Sunday, July 02, 2006

We are dying because we wear the cassock (51 Claretians)

On July 20, 1936, an anti-clerical mob attacked the house of the Claretian missionaries in Barbastro, shouting, “Death to the priests and destruction to religion! We have to finish with all of them!” The whole community gathered at the sound of the bell and met the crowd in the inner courtyard. The mob was shouting at the missionaries, looking for their hidden “weapons.” The priests replied, “There are no politics here, we are religious.”
Since they did not find any arms, they jailed the three superiors of the community in the municipal prison. The prison was a small and dirty room without proper ventilation. Imprisoned with the priests are some devout Catholics, who, like them, are imprisoned for the faith.
Calm and modest, the rest of the community were herded to the jail. Some of them had smiles on their lips. One person who saw them reverently genuflected and took of his hat “as if a Corpus Christi procession was passing by.” They were imprisoned in the auditorium of a former seminary of the Piarist Fathers.
The three superiors were put on a sham interrogation. They were asked, “Where do you hide your weapons?” Fr. Leoncio Perez showed his rosary and said, “I don’t have any other weapon other than this.” They were executed by a firing squad on August 2, 1936, with other priests and Catholics in Barbastro’s cemetery.
At the windows of the auditorium, people were gathering day and night shouting at the prisoners the most absurd slanders and wild threats. But they pardoned and prayed. Their guards entertained themselves every now and then by pretending to be about to shoot them. It is not hard to imagine the dreadful kind of life they had to live during those hottest months of summer. And it was only made worse by the fact that they were provided with a miserable ration of water. When one spiteful woman overheard the militiamen forwarding a request for water for the prisoners in the auditorium, she snarled, “Are you going to give them water? Why give them anything at all? Better to give them some lye, to make them hurry up!”
Prostitutes and other wretched women were sent in to the auditorium to seduce the prisoners, promising them freedom if they joined them. But the prisoners turned their backs on them and prepared themselves for martyrdom. Many of the girls would leave in ill humour because of their failure to seduce anyone. Among those prostitutes was a woman called Trini “la Pallaresa”, who was obsessed with one of the seminarians, Esteban Casadevall. Trini openly stated, even in front of the other imprisoned religious, that it was a 'real pity' to see that such a good looking seminarian, 'such a handsome young kid' should have been led astray like this, and that she would try to free him from death if she could talk to him alone. She vowed that she would be on the watch for him whenever he left the auditorium. Casadevall, who was exemplary for his modesty and was seemingly unaware of all this, came and went “without paying the least attention to her or even batting an eye at the flattering words and gestures she directed toward him.”
One seminarian, Salvador Pigem, was offered freedom. He asked his captors, “Will you save me with all my companions?” The captor replied, “No, only you.” “Well then, I don’t accept your offer. I prefer to die a martyr with them.”
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.”
On August 12, the six eldest Claretians were killed in the cemetery of Barbastro. Before the firing started, the martyrs had been offered one last chance to apostatise. Afterwards they received the coup de grace in the temple. Then they were left there to bleed to death, so a not to soil the truck or the roadway with blood. The other seminarians in the auditorium were filled with hope and gladness, since their time to die for Christ is drawing near.
The next day, 20 seminarians were called out. On hearing their names, they jumped and hugged each other with joy. They kissed their ropes and forgave their executioners. Those whose names were not called looked on with respect. The seminarians were loaded on to the truck which was heading for the place of execution. At the start of the journey, joyful shouts and songs of praise turned the scene into an impressive manifestation of faith. However, they were silenced by infuriated guards who beat them with rifle butts. At the place of execution, they were told, “For the last time, if you renounce your religion and come with us, we will spare your lives!” The seminarians answered, “Never do we! Heaven as close and sure as it is now. Long live Christ the King!” The seminarians in the auditorium heard the shots which rang out from the cemetery. They began praying for their brothers and rejoiced for their martyrdom.
That morning, two Argentinean seminarians were singled out from the prisoners and released. One of the would-be martyrs, Ramon Illa, told them, “How poor and unhappy you two must be, not to be able to die as martyrs for our Lord.” However, it was thanks to the two seminarians that the story of the martyred community of Barbastro was made known.
The remaining seminarians were told that they were going to be killed on the 14th, but it didn’t happen as they were told. Instead, they were to be killed on the next day. It was a fitting day for the seminarians since it was the feast day of the Assumption. On the dawn of August 15, the truck in which the seminarians would be loaded parked in front of the auditorium. When the names of the next twenty prisoners who were going to be killed on that day were called out, they were asked, “Where would you rather go, to the front and fight against fascism, or to the firing squad?” Knowing that fighting with the republicans would mean abandoning their faith, they replied, “We would rather die for God and for Spain.” They were bound with wires and tourniquets by pair. They were bound tightly that their wrists bled, but none of them complained. Before they were loaded in the truck, they were given again the offer to fight with the fascists and renounce their faith, but everyone remained silent. When the truck reached the place of execution, the seminarians were beaten with rifle butts. As they were being shot to death, a witness says “they never stopped repeating ejaculatory prayers.” After the execution, one witness of the execution reported hearing the executioners saying, “The young seminarians could all have been saved, if they'd only taken off those cassocks and denied their faith.”
On August 18th, a Tuesday, the last two seminarians, Jamie Falgarona and Atanasio Vidaurreta, were killed for their faith. The two seminarians had been staying as patients in the local hospital, along with Brother Joaquin Munoz, since the evening of July 20th. The doctors kept them there as long as they could, because they knew that as soon as they left they would be condemned. Finally, on the evening of August 15th, they had to release them, and they went off to occupy a cell in the municipal jail. Brother Munoz, who was disabled by different ailments, was released. The death of the last two brothers completed the glorious crown of the fifty-one Claretian Martyrs of Barbastro.


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