyrdom, “Teodoro, believe me that nothing of the present political situation terrifies me. If needed we shall die as martyrs of faith in Jesus Christ. The suffering will be short and the joy will be eternal”. They suffered martyrdom, because they are “nonconformist” with the values of world, but convinced to proclaim the Gospel in a world of sin and injustice. The daring response of Brother Juan Villanueva Olza to the attacks of the persecutors reveal that threats would not deter his witnessing spirit,“I am not afraid of you. Neither for you nor for your gun. You can kill me if you want, but I am not scared of you, because there is a supreme judge before whom we must see face to face”. Fr. James Payás Fargas was full of enthusiasm to receive the grace of martyrdom. Hiding from the threats was a painful one for him. He tells, “We should not be like this, we have to be courageous. It is painful for me to remain hidden, because I would be glad to present myself as priest in public”. He was delighted to think about the death of St. Peter, Martyr, reciting the creed while bleeding and writing on the earth until the last drops of his blood, when he was no more able to speak. Therefore along with St. Paul, every martyr is able to say, “We are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2 Cor 4:10).
The book of Revelation calls Jesus “faithful and true witness” (Rev 3:14). Jesus bore witness to his Father in word and deed. He defended himself before Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (Jn. 18:37). In his mission to bear witness to the love of his Father, he dared to overthrow the Sabbath law that hindered to do good for the person in need. He proclaimed that his God is a merciful and compassionate Father. Therefore, his adversaries plotted to take him away. His witness for the Truth of his Father made him the Martyr for his cause. The martyrdom of Jesus was the inevitable consequence of his radical fidelity to himself and to the mission he received from the Father. His death cannot be a simple accomplishment of the will of the Father for the salvation of the world. On the contrary, it is the historical rejection of His Message and his person on the part of those who did not want to change their life and accept the demands of the kingdom of God. Pondering on the martyrdom of Jesus, St. Augustine presents him as “the Head of martyrs.” In today´s context of persecution against Christians, Pope Francis tells that it began with Jesus himself and has continued throughout the history of the Church. This is why Christianity cannot exist without martyrdom.
The words of Adolfo Esteban Rada wrote to his father a few months before his martyrdom is true. He wrote, “Don´t have any fear because of this lot, for it is important that I be strong to shed my blood for the cause of Jesus Christ”. Being Christian, religious and priest was the reason behind the killing of our martyrs. Because by this they were boldly standing as witnesses for the Lord. When writing of the witnessing character Fr. Arturo Tamarit Pinyol, Xavier Morell tells, “…only because of being religious they wanted to kill all the religious…So he died for being religious and consequently he is a real martyr. Now you have brother martyr! Do you want a greater glory than this?” The patient and tolerant attitudes of Fr. Joseph Reixach Reguer from the community of Sabadell lived his witnessing character for the Lord. When he was taken to the hospital severely wounded with uncontrollable flow of blood, seeing his strength to withstand pain and the loss of blood the nurses were telling that by all means he had to be a religious and if it were to be any other person, he would not suffer with so much of patience. On seeing the armed guards and the judge, he told them, “If you were the ones who have shot me, I forgive you, because I want to die as Jesus who forgave those who crucified him”. Fr. James Giron Puigmitjà´s assassins themselves bore witness his edifying witness even at the last moment of his life. He spoke to them persuading in such a way that some of them began to hesitate to shoot him. At the end he placed his right hand on the heart telling, “Shoot me right here” and at the same time he forgave them. Brother Ferran Saperes Aluja, the martyr of chastity, witnessed Christ by forgiving all those who ill-treated him and his religious vocation. When his persecutors took him to the cemetery of Tárrega, they placed him near the Wall. Our martyr asked them permission to speak, “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do” and he repeated many times, “I forgive you! I forgive you!” In those days of utter confusion and crisis of experiencing the silence of God to question why he had abandoned his people, Fr. Ciril Montaner Fabré stood as a witness for his strong faith in God. The family that received him in their house told, “He was instilling in us the confidence in God, the merit of persecutions, even shedding blood to bear witness of faith in Jesus Christ. More than ones he told us that if the moment would arrive, he would not hide his condition as minister of God and that if there would come any danger, he would not feel sorry for him, but for the family that has received him into his house”. Even amidst the danger of his life, Fr. Julio Armendía Urquía discovered God and his faith as meaning for his death. He made it very clear, “I shall try my best to save my life, but when I am lost, I don´t want to have a meaningless death. I want to be a martyr. If I have to die, I die for God and for my faith”.
The mission of religious life is to bear witness to Christ. How do you I witness Christ in my surrounding?
