Martyrs of Barbastro
Everything started with the revolt of 17 July 1936. In the city of Barbastro (Huesca) life went on in a serene tension. 59 Claretian missionaries, most of them young students, trusted in the words of Col. Villalba: "The troops are in the barracks. At a moment's notice they will re-spond." On the 20th, Monday, at 5:30 p.m., they came to search the house. All the members of the community were sent to jail amidst insults and threats. The jail was full to bursting. In the same square there was the school of the Piarist Fathers, with a relatively large hall. That would be the prison for the Claretians. They still could hear words of hope from the Piarists, but soon the scenery began to get gloomy. The few mattresses were taken away, they could not change and they had to wash their handkerchiefs with their drinking water. Only three times could they shave in three and a half weeks. All together they were 49 persons in a hall 25 metres long by 6 metres wide. That month of August was especially hot.
Two Argentinean students who were liberated a few days ahead of the shootings have conveyed to us the moments of moral suffering to which they were submitted. One of them, Parussini, wrote: "One day they told us that the supper would be our last meal. Once I heard the happy news, I looked for a peace of paper and I wrote a few farewell lines...." More than four times they received the general absolution believing that death was imminent. The long prison days provided time for many things, including anecdotal memories and humour. They were always full of peace, calmness and joy. One of the Argentinean students declared: "They con-stantly repeated to us: We do not hate your persons. We hate your profession, your black habits, your cassock." The cause for imprisonment and execution was clear.
On Monday, August 10, although they did not know it, the last week of their life began. Eight days earlier, they had already shot Fr. Superior and the two consultors together with other priests and lay persons from the city. They had also shot the Bishop of Barbastro, Msgr. Asensio Barroso. On August 11 they received the visit of a representative of the committee. The accusa-tions of possessing weapons and planning conspiracies could not hold water in the face of the young religious' innocence. They were forbidden to speak in a loud voice and to group them-selves more than two at a time. The Rector of the Piarists brought some books to them, but there was no more time to read: only to prepare for death.
The 12th of August would be an unforgettable day for our young men. It was 7 o'clock in the morning. Someone from the committee burst into the hall asking for the names. The black list was already made. One of the two Argentinean students wrote later: "All confessed for the last time and spent the day in prayer... All were happy to suffer something for the sake of God. All forgave their executioners and promised to pray for them in heaven." Reading their writings gives one the shivers. They wrote in music books, on the piano stool, on chocolate wrappers: "With my heart full of holy joy, I trustfully await the greatest moment of my life: martyrdom." "They have found no political cause. They have made not a single trial. Happily we all die for Christ, for his Church and for the faith of Spain." "Dear parents, I die a martyr for Christ and for the Church. I die at peace fulfilling my sacred duty. Good bye, I'll see you in heaven." That day they took away the six eldest.
On a chocolate wrap the last words of the whole group to Mother Congregation are kept for posterity. They are headed by a crucial name: Faustino Pérez, student. The farewell reads:
"August 12, 1936, in Barbastro. Six of our companions are already martyrs: Soon we hope to be, too. But before this happens, we want to make it clear that we die forgiving those who are taking away our life and offering it for the Christian ordering of the working world, for the definitive reign of the Catholic Church, for our beloved Congregation and for our beloved families.THIS IS THE FINAL OFFERING TO THE CONGREGATION, FROM HER MARTYR CHILDREN!"(Forty signatures follow, preceded by cheers to Christ and to the Heart of Mary). And it ended: "Live immortal, beloved Congregation. As long as you have children in the dungeons such as those you have here in Barbastro, have no doubt that your fate is eternal. Would that I had fought in your ranks: Blessed be God!"
The night from the 12th to the 13th was going to be the last for some of them. All had confessed and prayed. The foreign students had heard their last confidences and had wiped away the last tears. All had lain down to rest. Two hours had not yet passed when, at midnight, the doors were opened and two militiamen entered with ropes already stained with blood. "At-tention, all those who are over 26, come down from the stage," No one moved, as there was no one that age. Nor 25, either. Then they put on the lights and read the first twenty names. After each name, a firm voice: "Present!" and they descended from the stage. They formed a single file along the wall, while their hands were bound at their backs, and their elbows two by two. "All were composed and at peace: their faces had something that seemed supernatural, impos-sible to describe. In all of them could be seen the same courage, the same enthusiasm; no one fainted or gave signs of cowardice." Those who remained on the stage looked upon the scene with astonishment. They heard some forgive those who were binding them; others were seen taking the ropes from the floor, kissing them and giving them to those who were binding them. Some one shouted: "Farewell, brothers, we'll see you in heaven!" One of the guards com-mented addressing those who remained on the stage: "You still have one whole day to eat, laugh, enjoy, dance, and do whatever you please. Tomorrow at this same time we shall come looking for you, as we have done with these, and we will bring you for a walk in the cool air up to the cemetery. Now you may turn the lights off and go to sleep." The shots were heard by those who remained in the hall.
