The Witness of the Spanish Vincentian Missionaries: Martyrs of the Twentieth Century

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by: Antonio Orcajo, CM


[This presentation was given on August 23, 2013, during the XXXVIII Vincentian Studies Week that was held in Salamanca, Spain (August 19-23, 2013)].


Preliminary Notes

Because they have been dealt with in previous sessions, we presume here that everyone is aware of the two perspectives from which we view the martyrdom of our Missionaries; [1] the political, cultural, social and religious situation in which fourteen Vincentian missionaries were massacred, martyrs during the religious persecution that occurred in Spain from 1934-1939, [2] the Vincentian perspective.

We will refer to those different perspectives only to the degree that they will support and reinforce our presentation. Despite the redundancy of these perspectives which we do not want to examine in depth at this time, we do, nevertheless, find it necessary to make mention of the complex and tumultuous situation.

Historical context

The cause of beatification that we will reflect upon is the result of events that occurred during the time of the Second Republic in Spain: 1934, the first year of the civil war, 1936-1939, the time during which an unprecedented religious persecution in the history of Spain was unleashed, a persecution that finds its only parallel in the events that took place during the time of the Roman Empire.

The year 1934, when three of our Missionaries were assassinated during the Austrian uprising, severed as a prelude to the persecution that would be unleashed in 1936. All our martyrs gave witness, through their words and actions, to their faith and to their love of Jesus Christ, forgiving those who deprived them of their life. All died in odium fidei, that is, as a result of the hatred of the faith which they professed.

The fate of our martyrs would have been different if they renounced their way of life as religious and as members of the Congregation of the Mission they would have been spared a bloody death. But no, they decided to shed their blood rather than renounce their faith and their missionary vocation. Like many others, they rejected the praise and the proposals that were presented to them they did not allow themselves to be intimated by any form of coercion, neither moral nor physical. They were strong when they were mistreated abused and tortured [l]. Our martyrs were sentenced to death because they embraced their religious and missionary vocation.

Except for one case, we do not know the names of those individuals who executed the Missionaries they could have been members of some group of republicans or socialists or communists or anarchists who were willing to put to death any and all who openly lived and professed their faith in God. In other words, we are dealing with individuals who breathed a hatred against the faith, against religion and against the Church individuals who breathed the same hatred against ecclesiastics, men and women religious and committed lay persons.

The group of fourteen Spanish Missionaries/martyrs is composed of eleven priests and three brothers. Someone might ask: why are only fourteen Missionaries being beatified when fifty-six Missionaries were massacred in odium fidei? There is a rather simple answer; the Positio super martyrio for these fourteen confreres was presented and approved between the years 1997-2002, the years that were established by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for those who would be included in the rite of beatification that we will witness on October 13, 2013 in Tarragona [2]. The other three Positio of our other martyrs was presented after 2002 (to be exact, they were presented in 2009) and their approval for beatification is pending.

---Statement in honor of justice and the truth

Though this is said in passing and, if you will, in parenthesis, we state publically that the Positio super martyrio of the last three causes of the Missionaries of the Congregation, that is, the Positio corresponding to the Missionaries in Madrid, Cataluña and Levante were formulated and written by Sister Josefina Salvo, DC and Sister Ángeles Infante, DC. Father Robert Maloney, CM, who was Superior General at that time, encountered problems finding Missionaries who were willing to commit themselves to writing the Positio of their confreres/martyrs and as a result he asked Sister Margarita Morante, DC, the Visitatrix of the Saint Vincent de Paul Province for assistance in this regard. Sister Morante, in turn, entrusted this arduous and time consuming work to the two Sisters mentioned above.

Father Maloney was motivated to request this favor of Sister Margarita Morante because Pope John Paul II had extended an invitation to all the Bishops of the various dioceses in Spain and the Major Superiors of the Congregations and Orders in Spain, namely, an invitation to recover the memory of our martyrs. This invitation received a prompt and enthusiastic response from all the interested parties.

Father Maloney was motivated by another factor: Father José Maria Fernández, CM, who led a group of Vincentian Missionaries from Madrid to India where they established the Cuttack Mission, had been sub-director and the formator of the Daughters of the former Spanish Province whose residence was located at Calle Jesús 3, Madrid. The Positio of the fourteen Vincentian Missionaries and as well as the Positio of the Daughters of Charity that had been presented and approved in Rome was written by the same two Sisters, that is, Sister Josefina Salvo, DC and Sister Ángeles Infante, DC.

