Father Antonio Carmaníu y Mercader (1860-1936)
Lord, our God, who desired to instill in your priestly son, Antonio, an admirable moral doctrine and an intense love of the Virgin Mary, grant us through his intercession to love what he loved and to practice what he taught. May we always act in conformity with your will! We make this prayer in the name of Jesus, the Lord. Amen.
Antonio, the son of Manuel and Teresa, was born in Rialp (Lérida) on April 17, 1860, the year of the Second Carlist War in Spain. The day after his birth he was baptized in the parish church of the town. The sacrament of Baptism and the commitments derived as a result of this celebration would be spoken about in
moral theology classes and in sermons preached during popular missions that would sustain Christians in their life and their commitment. Indeed, the Christian life must be grounded on the consecration that occurs at the time of baptism. Baptism opens the doors of the Church to all those who are reborn by water and the Spirit.
Antonio grew and enjoyed good health and also showed himself as one gifted with extraordinary human intelligence. His ideas and remarks as a child surprised his elders, causing them to admire his questions and responses … a situation similar to the account in Saint Luke’s gospel as Jesus remained behind in the Temple listening to and addressing various questions to the teachers who were assembled there: all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:47). It was not often that such an intelligent child should be found in Rialp … and so people wondered what would become of him as an adult.
A brilliant career:
In 1872, at the age of twelve, Antonio entered the diocesan seminary where he obtained outstanding grades in philosophy and the humanities. He was an excellent student and became distinguished for his command of La Dialéctica. His decision to enter the diocesan seminary resulted from his desire to be a priest … at the same time this was also seen as a way to develop his intellectual gifts.
At the age of nineteen and after having studied at the diocesan seminary for seven years, Antonio’s desire to be a diocesan priest was now changed … he wanted to become a Vincentian Missionary. He was attracted by the dedication of the Vincentians, especially those preaching popular missions and in 1879 requested admittance into the Congregation that had been founded by Saint Vincent de Paul. He had been aware of the ministry that the Vincentians had developed in Barbastro and perhaps as a young man he became aware of the fact that it was in Barbastro that the sons of Saint Vincent were first called Paules in Spain. After fulfilling the necessary requisites in order to be admitted into the Congregation, Antonio entered the Internal Seminary located in Chambers, Madrid (February 22, 1879). Reading the works of Saint Vincent de Paul Antonio learned that those who were both learned and humble were the treasure of the Company just as good and devout theologians were the treasure of the Church (CCD:XI:115). Those words of Saint Vincent appeared to be most appropriate with regard to his own missionary ideal.
As was customary in the Congregation, after two years of trial and vocational discernment, Antonio pronounced his vows on February 23, 1881 in the presence of the visitor, Father Mariano Joaquin Maller (1866-1892) and began his study of sacred theology (dogmatic and moral theology).
The profession of vows together with the practice of the virtues that constitute the spirit of Missionaries would become his second gospel. Gifted with a strong temperament, with a tendency to be severe and demanding, he would say that he needed to clothe himself in gentleness and humility, the virtues that Jesus, the evangelizer, practiced and taught to his disciples in order that they might relate with people of every class, but especially the poor whom they were to evangelize with words and actions. With the passing of time, experience taught Antonio that little or nothing is gained in one’s interactions with those who are poor unless one is patient, gentle, and affable.
His competence in the area of moral theology can be seen in the fact that, while he was a deacon, he received an appointment as interim professor of moral theology. This appointment also reveals the trust and confidence that his superiors placed in him. He fulfilled this role for a few months and then was appointed as full professor of theology. His clarity and prudence, his firmness and diligence and his respect of others … all these qualities were highlighted and admired by those persons who came to know him. Antonio came to realize that knowledge of ecclesiastical subjects and material must be joined with a knowledge that results from an intimate relationship with God. Therefore, one must persevere in the practice of prayer in order to penetrate more deeply God’s plan which is revealed in a special way to those who are simple.
He was always involved in pastoral ministry until he became ill:
Antonio was ordained a priest in 1885, a few months before the death of Alfonso XII and the same year in which Leo XIII declared Vincent de Paul as the universal patron of works of charity. After ordination he was sent to the Mission House in Palma (Mallorca) where he was tireless in preaching popular missions. In Mallorca he became the great champion and promoter of popular missions. Priests and the simple people who listened to him explain the gospel testified to the fact that his teaching was clear and yet profound. The priests were edified as they listened to his conferences during their time of retreat and people were able to savor his doctrinal and moral teachings during the popular missions that he preached. Jesus, the evangelizer of the poor, would always be the way, the truth, and the life who enlightened Antonio’s teachings and was his guide.
