22 Oblates to Be Beatified in Madrid

Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War

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By Nieves San Martin

MADRID, Spain, NOV. 8, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Twenty-two Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate will be beatified in Madrid this December. They lost their lives in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

The Oblates carried out their ministry as chaplains to three communities of nuns and collaborated in the neighborhood parishes.

The young students taught catechism in neighborhood parishes and the Oblate Choir solemnized the liturgical celebrations. This religious activity began to annoy the revolutionary committees of the neighborhood.

The Oblates community was not intimidated, however. They took prudent measures and committed themselves not to respond to insults, continuing with their program of spiritual and intellectual formation, as well as the various pastoral activities with students.

On July 20, 1936, churches and convents were again set on fire, especially in Madrid. The militiamen of Pozuelo assaulted a chapel of the Estacion neighborhood, flung images and vestments onto the street and burnt them. Then they set the chapel and parish on fire.

On July 22, armed militiamen assaulted the monastery and detained 38 religious, putting them under guard. After searching the house for weapons, they only found religious paintings, images, crucifixes, rosaries and sacred vestments. They threw everything from the upper floors to the ground floor through the stairwell and burnt it all on the street.

On the 24th, the first executions took place. There were no interrogations, trials or defense. Seven religious were the first to be called and sentenced: Juan Antonio Pérez Mayo, 29, priest and professor; and students Manuel Gutiérrez Martín, 23, sub-deacon; Cecilio Vega Domínguez, 23, sub-deacon; Juan Pedro Cotillo Fernández, 22; Pascual Aláez Medina, 19; Francisco Polvorinos Gómez, 26; Justo González Lorente, 21. They were put into two cars and taken to their martyrdom.

The rest of the religious remained imprisoned in the monastery and spent the time in prayer, preparing to die well.

Someone, probably the mayor of Pozuelo, communicated to Madrid the risk the others were in and that same day, July 24, a guard truck arrived with orders to take the religious to the general security office. The following day, after completing certain transactions, they were unexpectedly set free.

They sought refuge in private homes. The provincial did his utmost to encourage them and to take Communion to them. However, in the month of October, by a search and capture order, they were detained and taken to prison.

There they endured a slow martyrdom of hunger, cold, terror and threats. There are testimonies from survivors of the way they accepted that difficult situation with heroic patience, foreseeing the possibility of martyrdom. Charity and a climate of silent prayer reigned among them. For the majority of them, the end of their Calvary came in November.

On the 7th, Father José Vega Riaño, 32, priest and formator, and student Serviliano Riaño Herrero were shot. On being called by the executioners, the latter went to the cell of Father M. Martín and asked for sacramental absolution through the spyhole.

Chaos of hatred

Twenty days later, it was the turn of the 13 others. The procedure was the same for all. There were no accusations, trials or defense. Only the proclamation of their names over loudspeakers: Francisco Esteban Lacal, 48, provincial superior; Vicente Blanco Guadilla, local superior, 54; Gregorio Escobar García, 24, newly ordained priest; and the student brothers: Juan José Caballero Rodríguez, 24, sub-deacon; Publio Rodríguez Moslares, 24; Justo Gil Pardo, 26; José Guerra Andrés, 22; Daniel Gómez Lucas, 20; Justo Fernández González, 18; Clemente Rodríguez Tejerina, 18; coadjutor brothers Ángel Francisco Bocos Hernández, 53; Marcelino Sánchez Fernández, 26 and Eleuterio Pardo Villarroel, 21.

It is known that on Nov. 29, 1936, they were taken from prison to Paracuellos de Jarama where they were executed. A student who was traveling in another truck, tied elbow to elbow with Father Delfin Monje, both of whom were mysteriously reprieved near the place of execution, said to his companion: «Father, give me general absolution and pray the Act of Contrition, as our end is coming. Eighteen years later, the priest lamented: ‘What a pity I didn’t die then. I will never be so well prepared!'»

The newly ordained priest Gregorio Escobar had written his family: «I have always been extremely moved by the accounts of martyrdom that have always existed in the Church, and on reading them I have always been overtaken by a secret desire to run to the same fate as theirs. That would be the best priesthood to which all of us Christians could aspire: each one to offer his own body and blood in holocaust for the faith. What happiness it would be to die a martyr!»

All died professing the faith and forgiving their executioners and, despite the psychological tortures during their cruel captivity, no one apostatized, or failed in the faith, or lamented having embraced the religious vocation.

Last July, Benedict XVI confirmed the date of the beatification.

Gregorio Escobar Barbarin, a nephew of the young newly ordained priest killed at 24, who bears his name, and is the only relative of the martyr who is still in Estella, Navarre, said on Tuesday to Diario de Navarre: «Moments like this are the occasion we all have to walk toward reconciliation.»

Escobar Barbarin, who was town councilor in the Municipality of Estella between 1999 and 2003, said he believes it is necessary to learn from history. «Gregorio and his companions gave their lives generously in correspondence to their faith. Their young hearts longed only to give help and consolation to those who needed it. However, they were taken as sheep to the slaughter amid a chaos of hatred and confusion.»

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