Vincentian perspective

It is within the christological and ecclesial framework that ought to provide a perspective for all Christian martyrs that we present the group of our fourteen martyrs (headed by Father Fortunato Velasco from the community of Alcorisa [Teruel]) and we now view them from a Vincentian perspective. We do this because we are participating in a Vincentian Study Week and also because our martyrs form a homogenous human/Christian group, all of whom shared the same apostolic purpose, characteristic spirit and mission and therefore all were sealed in “the faith and experience” of Vincent de Paul, a heritage passed on to all of Vincent’s followers. I noticed something similar in the relationship between three religious (one a Redemptorist, another a Salesian and the third a member of the La Salette Community) and the other confreres with whom they shared community.

From this Vincentian perspective we will reflect on three aspects that constitute the very core of the witness of the martyrs: [1] martyrdom, the source of missionary vocations, marks the beginning of a new stage in the history of the Congregation of the Mission in Spain, [2] relation between the witnesses and the testimony of their life, [3] unbloody martyrdom, an expression of the spirituality that is made explicit in the shedding of blood.

Martyrdom, the source of missionary vocations, marks the beginning of a new staged in the history of the Congregation of the Mission in Spain

The vocational promotion programs (very much in vogue today and also the fruit of frequent meetings) cannot replace the power of the martyrs’ witness which, in itself, is an explicit expression of the Christian life as well as an expression of a firm vocation that is a response of fidelity to Jesus Christ. The example of the martyrs leads people toward the following of Jesus and does this more powerfully and with greater conviction than any other type of vocational material. The encouragement of the martyrs will help those who are truly called by the Lord to overcome the difficulties they encounter now and will encounter in the future with regard to the radical following of Jesus and their ministry of evangelization.

Even though today on the national and world level, many cultural and religious aspects have changed, especially when we compare these aspects with those of the 1930’s, nevertheless there is no question that the influx of vocations into the church, in general and into the congregations and institutes, in particular, was due in great part to the blood that was shed by many committed Christians. Even though there might be other economic-social causes for this phenomenon, nevertheless the witness of the martyrs is historically non-debatable.

It is not unreasonable to think that the many missionary vocations that we experienced here in Spain after the era of religious persecution were the result of the blood that was shed by the martyrs. This same religious phenomenon occurred after the French Revolution (1789-1804) … and to cite an even more ancient example, we refer to the third century that was known as “the Century of Martyrs”.

It was Tertullian (155-222) who wrote: sanguis martyrum semen est Christianorum (the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians) [3]. This phrase from the Apologeticus has been frequently cited. Vincent de Paul spoke those words in various situations and with distinct audiences. The blood of our martyrs has become the seed that blossomed forth into valuable and abundant vocations.

In 1657 Vincent shared with the community his faith and experience when he explained that the salvation of nations and our own is so great a good as to deserve to be won at any cost; it doesn’t matter whether we die sooner or later, provided we die arms in hand; we’ll be all the happier for it and the Company will be no poorer, for sanguis martyrum semen est Christianorum (the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians). For one Missioner who has given his life for the love of God, the goodness of God will raise up many others to do the good he will have left undone (CCD:XI:366).

If that was Vincent’s conviction then we should not be surprised by the fact that during the November 12th, 1656 repetition of prayer he once again was insistent on that point: God grant, my dear confreres, that all those who present themselves to join the Company will come with the thought of martyrdom, desiring to suffer martyrdom in it and to devote themselves entirely to the service of God, whether in far off lands or here, wherever it may please God to make use of the poor Little Company! Yes, with the thought of martyrdom. How often we should ask Our Lord for that grace and the disposition to be ready to risk our lives for his glory and the salvation of the neighbor (CCD:XI:334-335).

Because it was customary to read and to share one’s insights on the Founder’s writings, we can suppose that these martyrs were aware of Vincent’s disposition: is there anything more reasonable than to give our lives for him who has given his life so generously for each and every one of us? And if Our Lord loves us to the point of dying for us, why should we not desire to have this same disposition with regard to him and to put it into effect, if the occasion were to present itself? (CCD:XI:335)

One year later, the same sentiments and ideas were expressed in similar words to the Daughters of Charity, but this time with tears and sobs as Vincent was overcome with emotion: So then, Sisters, you are about to make the highest act of the love of God that can be made and that you have ever made, for there is no greater act of love than martyrdom (CDD:X:443).


