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The Spanish Civil War: Slain for their Faith

April 30, 2007

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In Spain, one of Europe’s most staunchly Catholic countries, large numbers of Catholics were butchered during the 1936-1939 Civil War solely for being Catholic. Unlike the martyrdoms in most parts of the world, whole sectors of the religious community were liquidated. At least 6,832 priests and religious were martyred, including 13 bishops. In the 20th century, probably no country witnessed so much bloodshed among its clergy.

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Nor were lay people spared. One of the most impartial analysts of the civil was has described their plight as follows: “an incalculable number of lay persons were killed because of their religious associations, either as well-known church-goers, members of fraternal and charitable religious organizations, or as the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends of clerics. Some were killed because they professed their faith by wearing some outward symbol of belief, perhaps a religious medal or scapular. Some were killed for acts of charity, for granting refuge to clerics attempting to escape the fury. It is impossible to determine the number of these lay persons who were slain for their faith. . . .Nor was the anticlericalism limited to killing. Thousands of churches were burned, religious objects were profaned, nuns’ tombs were opened and the petrified mummies displayed to ridicule, and religious ceremonies were burlesqued. Indeed, practically any imaginable anticlerical act was not only possible but likely.”

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Whatever might be said about the complex politics on either side in the Spanish Civil War — and in fairness it ought to be mentioned that Franco and the Nationalists were certainly not Fascists nor the Republicans simply Communists — it is a simple fact that this massive slaughter of Catholics within supposedly civilized Europe has never received the attention it deserves. Many peoples have been the object of murderous hatred in the 20th century. We should not forget that Catholics in Spain figure prominently among them.

From “The New Spanish Martyrs,” Robert Royal, Arlington Catholic Herald, 2000.

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Directly opposed to any Catholic principles of government, anarchy and Communism waged war in Spain on all fronts — military, social, moral, and religious. Hating all authority other than their own, they targeted God ultimately and, therefore, His Church. This can be proven from their own mouths and by their actions: “Blaspheme, and we will let you go,” “Break your vows (vows are promises to God), and we will stop torturing you.” As they entered a village, their first object of attack was the church. There, the Communists and their henchmen would round up the priests and religious (as well as anyone who protested), wreak all kinds of destruction and sacrilege, then pour round after round of ammunition into the tabernacle of the parish church….

From “The Good Will Be Martyred: Portraits of Sanctity from the Spanish Civil War,” Sister Maria Philomena, M.I.C.M, Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

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Q: On Sunday, 11 March, the Pope beatified a group of Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. How can you form a clear and balanced opinion of these martyrs when, especially today, the history of the Spanish Civil War is being hotly debated and is a topic marked by ideological options and interests that make objective discussion difficult?

Archbishop Nowak: You are speaking of an ideological debate, of ideologies, whereas in a beatification one deals with a concrete person. In every case, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and, before that, the local Church, in other words, the bishop and the faithful, spontaneously recognize, through their sense of faith, the “martyr” and venerate him as a martyr. The bishop seeks to ascertain the presence of the criteria for Christian martyrdom in an actual death or “bloodshed in hatred of the faith” and the “voluntary acceptance of death for the faith”. If in analyzing a person’s death we become aware that it has been inflicted for religious reasons, and that this person has accepted the call to die for the faith, we know we are dealing precisely with Christian martyrdom. Ideologies such as Nazism or Communism serve as a context of martyrdom, but in the foreground the person stands out with his conduct, and, case by case, it is important that the people among whom the person lived should affirm and recognize his fame as a martyr and then pray to him, obtaining graces. It is not so much ideologies that concern us, as the sense of faith of the People of God, who judge that the person’s behaviour was that of a martyr.

From “NEW EVANGELIZATION WITH THE SAINTS,” L’Osservatore Romano, 28 November 2001 [EWTN.com]

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“We can underscore as common traits of these new martyrs: they were men and women of faith and prayer, particularly centered on the Eucharist and on devotion to the Most Holy Virgin; therefore, as long as they could, even in captivity, they participated in the Holy Mass, they received Communion and they prayed to Mary with the rosary; they were apostles and were valiant when they had to confess their faith; they were available for comforting and sustaining their companions in prison; they rejected proposals to undervalue or renounce their Christian identity; they were strong when they were mistreated and tortured; they forgave their executioners and prayed for them; at the moment of their sacrifice; they showed serenity and profound peace; they praised God and proclaimed Christ as the only Lord,” the bishops said.

From “Spanish Bishops: beatification of 498 martyrs of Civil War a call to reconciliation,” Catholic News Agency, April 30, 2007.

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See also:
Zenit: A LIVING MARTYR OF 1930 SPANISH PERSECUTION:Father Eugenio Laguarda, 90, Talks About Ordeal
Holy Cross:THE PERSECUTION OF ROMAN CATHOLICS IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR

Wikipedia: Spanish Civil War

Blogs:
Rorate-Caeli: The Passion of Spain – Never forget
Recta Ratio: This Just In: Francisco Franco is still dead
Andrew Cusack: Martyrs of Spain, Pray for Us!

Recommended Reading:
Robert Royal: Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century : A Comprehensive World History
Warren Carroll: The Last Crusade: Spain 1936

UPDATES:
Catholic World News: Beatifications revive disputes on Spanish Civil War
Reuters: Spanish Parliament Condemns Franco
Catholic World News: Spanish bishop suggests Church owes some apologies for Civil War
George Weigel: Among The Fallen

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