For over 200 years, Spain has see-sawed between a politics of rigid conservatism and extremist liberalism. When liberal forces ruled, conservatism suffered; and since the Church was considered a part of the conservative establishment, it suffered much and frequently at the hands of anti-clericals.
When the dreadful Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Marxist extremists launched a vicious assault on Catholicism, destroying properties, interfering with worship and education, and executing 4,184 secular clerics, 2,365 religious clerics, 283 nuns, and countless laymen. That same year, Pope Pius XI referred to these nonpolitical victims as true martyrs. Today, with Spain once more at peace and ashamed of its Civil War, it is possible to recognize these “true martyrs” officially; and Pope John Paul II has commenced to declare blessed certain groups of them and to reveal to the world their heroic example. Thus, On October 25, 1992, the Holy Father beatified a group of 122 who were assassinated in Spain in 1936. They were Bl. Braulio Corres, Federico Rubio and their 69 companions, all members of the Hospital Brothers of St. John of God; and Bl. Felipe Munarriz and his 50 companions, all members of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretians).
For now, let us look at the latter group, the Claretians.
The Claretians had a house at Barbastro, a small town in northeastern Spain. Sixty members of this order were stationed there, most of them novices and seminarians, two of whom were of Argentinian nationality.
On Monday, July 20, 1936, some threescore armed militiamen, bent on getting rid of these men religious, entered their house, rounded up all 60 of the residents, separated from the others three priests, Fr. Felipe de Jesus Munarriz (the rector), the spiritual director, and the business manager, and imprisoned the rest in the basement of a theater.
The three priests, though given no trial, were executed by a firing squad in the local cemetery on August 2. The seminarians remained crowded into their makeshift jail for some three weeks, along with some other religious captives. They had no beds, no water, no change of clothes. Their guards entertained themselves every now and then by pretending to be about to shoot them. People stared in the windows and mocked the captives, but the only persons allowed to enter were prostitutes, sent in to tempt the celibate novices.
The captives stood firm in piety and purity. They spent their time praying together in small groups, and took advantage of every opportunity to confess and receive Holy Communion. They begged God to forgive their persecutors. They also scrawled messages to be communicated to the outside world, on scraps of paper, on the walls, on wooden planks, and even on the lid of the piano. “We die happy,” they wrote. “We ask God that our blood may not give rise to vengeance. We are dying because we wear the cassock.” “Workers, we martyrs die loving and forgiving you. Many of us have offered our lives that you may be saved.” “Lord, forgive them.” “Father, save them, for they know not what they do.”
The “proletarian” captors, to their credit, did at least spare seven Claretians who were elderly or ill. The two Argentinian members they simply deported. But on August 12 the general slaughter commenced. That morning, the six remaining priests, called out to be executed, stepped forward without resistance. At midnight, twenty of the younger men were taken to the firing range. After asking absolution, they defied the command to be silent, and kept singing hymns and crying out, “Long live Christ the King!” Twenty more were shot to death on August 15, which was for most of them the anniversary of their religious profession. Two others, discharged from the hospital that same day, were executed on August 18; and that was the end of the Claretians of Barbastro, in terms of earthly life.
In his homily on October 25, Pope John Paul pointed out a lesson to those who are novices and seminarians: Had these young men of Barbastro not received adequate religious formation and been trained in solid piety, they would not have merited the grace of martyrdom. Faithful to Christ, they had triumphed with Him.
–Father Robert F. McNamara