The relation between the witnesses and the testimony of their life

Through the gospels we come to an awareness that the authentic disciples of Jesus Christ are recognized by the quality of their witness, a witness that is given in circumstances that are easy, as well as difficult, a witness that is in accord with the Lord’s command: you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:18). There are times when giving this witness to Jesus Christ will demand great sacrifice, including the offering of one’s life, just as Jesus offered his life for us.

In this case the witness of Jesus is called a martyr, taken literally from the original Greek which means witness. In many texts of Greek literature, law and philosophy we discover that the word martyrdom implies an act of witness. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is called the faithful witness (Revelation 1:5, 3:14) because he made known to us the Father’s will and only spoke those things that he had learned from the Father.

When the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith (words used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church [2473] when defining martyrdom) is sealed with blood, then the concept of martyr is consecrated because it refers to men and women, young people and older people, married persons and persons who are celibate who have lived and who have clearly and convincingly revealed themselves as being faithful to the truth of the faith. They died forgiving and praying for their executioners: the greatest indication of faith that is verified in love.

Attentive to the response that the martyrs have given, we call to mind once again the first bloody witness of the deacon, Stephen and James, the apostle and the brother of John (cf., Acts 7:55-60, 12:1-2). Their memory, according to some if not all the martyrs, hung over the minds of our Missionaries who, at a critical moment in their profession of faith, remembered not only the faithful witness of Jesus but also remembered the faithful witness of countless followers of Jesus Christ that has been recounted throughout the history of the Church. In the first Christian communities, martyrdom, as well as virginity, became the two great ideals of the witnesses of Jesus Christ.

The Missionaries/martyrs, whose decree for beatification was signed by Pope Francis on July 5th, 2013 and who will be beatified on October 13th, entered the Congregation because of their love for Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor. Like any other human being, they brought with them their limitations and faults and were obliged to purify their calling through acts of penance that were reinforced by act of love. We recall that in their private and community life, as well as in the fulfillment of their apostolic mission, and more specifically at the time of professing their faith, the demands of following Jesus were reflected upon … this would have included Jesus’ prophetic warning: if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20).

If there were to come a time when we were to lack witnesses and their testimony, then we would in fact be missing something that is essential and inherent to the life of the Church and the Congregation. We state here that in the Congregation of the Mission, aside from our Founder, Vincent de Paul and aside from Mark Anthony Durando and Justin de Jacobis, all the other saints and blesseds are martyrs. Up to the present time we have not had any beatified coadjutor brothers, but as of October 13th we can invoke the names of Brother Luis Aguirre, Brother Narciso Pascual and Brother Salustiano González as saints of the Vincentian Family.

The witness

When the religious persecution erupted, our witnesses were living in five distinct residences or communities. Hence we contemplate their testimony that is solidified in commitments not only on a personal level, but also on a community level. Indeed they are the living example that we so urgently need … an example that cannot be easily carried away by the wind.

---The community in Alcorisa (Teruel): Father Fortunato Velasco Tobar, Father Leoncio Pérez Nebreda, Brother Luis Aguirre Bilbao. At some time the community was composed of eight priests and three brothers (six priests and two brothers were able to escape the persecution).

---The community in Rialp (Seo de Urgel): Father Antonio Carmaníu y Mercader. He was alone in that community.

---The community in Guadalajara: Father Ireneo Rodríguez González, Father Gregorio Cermeño Barceló, Father Vicente Vilumbrales Fuente, Brother Narciso Pascual Psacual. The community was composed of seven priests and three brothers, but before the start of the civil war five priests and the three brothers, together with the seminarians from the Central Apostolic Seminary in Guadalajara, were able to escape to Murguia (Álava). It was at that time that Father Vilumbrales and Brother Pascual were sent to Guadalajara in order to reinforce the community.

---The community in Asturias

[a] The community in Oviedo, 1934: Father Tomás Pallarés Ibáñez, Brother Salustiano González Crespo. The community was composed of five priests and one brother (three priests escaped death). Some of you have mentioned the omission of one of the Missionaries/martyrs who has not been referred to. Specifically, you have referred to Father Vicente Pastor Vicente from the community of Oviedo who for reasons of pastoral prudence --- perhaps it is better to say that for lack of sufficient proof --- his case has been put aside until the next round of beatifications. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the virtue and courage of this martyr. In Paredes (Nava), where he served as an itinerant missionary, many families honor him as a saint.

