Have you ever wondered whether you would have the strength to face martyrdom?
Hundreds of men and women faced that challenge not too many years ago in Spain, and they valiantly gave up their lives rather than deny their holy faith.
On October 13th, five hundred and twenty-two worthy Catholics were beatified in Tarragona, Spain for their martyrdom during the Spanish Civil war. It was during the already bloody war that the period known as the Red Terror began in 1934. Violence began when thirty-seven seminarians, priests, and brothers were killed for holding firm to the Catholic faith.
The violence quickly escalated. As anti-Catholic sentiments were fueled, Churches were burned, and sacred religious items such as tabernacles, altars, and statues were desecrated. Perpetrators did their best to erase Catholicism from Spain.
Among those martyrs declared blessed were nineteen friars of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. Following the example of Fr. Mariano Alcala Perez - the former Master General of the Order – they remained steadfast to the Church unto death. With the spiritual life of Spain under attack, the Mercedarian friars held a special mission due to their fourth vow, “to be willing to offer their lives for those in danger of losing the faith.”
From as early as the Order's genesis in 1218, the Mercedarian friars have valued their own lives secondary to the salvation of others. Again, during the Red Terror, these priests and brothers administered the sacraments and preached the Good News in the face of violent persecution.
Active Participation in Christ's Sacrifice
So great was their sacrifice, that it bears repeating, that these martyrs were honored not as casualties of the war, but as Catholics singled out and killed for their Catholic faith during Spain's oppressive regime. Although some were offered mercy if they denied the Church, they willingly gave their lives for the the greater glory of Christ's kingdom. According to the witness of those present, their final words were the proud cry of “Long live Christ the King!”
Sunday's Beatification Mass was held in Tarragona, Spain, and presided over by Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Holy See. The Cardinal spoke of the modern message given to us by the martyrs, the elimination of rancor and hatred, replaced by forgiveness, as well as conversion of the heart.
The Cardinal remarked, “With their charity, the martyrs opposed the rage of evil, as a powerful wall opposed the monstrous violence of a tsunami. By their gentleness, the martyrs deactivated the homicidal weapons of tyrants and executioners, conquering evil with good. They are always actual prophets of peace in the world.”
What better witness to God's mercy is there than the persecuted forgiving their
tormentors? This symbolizes in a special way, the charism and mission of the Order of Mercy. Surrounded by the violence of death, the light of Christ's redeeming love shines forth brightly from his faithful servants, these Mercedarian friars.