The year 1902, when Father Antonio was sent to Barcelona, was also the year in which the Province of the Congregation was divided in two: the Province of Madrid and the Province of Barcelona. As was hoped, Father Antonio decided to belong to the Province of Barcelona and he became one of the foundational stones in the new canonical Province. Politically, 1902 saw King Alfonso XIII ascend the Spanish throne after the premature death of Alfonso XII (November, 1885) and the Queen Regent, María Cristiana of Absburgo (1885-1902).
In 1904 the Congregation established a school in Rialp, Antonio’s home town and after ministering in Figueras and Bellpuig, he was missioned to this school in 1909 and would remain there until 1927. From 1902-1915 Father Carmaníu continued to give retrets to the Daughters of Charity in Barbastro. It was probably at this time the Josemaria Escriva approached Father Antonio to receive the sacrament of Penance. It is known that the enlightenment that Father Josemaria received with regard to his ministry occurred on October 2, 1928, the feast of the Guardian Angels, a time when he was making a retreat in the Casa Central of the Congregation, located in Madrid. Escriva de Belaguer’s family devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal was rooted in their relationship with the town of Barbastro, the town of their origin.
Father Carmaníu was attracted to the ministry of forming young people because this provided him with an opportunity to share his wisdom and his experience. He was demanding of his students. Every day they saw him open the school doors at 5:30am. In addition to his dedication to teaching he introduced into the family life of the town the home visits and devotion to our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The Association of the Miraculous Medal had been approved by Pope Pius X on July 8, 1909 and in 1913 was introduced into Spain. Rialp was one of the first places to practice the above mentioned devotion.
Father Antonio’s love for the Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal made him become a promoter of this devotion in the same way that he promoted the popular missions. His travels throughout Rialp are remembered for the enthusiasm with which he fomented devotion to Our Lady, the Mother of God and our Mother. Under the guidance of Father Carmaníu the faithful joyfully lifted up their prayers to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and confidently begged for her protection. Father Antonio would return to Rialp a second time, in 1928, as the superior of the house (an appointment he had received from the Visitor of the Barcelonia Province, Father Eugenio Comellas, CM). The house in Rialp continued to function until 1939 when the decrease in the number of Missionaries as a result of the Spanish Civil War made it difficult to maintain a house in that region.
All of this apostolic activity brought with it continual physical illness: stomach aches, headaches, and insomnia … these aches and pains were not relieved by the remedies prescribed by doctors. Neither a change of climate nor a change of diet enabled Antonio to recover his health, but he did not cease his ministry and he did not ask for some extraordinary cure. In silence and with Christian resignation he accepted these different forms of suffering which occasionally lessened the strength and the emotion with which he spoke and therefore obliged him to cancel some of his apostolic commitments.
In search of refuge in light the revolutionary danger:
It is enough to follow the last steps of Father Carmaníu (now seventy six years old and weary as a result of illness) in order to discover the profound suffering that accompanied him during the final months of his life. In July 1936 the Marxist Revolution was begun and at that time Father Anotnio was residing in the Casa Central in Barcelona, located on calle Provenza, 212. On the afternoon of July 19th Father Antonio, like the other priests and brothers, left the Casa Central and sought refuge in the capital. At the time of his departure he and the other confreres brought with them a container of consecrated hosts which little by little were consumed in order to prevent the Body of Christ from profanation. Father Carmaníu first found refuge in two distinct houses in the city of Barcelonia and later found a more secure refuge in the town of his birth. Before leaving the city, however, he wanted to present himself to the superior of the Casa Central (who had found refuge in a house there) and also wanted to request permission with regard to the matter of poverty as well as with regard to going to France in order to escape the present danger. The fact that the confreres were concerned about these matters reveals their convictions and furthermore shows us that they wanted to be faithful to the Congregation in all matters.