[b] The community of Gijón, 1936: Father Amado García Sánchez, Father Andrés Avelino Gutiérrez Moral, Father Ricardo Atanes Castro, Father Pelayo José Granado Prieto. The community was composed of the above mentioned four priests and Brother Paulino Jiménez who was spared death through the mediation of the superior, Father Amado García.

The age of our martyrs varies between the nineteen years of Brother Narciso Pascual, a member of the community in Guadalajara and the seventy-six years of Father Antonio Carmaníu from the community in Rialp. It should be mentioned here that the beatification of Father Carmaníu is anxiously awaited by the members of Opus Dei because our confrere was the occasional confessor of Saint José María Escrivá de Balaguer. The age of the majority of our Missionaries was between thirty and forty-five years, a time of great physical, moral and intellectual ability.

There is no proof that any of the Missionaries was a militant in some political party. None of our confreres confronted their persecutors neither to defend themselves not because they were in imminent danger of death. Quite the opposite … they revealed themselves as defenders of peace, love and unity. There was nothing of revenge and insults other than those coming from their assassins who frequently gave evident signs of sarcasm, mockery, cruelty, and other horrific sadistic mannerisms.

A summary of their testimony/witness

Summarizing the testimony of our martyrs we could categorize it in three ways: [1] testimony of faith and love, [2] testimony of the gospel sprit, [3] testimony of the community and apostolic life.

---Testimonies of faith and love

Our witnesses were enthusiastic and grateful for the gift of faith and the gift of their missionary vocation. We are able to come to that conclusion as a result of the limited correspondence that has been preserved (correspondence between the martyrs and their families/friends) and as a result of the testimony that was given on their behalf (testimony of the laity and members of the Congregation). They were not looking for martyrdom but they did not reject this reality when the time came to courageously profess their religious-missionary state in life. Their love for Jesus Christ was combined with love and forgiveness of their executioners. We can affirm that our martyrs imitated that which Saint Paul taught to the faithful in Rome: For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved (Romans 10:10).

In general, the testimony that has been passed on to us concerning these Servants of God highlights their firm and courageous statements with regard to the faith. Despite the threats of their persecutors, they made no concessions. It is indeed impressive to follow the journey of our martyrs from the time of their arrest and detention to the time that they exclaimed: Long live Christ, the King! … forgiving their executioners and dying covered in their own blood.

If we reflect on their willingness to accept martyrdom, then there are some incredible signs of their courage and trust in the Lord. We do not want to dwell on this point but we will provide here some examples in this regard. Father Fortunato Velasco, from the local community in Alcorisa, was imprisoned and then freed but constantly watched. When he had been freed he lamented: I have not been found worthy of martyrdom! Later, when he was again arrested and condemned to death with Brother Luis Aguirre, he rejoiced and extended forgiveness to his executioners.

In light of that moving situation, Brother Aguirre wrote the following words to his oldest brother: … one must be willing to die in order to defend the faith and that is the path that we will follow; there is no other alternative. It is quite emotional to listen to the words he spoke a few days before standing in front of the firing squad: If I have to die, I will die for God. The Marxists tried to intimidate him by shouting: Long live communism! … But Brother shouted with greater strength: Long live Christ, the King!

The same disposition is seen in Brother Narciso Pascual, a member of the community in Guadalajara, who wrote his family and stated: I am not afraid of anything. I am open to everything because if we die, we die for our faith in Christ and we die professing our faith to Christ … I ask that you not be concerned about us and do not grieve for us!

In the prison at Guadalajara we see Father Ireneo Rodríguez, Father Gregorio Cermeño and Father Vicente Vilumbrales exhorting the prisoners (clerics and lay persons) to receive the sacrament of Penance and to prepare themselves for martyrdom and to do this as persons who await the greatest glory. While in prison they appeared to be calm and hopeful because they also realized that an eternity of blessedness awaited them.

Father Ricardo Atanes, a member of the community in Oviedo, wrote to his niece who had offered her house to people who were seeking refuge: Our Lord knew everything that was going to happen: that he would be crucified and that he would die on the cross. Jesus did not attempt to escape these realities. We are the Lord’s servants and so we pray that he will use us in the way that he has determined. Pray for us and take care of your father and your siblings and one day we will be reunited in heaven.

Father Pelayo José Granado, from the community in Gijón, ignored the warning of a Sister who tried to convince him to not go to La Corrada to preach because of possible dangers. He stated: No, the best preparation for martyrdom is obedience!

