Especially in the early months of the Spanish Civil War that began in 1936, scores of Catholics were executed simply because of their profession of Catholicism. Pope John Paul II had already declared a group of these “blessed”; on October 10, 1993 he beatified eleven more: two bishops, one priest, seven Christian Brothers, and one teacher, a laywoman.
Late in July 1936, agents of the anticlerical Revolutionary Committee in the Province of Granada arrested and imprisoned the bishop of Almeria, Diego Ventaja Milan, and the bishop of Guadix, Manuel Medina Olmos, (both known for pastoral zeal); also seven Christian Brothers who staffed St. Joseph College in Almeria: Aurelio Maria, Jose Cecilio, Edmigio Amalio, Valerio Bernard, Teodomiro Joaquin, and Evencio Ricardo. The charge against all was that they were “suspected” of not supporting the revolution, particularly because they were priests and religious. They were kept in detention for a month or more. On the night of 30/31 August, 1936, the two bishops were taken out for execution with 15 other prisoners. Bishop Medina asked permission to speak before the riflemen took aim. He said, “We have done nothing to deserve death, but I forgive you so that the Lord will also forgive you. May our blood be the last shed in Almeria.”
During their own imprisonment, the seven Brothers showed similar sentiments. Br. Aurelio Maria bespoke their views a few years before when he declared, “What happiness for us if we could shed our blood for the lofty ideal of Christian education. Let us double our fervor and thus become worthy of such an honor.” They were executed in groups between August 30 and September 13.
The two other newly beatified Spanish martyrs were Father Pedro Poveda Castroverde, founder of the Teresian Association, a Catholic Action group for teachers; and a member of that lay Association, Victoria Diez y Bustos de Molina.
Canon Poveda (born 1874) was one of the most influential priests in Spain. After his ordination he worked among the “cave-dwellers” of Guadix, founding a school for their children and workshops in which adults could learn a trade and meanwhile be instructed in their faith. Then he went to Madrid, where he opened St. Teresa of Avila Academy. His concern for Christian education, about which he prayed and wrote much, led him to establish the Teresian Association, intended to give spiritual and pastoral formation to teachers. In 1914 he opened, in Madrid, Spain’s first university residence for women. In 1921 he was appointed chaplain of the Royal Palace, Madrid, and in 1922 a member of the Central Board against illiteracy. Most of his time, however, was devoted to the Teresian Association, which was approved by the Holy See in 1924 and then spread to Chile and Italy. Always devoted to simplicity of lifestyle and constant study, Canon Poveda often wished he might sacrifice his own life for the faith. His desire was fulfilled when he was executed on July 28, 1936.
Victoria Diez, born in Seville in 1903, was motivated by her deep Christian devotion to commit herself to God and His children through teaching. In the Teresian Association she found an ideal means of combining her spiritual and professional life. Most of her teaching career she spent at Hornachuelos, some 50 miles from Seville. Fired by her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, she devoted her whole strength to education, Catholic Action, and works of charity, to the admiration of all who knew her.
On August 11, 1936, Victoria and other Catholics were arrested and jailed. She spent the night calmly and in prayer. On August 12, she and 17 others were killed in the abandoned mine shaft of Rincon. Witnesses testify that she encouraged the rest with the words, “Come on, our reward is waiting for us!” Her last words were, “Long live Christ the King!”
Why does the Church beatify and canonize martyrs? To remind us that in an ever-selfish world there are always some – indeed, many – whose commitment to God remains firm. They are the human race’s true jewels.
–Father Robert F. McNamara