Thanks to a safe-conduct pass that had been provided by the head of the civil police in Barcelona, Father Anotnio arrived in Rialp near the end of July and hid himself in the house where he was born. Contrary to his belief, that place did not offer him any security and it became impossible to hide his presence from the people living in that town. Everyone knew that he had hidden himself there and even though people respected him, everyone was aware of his comings and goings. One day he was called before the Communist Committee to present a statement, an event that was interpreted as the approach of a death sentence. He was allowed to remain free but was guarded and prohibited from leaving the town. Nevertheless, he did not observe this prohibition and one night, around 11:30 he escaped the town and now entrusted himself into the hands of God and the saints to whom he had a special devotion. I am leaving, he said, and the Mother of God will guide me! The militia searched for him in the mountains and along the rivers and would have killed him immediately, but they could not find any trace of him.
From one hidden place to another he finally arrived at Estahón (Lérida) where he spent some time in the house of a family member. Accompanied by this individual and supported on the arms of that person, Antonio began to climb the mountains and was headed toward the French boarder where he hoped to find refuge in some house of the Congregation, perhaps in Toulouse. When he was found by members of the militia, he was detained as a suspect. They asked to see his safe-conduct pass and then he was detained by the Communist Committee in Estahón. There he spent the remainder of the day, August 16th and part of the day, August 17th.
Do not allow yourselves to be deceived and persevere in the faith:
This marked the beginning of the final and most painful stage of his life, a stage which ultimately led to his death. In the area around the school in Estahón, Father Antonio was tortured, beaten over the head with the butt of a rifle and all kinds of insults were hurled at him. He was then removed from the school and taken to various places. At one of these places he was able to see some members of his family and he warned them against the lies and the manipulated news that surrounded them: I know that you are good Christians and so I pray that you do not allow yourselves to be deceived. Persevere in the faith. A short time before this the members of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (F.A.I.) asked him to preach a sermon, and thus in a prophetic tone Father Carmaníu stated: I know that you are going to kill me. But the same thing that you are going to do to me will also be done to you … you will die two by two or four by four. He spoke with such strength and conviction that one of the members of the F.A.I. could not restrain himself and exclaimed: This man is speaking the truth!
At another stop we are reminded of the Lord’s passion for it was there that Father’s hands and feet were bound and he was forced to drink from a chalice some wine that had been mixed with drugs. The anarchists had previously removed all the chalices and ciborium and other sacred objects from the church. Father refused to drink from the chalice and his attitude and his refusal to obey the orders of the anarchists resulted in further torture and beatings.
Long live Christ the King! Now you can toss me aside!
Now drunk, the Marxists led Father down to Ribera de Cardós where they repeated the grotesque scene that had taken place earlier. They placed a cauldron filled with wine in front of him and said: Drink! This is the last day of your life! They then spoke obscenely about religious women and married women, mocking him and his priestly ministry. In Ribera de Cardós he was handed over to the F.A.I. in Tremp (Lérida) who in turn forced Father Antonio to climb into a pick-up truck and he was driven to the near-by town of Llavorsi (Lérida). Two or three kilometers outside of Llavorsi the same judges and executioners who had forced him into the pick-up truck now pushed him out of the truck.
It was about 10:00 or 11:00pm, August 17, 1936. After having subjected Father to humiliating and terrible torments, the members of the militia sat down to pass sentence on Father. The lights were focused on him so that their rifles could take aim at his body. He was ordered to turn his back to them and to face the Noguera Pallaresa River but once again the Servant of God refused to heed their words. He died looking directly at his executioners. While those members of the F.A.I. shouted: Long live communism! Father Carmanís with his weakened voice forced himself to profess his faith that was rooted in love: I forgive you! Long live Christ the King! Now you can toss me aside!
His executioners found these words of gospel forgiveness unbearable and they fired their rifles. The martyr collapsed but whispered: Long live Christ the King! His body was covered with sand and gravel and was carried away by the current of the river. His body was never recovered.
From the time of his death those who knew him testified to his holiness and to his wisdom and humility. Indeed, his holiness would become a glorious crown for the Church and for the Congregation. He never boasted about his intellectual gifts and qualities but rather, faithful to Christ, the evangelizer of the poor, he persevered in the practice of simplicity to the point of shedding his blood for the love of the One who had chosen him and anointed him. According to the many persons who knew him he spontaneously and willingly laid down his life … he died a martyr for Christ and for the faith!
[This biography, which can be found in Spanish on the website of the Madrid Province (http://www.paulesmadrid.org/), is an adaptation of the work done by Antonio Orcajo, CM and published by Editorial La Milagrosa, Madrid in the year 2012 under the title Misioneros Paúles Mártires de la Revolución Religiosa en España: 1934-1936 and translated into English by Charles T. Plock, CM].