How do I make meaningful my vocation as a Claretian Missionary? Is my life meaningful because of my vocation?
- Martyrs´ waiting the New Life
Martyrs´ faith in Jesus and their desire to be his witnesses led them to shed their life to enter into New Life. They strongly believed that their self-offering for Jesus and his Gospel was the only way to save their life. In this sense, they stand as witnesses for the Gospel promise, “Anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35). On 24th July at 2-o´clock afternoon when the community of Cervera was dispersed into two groups they made a moving farewell to themselves telling, “Good bye till heaven. All be for the glory of God and the Congregation”. This farewell until heaven made their martyrdom deeply meaningful; because they strongly believed that they were participating in the fullness of life promised by God for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9). On 26th July, 1936 when Fr. Manuel Jové Bonet and his companions were led to the cemetery of Lerida to be shot dead, they were asked by their assassins whether they wanted to die for God. They replied them courageously “yes”. Therefore, they were shot dead at once. Fr. John Maria Buxó Font, a professional physician who healed the broken leg of an ungrateful communist militant, exhorted the assassin Solé for his conversion, to believe that there is life after death, and there is God. Fr. Henry Costatella Segura told his mother, “If I come back to life hundred times, I would join in the same congregation all the times, even at the risk of losing life”. He too pacified his mother telling that if they kill him he would go to heaven and pray for all of them. Finally, before being led to death, he embraced his mother and told, “Mother, good bye, till heaven”. Brother Ramon Roca Buscallà used to say, “If they kill us, we shall be martyrs. We shall go to heaven where we will be better than here and we need not hide ourselves there”. The professed seminarian Gener Pinyol wrote just before his death, “My most beloved parents, brothers and dearest Congregation, I write to you my last words of farewell. Good bye till heaven”. Remigius Tamarit Pinyol, another professed seminarian, wrote to his family members with the former one, “In the same way, good bye till heaven, Luis, Maria, little ones Pius, Arthur, good bye, good bye, good bye, I die telling Long Live Christ the King”. Their amazing acclamations of good-bye, until heaven and Long Live Christ the King reveal the strong hope of their definitive encounter with the Lord. This is the dynamic dimension of the martyrs’ self-sacrifice. Before his martyrdom Fr. Agustí Lloses Trullos wrote his parents, “My most beloved parents, I shall always think of you now more than ever; from heaven you will have a powerful advocate before God…I write to you amidst panic. I am sorry I cannot write more. I await all of you in heaven without fail”. Their option for Jesus and their denouncing of all forms of social dehumanization proclaim their conviction on the possibility of another world founded on gospel values and they would be born again to the fullness of life.
Am I able to set my heart on the things beyond this world (Col 3:1) and its values?
- Martyrs´ Baptismal and Eucharistic calls
For our martyrs their martyrdom is their fidelity to their baptismal vocation in which they are die and are buried with Christ and raised with him to New Life (Rm6:4-10). St. Paul´s baptismal experience explains the crucifixion and destruction of the old self and final freedom from sin that has no power over the faithful Christian, the martyr. For Fr. Joan Busquet Massià, his death as martyr was a new dawn to raise to life. He was praying to the Lord to make him worthy of the martyrdom, since the bothers of his community had received it already. He was expecting his death surrendering himself joyfully to the will of God. He saw those very difficult circumstances with a cheerful optimism telling that all would be for a joyful awakening.
Their martyrdom is intimately related to the Paschal Mystery of Christ celebrated in the Eucharist. Through their martyrial death, they witnessed that they not only celebrated the Body and Blood of Christ every day, but they became part of the Eucharistic sacrifice itself. In the Holy Mass we remember and celebrate the passion and death of our Lord. As the Lord offered himself as an expression of his love for the humanity, our brother martyrs´ faith and the celebration of the Holy Mass was a call for them to offer themselves for the cause of God. Through their holocaust they made meaningful the Eucharistic words of our Lord “This is my Body Broken for you…This is my Blood that is Shed for you”. Fr. Julio Leache Labiano from the community of Cervera encouraged his community members, “If they kill us that we are fascists, they insult us; but if it is for celebrating Mass and being religious, then this is martyrdom.” Fr. Buxó, the professional physician priest of the community of Cervera, lived the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist by taking care of his brothers of the community admitted in the hospital, though he had ample possibilities to escape from the assassins. He told the nurse religious nun Lourdes Masferrer, “I could save myself, because I am healthy, but I don´t want to leave these poor sick ones”. He offered his life remaining with his sick brothers until the end of his life. Amat Rascarich Asclosa expressed his life as a sacrificial victim like his Master, before being dispersed from the community of Cervera, “I offer myself as victim”. The martyrdom of Fr. Joan Blanc Badia was a sacrifice for the sake of Mr. Lloses, the owner of the house that had sheltered him. On the midnight of 31st August, 1936, when communist militant guards arrested and led them through the streets to kill Fr. Blanch was insisting them, “If you want, you kill me; but leave this poor father of the family”. There was no compassion and both of them were condemned to die.