The sacrifice of Saint Maximilian Kolbe (an offering that did not involve the shedding of his blood) in order to free others from death during the Nazi persecution, resulted in his being declared a martyr by John Paul II. Some of our Missionaries/martyrs were perfect imitators of him. I mention here the case of Father Ireneo Rodríguez who offered to take the place of some parents who were imprisoned with him and Father Amado García, who offered his life for that of Brother Paulino Jimenez, begging his persecutors: Kill me, but do not harm this poor elderly Brother!

With special joy we recall the gesture of Brother Salustiano González who, in front of his executioners, extended his arms in the sign of the cross and covered the bodies of the young seminarians from Oviedo and implored: kill me because I am worthless but allow these young men to go free because they can do much good!

---testimony of the gospel spirit

The biography of each martyr confirms their practice of forgiveness and reconciliation and also reveals their love for the virtues proper to the spirit of the Congregation, especially apostolic zeal which led them to embrace martyrdom.

As stated in the personal files of the confreres which are preserved in the Archives of the Martyrs of the Congregation of the Mission, many of our Missionaries/martyrs, during the time of their initial formation, gave great importance to learning about the faith and the experience of our holy Founder, as well as the practice of the virtues that constitute the characteristic spirit of the Vincentian community. Without any fear of exaggeration, they revealed a great love for the Little Company and their sense of belonging to the Company maintained them firmly united. Today this is very comforting especially as we witness a decrease in vocational enthusiasm (apostolic zeal) on the part of those called to the Congregation of the Mission. This situation is the result of a lack of personal conviction and certain forms of secularism that were denounced by Vincent de Paul (cf., CCD:XII:75).

They had a deep love for the community and they could not hide that love. We are not attempting to give them unmerited or gratuitous honor but rather we simply want to speak the truth. They experienced the greatest joy when they were together in community, encouraging one another to endure the various trials. Here we offer just one example, that of Father Amado García, a member of the community in Gijón … a witness stated: during those anguished times he felt responsible for the community and for those persons who had been taken in by the community. He was so convinced of this responsibility that when some persons insisted that he abandon the residence, he refused to do so. He affirmed that he had an obligation to remain there.

They had no desire to be part of any other community and experienced joy when they participated with their confreres during times of recreation and prayer … kneeling and praying together before the Blessed Sacrament. They were so united together in life that death could not separate them. We have no hesitation in making such an affirmation about the members of the community in Gijón and we feel certain that we could say more or less the same thing about the members of the other local communities.

---testimony of their community and apostolic life

The confreres revealed their apostolic zeal in their special dedication to the formation and the education of young people. This ministry was combined with preaching popular missions, retreats (especially retreats for the Daughters of Charity), providing direction to the various Vincentian Associations and other pastoral work on behalf of the larger community and especially on behalf of youth. As we refer here to young people we want to state that one of the causes that led our confreres to be martyred was rooted in their relationship with young people and the influence they had on the lives of these young men and women.

An extended period of their ministry was dedicated to formation in seminaries and schools. Except for those who were of the community in Gijón, the majority of the confreres were taken by surprise and arrested in the seminaries where they ministered as formators. Father Tomás Pallares, Father Amado García and Father Pelayo José Granado were distinguished in the preaching of popular missions … Father Granado sent chronicles of his missions to the editors of the publication, Anales de la Congregación y de las Hijas de la Caridad. Father Andrés Gutiérrez was baptized by the people with the name “Padre Tareas” (the father of many tasks).

Our Missionaries were especially attentive to their ministry with regard to Marian Devotion. As advocates of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, they organized and directed the groups of the Association of the Sons and Daughters of Mary in various centers, schools, seminaries, and parishes. They participated in the home visits that in 1913 had been introduced into Spain. We recall here the example of Father Antonio Carmaníu who was one of the first people in Spain to establish the Association in Rialp. The example of Father Andrés Gutiérrez and Father Pelayo Granado confirm the Marian ideal that was such a vital part of the spiritual life of our heralds of the gospel.

Without exception all expressed their willingness to serve in the different houses in Spain as well as overseas to minister in the United States, India, the Philippines, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil …. thus never disobeying their superiors. It is impressive to read the letter that Father Ricardo Atanes wrote while he was in Fort Worth, Texas (1914), a letter that was addressed to his brother: I must tell you the truth, I am here in this place only because I am an obedient son … no amount of money could entice me to come here. Nevertheless illness was always near at hand as he ministered in the midst of the Mayan Indians who had migrated from Mexico to the United States. Indeed, it was of because of illness that he was once again faithful to the call of obedience and returned home to Spain.