At last, at 5:30 in the afternoon, they freed the two Argentinean students Hall and Pa-russini who, with tears in their eyes, said good bye to those who a short time later would die martyrs. Now we have to mention one name: Faustino Perez. Heroism was evident in him with more forceful signs. Among other things, it was he who wrote the farewell dedicated to the Congregation, a farewell one cannot read without feeling a deep shiver of emotion:
"Beloved Congregation. The day before yesterday, the 11th, six of our brothers died with a generosity befitting martyrs. Today, the 13th, twenty more have won the palm of victory, and tomorrow, the 14th, the remaining twenty-one of us expect to die. Glory to God! Glory to God! And how nobly and heroically your sons have borne themselves, beloved Congregation! We are spending the day encouraging one another and praying for our enemies and for our beloved Institute. When the moment comes to designate the next victims, we all feel a holy serenity and an eagerness to hear our names called, so that we can join the ranks of the chosen. We have been looking for-ward to this moment with generous impatience. When it came to those already chosen, we have seen some of them kiss the ropes that bound them, while others spoke words of pardon to -the armed mob. As they drove off in the van towards the cemetery, we could hear them shouting, 'Long live Christ the King!' while the angry mob answered, 'Death to him! Death to him!' -but nothing daunted them. They are your sons, beloved Congregation, these young men, surrounded by pistols and rifles, yet they have the calm courage and daring to cry out 'Long live Christ the King!' on their way to the cemetery. Tomorrow the rest of us will go, and we have already cho-sen the passwords we will shout, even as the shots are being fired: to the Heart of our Mother, to Christ the King, to the Catholic Church, and to you, the common Mother of us all. My com-rades tell me that I must begin the 'Viva's' and they will respond. I will shout at the top of my lungs, and in our enthusiastic cries you will be able to discern how much we love you, beloved Congregation, since we will bear the memory of you even into those deep regions of suffering and death. We all die happy, with no regrets or misgivings. We all die praying God that the blood that falls from our wounds will not be shed in vengeance, but will rather transfuse your veins and spur your growth and expansion throughout the world. Farewell, beloved Congregation. Your sons, the martyrs of Barbastro, greet you from prison and offer you our sufferings and anguish as a holocaust of expiation for our failings and as a witness to our faithful, generous and everlasting love. The martyrs of tomorrow, the 14th, are fully aware that they die on the eve of the Assumption. And what a special awareness it is! We are dying because we wear the cas-sock, and we are dying precisely on the same day we were invested in it. The martyrs of Barbas-tro greet you, as do I, the last and least worthy of their number, Faustino Pérez, CMF. Long life Christ the King! Long live the Heart of Mary! Long live the Congregation! Farewell, beloved Institute. We are going to heaven to pray for you. Farewell, farewell!"
In spite of all threats, the entire 13th and the 14th went by with no incidents. When they were sleeping on the night from the 14th to the 15th of August, a group burst into the hall. All rose as one man. Bro. Raymond, the community cook, was excluded. They embraced each other while they were being bound and beaten. It was night when the 17 young men left the hall-jail. They were singing as they boarded the van. One fell on the van itself, for the blows with the rifle. Positioned by a steep slope, some standing, others kneeling, some with their arms in cross, others with the rosary or a crucifix in their hands, heard the last proposition: "You are still on time. What do you prefer: to go free to the battlefront or to die? Muffled by the gunshots, the answers were heard: TO DIE! LONG LIVE CHRIST THE KING!" There was almost absolute quiet. From the shrine of El Pueyo the blessed Virgin, on her feast day, with infinite tenderness opened her arms and received them in her HEART.
Some simple monuments occupy now the exact places of their martyrdom. Their re-mains rest in the church of Barbastro, in their new mausoleum. 51 in all. The story of these young men has gone round the world. Their Congregation has taken care of their memory like a treasure. Today finally we can all recognise publicly their holiness. They are "Beati," Blessed. Their feast day is celebrated on August 13.
These were the Pope's words during the ceremony of their beatification on 25 October 1992:
"It is a whole seminary that generously and courageously face their offering of martyr-dom to the Lord... All the testimonies received allow us to assert that these Claretians died be-cause they were Christ's disciples, because they would not deny their faith or religious vows. Therefore, with the blood they shed they inspire us all to live and die for the word of God we have been called to proclaim. The martyrs of Barbastro, following their founder, St. Anthony Mary Claret, who had also suffered an attempt against his life, experienced the same desire to shed their blood for love of Jesus and Mary, expressed in this frequently sung exclamation: 'For you, my Queen, to give my blood.' The same saint drew up a plan of life for his religious: 'A son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man on fire with love, who spreads its flames wherever he goes. He desires mightily and strives by all means possible to set everyone on fire with God's love'."
These are their names: Philip of Jesus Munárriz, Joseph Amorós, Joseph Badía, John Baixeras, Xavier L. Bandrés, Joseph Blasco, Joseph Brengaret, Raphael Briega, Manuel Buil, Antolín Calvo, Sebastian Calvo, Thomas Capdevila, Stephen Casadeval, Francis Castán, Wenceslao Claris, Eusebio Codina, John Codinach, Peter Cunill, Gregory Chirivas, Antony Dalmau, John Díaz, John Echarri, Louis Escalé, Joseph Falgarona, Joseph Figuero, Peter Gar-cía, Raymond Illa, Louis Lladó, Hilary Llorente, Manuel Martínez, Louis Masferrer, Michael Masip, Alphonse Miquel, Raymond Novich, Joseph Ormo, Secundino Ortega, Joseph Pavón, Faustino Pérez, Leoncio Pérez, Salvador Pigem, Sebastian Riera, Edward Ripoll, Joseph Ros, Francis Roura, Theodore Ruiz de Larrinaga, John Sánchez, Nicasio Sierra, Alphonse Sorribes, Manuel Torras, Atanasio Viadaurreta and Agustín Viela.