22 SEPTEMBER 2009. Today the Church remembers the 233 martyrs of Valencia Spain (referred to collectively as Jose Aparicio Sanz and 232 companions), beatified by the great Pope John Paul II on March 11, 2001.
Experts believe that in the early months of 1936 more than 10,000 priests, brothers, nuns, and Catholic lay persons were killed in the Spanish Civil War, as leftists attempted to wipe out what they saw as the Catholic resistance. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) pitted the progressive government, supported by communists, anarchists, socialists, labor groups and other leftist causes, against a Nationalist movement, which was attempting to keep intact authoritarian Spanish society. Eventually, the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, prevailed. However, the horrible, bloody conflict was particularly costly for Catholics in Spain.
The written material collected in support of the beatification on March 11, 2001, ran more than 4,000 pages. This material offers stirring accounts of the heroic and virtuous conduct of the martyrs. For example, seminarians who were shot left behind a note scrawled on a chocolate wrapper: "We die forgiving those who are taking away our life and offering it for the Christian ordering of the world."In his homily on March 11, 2001, this is how the late Holy Father described the martyrs:
They were men and women of all ages and states: diocesan priests, men and women religious, the fathers and mothers of families, young lay people. They were killed for being Christians, for their faith in Christ, for being active members of the Church. Before dying, all of them, as stated in the canonical processes for their declaration as martyrs, forgave their executioners from their heart.The words of our late Holy Father cannot but touch our hearts. If we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us, to infuse our hearts with the very love of God, Himself, we cannot but have our hearts of stone softened and remade into an image of the Sacred Heart of Christ--open to hurt, and offered-up to Our Lord as an offering for those in our world. That is how these Spanish martyrs died, offering themselves to God and forgiving their executioners.
The list of those who are being raised to the glory of the altars today for confessing their faith and dying for it is long. There are 38 priests from the Archdiocese of Valencia, with a large group of men and women, members of Catholic Action, also from Valencia; 18 Dominicans and two priests from the Archdiocese of Zaragoza; four Friars Minor and six Friars Minor Conventual; 12 Friars Minor Capuchin with five Capuchin women religious and a Discalced Augustinian; 11 Jesuits with a young lay man; 30 Salesians and two Daughters of Mary Help of Christians; 19 Third Order Capuchins of Our Lady of Sorrows with a laywoman cooperator; one Priest of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Dehonian); the chaplain of La Salle College of Bonanova, Barcelona, with five Brothers of the Christian Schools; 24 Carmelite Sisters of Charity; one Servite Sister; six Sisters of the Pious Schools with two laywomen cooperators from Uruguay, who are the first blesseds of this Latin American country; two Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly, three Third Order Capuchins of the Holy Family; a Claretian Missionary Sister; and lastly, Francisco Castelló y Aleu, a young member of Catholic Action in Lleida.
The testimonies we have received speak of honest, exemplary people whose martyrdom sealed lives that were interwoven with work, prayer and religious commitment in their families, parishes and religious congregations. Many of them in life had already enjoyed a reputation for holiness among their countrymen. It could be said that their exemplary conduct prepared them in a way for the supreme confession of faith that is martyrdom.
How can we not be deeply moved at hearing the accounts of their martyrdom? The elderly María Teresa Ferragud was arrested at the age of 83 with her four contemplative religious daughters. On 25 October 1936, the feast of Christ the King, she asked to accompany her daughters to martyrdom and to be executed last so that she might encourage them to die for the faith. Her death made such an impression on her executioners that they exclaimed: "This is a true saint". No less edifying was the witness of the other martyrs, such as the young Francisco Castelló y Aleu, 22 years old, a chemist by profession and a member of Catholic Action. Realizing the gravity of the situation, he did not want to hide but to offer his youth as a loving sacrifice to God and his brethren; he left us three letters, an example of strength, generosity, serenity and happiness, written a few moments before his death to his sisters, his spiritual director and his fiancée. Or the newly ordained priest, Germán Gozalbo, 23 years old, who was shot only two months after celebrating his first Mass, after endless humiliations and abuses.
How many examples of serenity and Christian hope! All these new blesseds and many other anonymous martyrs paid with their blood for the hatred of the faith and of the Church which was unleashed by the religious persecution and the outbreak of the Civil War, the immense tragedy that Spain experienced in the 20th century. During those terrible years many priests, religious and lay people were killed simply because they were active members of the Church. The new blesseds being raised to the altars today were not involved in political or ideological struggles, nor did they want to be concerned with them. This is well known to many of you who are their relatives and are taking part in this beatification today with great joy. They died solely for religious motives. Now, by this solemn proclamation of their martyrdom, the Church wishes to recognize these men and women as examples of courage and constancy in faith, helped by God's grace. For us they are models of consistency with the truth they professed, while at the same time they honour the noble Spanish people and the Church.
Blessed Jose Aparicio Sanz and 232 companions, pray for us!