Father Gregorio Cermeño presents a similar case when he was sent to the Seminary in Porto-Alegre (Brazil) where he endured great physical and moral suffering. But he remained there and was faithful to his mission until the Major Superiors withdrew from that institution for the same reasons that led the Jesuit community to withdraw.

Bloody testimony that cries out

We note here some of the more formidable or dreadful tortures that our martyrs endured, actions that are horrifying to even mention because the very thought of them makes us shudder. We simply point out some examples of this horror.

This first situation would touch even the most insensitive person and here we refer to the case of Father Leoncio Pérez from the community of Alcorisa. A ruthless individual, pretending to be a friend, offered the Missionary a horse to travel to his destination. Father was led along a short cut in order to gain time. When this so called friend arrived at the place where he had decided to carry out his plan, he helped the Missionary dismount and then, without saying a word, attacked with an indescribable hatred and fury. He beat Father over the head and then stoned him (like those who attacked Saint Stephen). Finally he threw his body into the river than was strewn with rocks. The following day he boasted to his neighbors: I have seen a fat bird fall to the ground!

The second example is also very moving. The elderly Father Antonio Carmaníu, seventy-six years of age and a member of the community in Rialp, after walking several days over the mountains feel into the hands of his torturers who handed him over to members of the Iberian Anarchist Federation. Father was ridiculed and abused and forced to drink from a chalice some wine that had been mixed with a drug. His torturers stated: Drink, this is you last day! Then as a sign of contempt toward him and his priestly ministry, his executioners tried to provoke him by speaking in a vulgar manner about single and married women and about women religious.

In response to such inhuman treatment Father forced himself to smile and he spoke in a prophetic manner: You may kill me but you yourselves will fall two by two or four by four! At a distance of two or three kilometers from Llavorsí, they passed sentence on him. While pushing him and cursing him he was ordered to turn his back to his executioners. The Servant of God refused to do this and instead shouted, Long live Christ, the King … now you can shoot me!

The execution of Father Andrés Gutiérrez was similar to that of Father Carmaníu … similar in the abuses and the beatings. Father was forced to climb a mountain (some witnesses referred to this as an imitation of Jesus who was forced to walk to Mount Calvary where he was crucified) and during that journey he prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary in a low voice (he did not have sufficient energy to pray aloud). When he arrived at the top of the mountain his executioners fired at his forehead. His last gesture was to bless everyone with his hands covered in blood and he also signed his forehead with the sign of the cross.

Finally, the most dreadful case, if you will, is the merciless martyrdom of Father Pelayo José Granado, a member of the local community in Gijón. He suffered greatly as his body was savagely mutilated … this included cutting off his genitals. We see even greater sadism as the soldiers (both men and women) beat him with clubs and pierced his body with nails. Others sewed his flesh together with upholstery needles, all the while laughing and singing and mocking him as they shouted: look at his white meat! Then with a sharp razor they cut and sliced his back until he died. His body was thrown into the Nalón River where it passes through Soto del Barco.

Father Vilumbrales and Brother Psacual, from the local community of Guadalajara, were reduced to ashes and this reminds of the sacrifice of the “White Mass” that occurred in Utica near Carthage (Africa) … an event that was retold by Saint Augustine and the Spanish poet, Prudentius.

This collection of testimonies provides us with further insight into the Missionaries’ fidelity to Christ and the gospel. As Pope Benedict wrote when he convoked the Year of Faith: by faith, the martyrs gave their lives, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel that had transformed them and made them capable of attaining to the greatest gift of love: the forgiveness of their persecutors (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, #13). For us it would be difficult to find a better postscript to this Year of Faith than the beatification of this group of martyrs from the Congregation of the Mission.

The unbloody martyrdom of the Missionaries

The unbloody witness, which consists of the faithful fulfillment of the ordinary Chriustian life (community live and apostolic life) and of clothing ourselves in the spirit of Jesus Christ in order to prepare us (on a daily basis) to confront future trials, was forming our witnesses to the faith, forming our witnesses of the gospel spirit.