How do I respond to my baptismal call to die with Christ and raise with him to New Life?
How do I live the Eucharist as a sacrifice for the wellbeing of others?
- Martyrdom in the Church in Asia
Asia is a land of promise and hope for all humankind (cf. EA 1). Jesus, the Asian martyred for witnessing the loving mercy of the Father, gave us the mandate to preach the gospel throughout the world and make disciples of all nations. The Church was born in Asia with the martyrdom. Its rapid growth from Jerusalem to Antioch then to the West, in Rome witnessed innumerable martyrdoms. Christian faith reached the shores of India where St. Thomas the Apostle preached and was martyred. The faith entered the West Asian country of Armenia where the Gospel was preached by the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew and through their martyrdom, Armenia became the first nation to embrace Christianity.
The apostolic evangelization in Syria, the Arab nations during the fifth century, to the Chinese in the thirteenth century and to the Pacific from the fifteenth century onwards had produced witnesses and martyrs of the Christian faith. These living Christian models had shown extraordinary witness of life and labor for the growth of the Church in Asia. They had planted the Christian faith right in the womb of the world’s ancient religions and traditions. Their blood was a gift for the Church to grow; their martyrdom was a profound source of “spiritual richness and a great means of evangelization.” (EA 9)
Inspiration from Asian Martyrs
The examples of the Christian martyrs both proclaimed by the Church and only those known to God alone are an inspiration and an encouragement to the missionaries who tirelessly dedicate their lives for the Church’s evangelizing work in Asia. John Paul II hopes that the “great host of Asian Martyrs, old and new, never cease to teach the Church in Asia what it means to bear witness to the Lamb…” (EA 49). “The faith in Jesus is a gift and a gift to be shared; it is the greatest gift which the Church can offer to Asia.” (EA 10) This gift of faith implies hardships, trials, challenges, and the various difficulties of preaching the Gospel as the missionaries continuously encounter the richness of the cultures of Asia. The journey of faith in Asia is a journey towards the richness of the sacrifices done by the Asian martyrs. The blood of the martyrs poured out in this continent had manifested to the peoples of Asia the value of “holiness of life and the readiness to offer one’s life for the Gospel.” (EA 9)
Asian Martyrs for the Mission of Christ
Asia is blessed with martyrs inspiring the renewal of mission today. The martyrs infused in the hearts of Asians the sense of mission and solidarity. In India, Gonzalo Garcia and John de Brito were canonized in 1629 and 1947 respectively. Japan has Paul Miki and companions, Gracia Hosakawa, Ludivico Ibaragi, Michael Kozaki, and Takayama Ukon. Korea honors more than 10,000 martyrdoms and John Paul II canonized 103 martyrs in Seoul last 1984. It honored Andrew Kim Taegon, a native Korean priest with Chung Hasang and Kim Hyoim who were lay leaders. The Philippines has Lorenzo Ruiz and companions and Catechist Pedro Calungsod who was beatified in 2000. Vietnam has more than 130,000 martyrs including those 117 martyrs canonized in 1988: Andrew Dung Lac, Phanxico Xavier Can, Vincent Diem, Phaolo Le Bao Tinh, Phero Nguyen Khac Tu. And Agnes Le Thi Thanh who was beatified in 2000. China has 120 martyrs canonized by John Paul II in 2000. Among them 33 were missionaries and 87 as native Chinese. Apart from these, there are 222 martyrs of Eastern Church.
Our martyrs bore witness to Christ accepting all the tortures for Christ. The “centrality of the person and the mission of Jesus Christ was their continual source of strength”. Their commitment to prayer, the Word of God, Holy Eucharist, our Blessed Mother and community life sustained them to withstand all the painful experiences. Today our martyr brothers encourage us by their testimony to be faithful to our vocation even at the cost of our very life. Though the martyrs seems to be defenseless, without riches or weapons, before persecution and hostility, their manifest that their only strength is the Gospel. Pope Francis assures us, “In times of hardship, one must believe that Jesus stands before us and he does not cease to accompany his disciples.” He insists that the strength demonstrated by martyrs throughout the centuries is an inspiration for Christians today to model our life on Christ.