Unbloody martyrdom precedes bloody martyrdom. Vincent made a distinction between these two different forms of witness. When speaking about unbloody martyrdom, he stated: it is a sort of martyrdom to exhaust ourselves for virtue. A Missioner who is very mortified and obedient, who carries out his office perfectly and lives according to the Rules of his state, shows, by this sacrifice of his body and soul, that God is well worth being served above all else and must be incomparably preferred to all earthly advantages and pleasures. To act in that way is to make known the truths and maxims of the Gospel --- not in words but by conforming one’s life to that of Jesus Christ and witnessing his truth and sanctity to the faithful and to unbelievers; consequently, to live and die like that is to be a martyr (CCD:XI:167-168).

Vincent often compared the vows with martyrdom. In accord with the thinking of that era Vincent stated: Some say that to have made vows and lived them is a continual martyrdom ... the executioners' torments last a short time in comparison to the entire life of a man who has taken these vows, for which he constantly mortifies himself and destroys self and his own will (CCD:XII:302). Then later in the same conference he added: the person who takes vows ... is a perfect holocaust. Messieurs, because the person’s understanding is sacrificed to God, as is his judgment and will (CCD:XII:302).

The vocation to follow Jesus faithfully demands a disposition similar to that of martyrdom. That, to a large degree, was Vincent’s faith and experience: if we correspond to the obligations of our ministry, what will happen? God will increase, day by day, the graces of vocation, will give the Company members the right spirit to act with the Spirit of God, and will bless all that is done within the Company and outside of it. Lastly, those souls who will be saved through our ministry will testify before God of our fidelity and will bless the little band of Missioners who are in heaven (CCD:XI:122).

It is good to recall these ideas of our Founder, ideas that the Vincentian martyrs reflected upon on the eve of their death. We are also glad that Pope Benedict XVI, during the October 28th, 2007 Angelus which was celebrated on the same day that Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins (Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints) presided at the beatification of 498 Spanish martyrs, spoke the following words to a multitude of fifty thousand people who had gathered in Saint Peter’s Square: Not everyone is called to martyrdom by bloodshed. In fact, there is a non-bloody "martyrdom" which is equally significant … this is the silent and heroic witness of so many Christians who live the Gospel without compromise, doing their duty and dedicating themselves generously to the service of the poor. This martyrdom of ordinary life constitutes a particularly important witness in the secularized society of our time. It is the peaceful battle of love which every Christian, like Paul, must fight without flagging: the race to spread the Gospel that involves us until our death [4]

We rejoice in the fact that the Pope concluded his reflections during the Angelus with a reference to vocations: May the fecundity of their martyrdom produce abundant fruits in the Christian life of the faithful and of families and may the blood that has been shed become the seed of many holy, priestly, missionary and religious vocations.

Conclusion

The martyrs stand before the Christian community and in particular, stand before the Vincentian Family in this stage of its history as unique examples of holiness, as unique examples of fidelity to their vocation, as unique witnesses of faith and love because they followed Jesus Christ and professed their faith with their lips and hearts … professed their faith in carrying out every day the mission that had been entrusted to them. Their victory encourages us. With joy and gratitude let us gather up the seeds that the martyrs have sown with indescribable parresia (boldness): courage and joyful hope.


Footnotes

[1]Message of the CI Plenary Assembly of the Episcopal Conference of Spain on the occasion of the Beatifications during the Year of Faith, October 13th, 2013. This statement was made public in Madrid on April 19th, 2013, cf., Ecclesia, no. 3.672, April 27th, 2013, p. 586.

[2] Among those who have written about the Spanish martyrs we mention here the following: Espiago, Fernando, A la mission del ciuelo por el martirio. Sacerdotes y Hermanos Paúles mártires (1934-1939), Madrid, 1995; Franco, Vicente, Notas para un martirologio, Revista Anales de la Congregación de la Misión y de las Hijas de la Caridad, 1939; Fuente, Elías, Paúles e Hijas de la Caridad mártires, 1936, Madrid, 1942; Meneses, Florentino, Martirologio C.M. 1936, Madrid, Madrid 2007 (typed manuscript); Román, José María, Mártires de la Congregación de la Misión en España, Revista Vincentiana, 1990, p. 41-80.

[3] Tertullian, Apologeticus, as published in Migne’s Patrologia Latina, I:

[4] Benedict XVI, Angelus, October 28, 2007, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/angelus/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20071028_en.html

[5] These words that followed the Angelus are not found in the English translation. They were addressed to the pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square who were Spanish speaking.

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM