Martyrs from Madrid – reflection by Fr Antonio Marazzo

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Fr. Antonio Marazzo, CSsR, the General Postulator for the cause, shares his reflection on the witness of the lives of our confreres who were cruelly martyred in Madrid in 1936, during the religious persecutions and about the importance of their beatification for Redemptorists today (video in Italian, with English subtitles).

The transcript of the reflection (translation)

Twelve Redemptorists were slaughtered between 20 July and 7 November 1936 in Spain and specifically in Madrid. These deaths were among the many killings of the so-called Spanish civil war. And they were as particular as many. There were thousands of dead priests, religious, bishops, and lay people. People were killed without trial in a summary manner just because they were Catholics because they were believers. The Church, in calling them martyrs, in declaring them such, intends to constantly remind us of one thing: that having faith means living life to the full and living a life in communion with Christ.

So that we can live in his wake what he himself has been for us. As St Paul says, Christ was the one who had the courage to give himself, even unto death and death on a cross.

Who were these people? I think one of the most beautiful definitions is given by the founder of the Redemptorists, St Alphonsus. In his work Victory of the Martyrs.

This text was taken at the beginning and put at the beginning of the papal decree on the heroicity, that is, the martyrdom of these twelve Redemptorists. St Alphonsus says: From considering the great examples of virtue that the holy martyrs gave at the time of their martyrdom, one learns, moreover, to trust in God to become more and more attached to our faith, for in the constancy of the martyrs and in giving them the strength to overcome torments and death with such courage and jubilation, the power of God shines forth admirably.

Who were they? I will not list them for you. You will see from the pictures superimposed on what I say these twelve persons were.

They were twelve, six priests and six coadjutor brothers from two communities, that of the Shrine of Perpetual Help and that of San Miguel. They were practically caught, let us say, because with the beginning of the civil war, on 17-18 July, our brothers were forced to leave the communities after the last community celebration on 20 July and tried to take cover. Practically more than hiding, they tried to avoid being found.

But there is one thing they had in common. When they were caught, they all had the courage at the end to testify what they were: religious, Redemptorist missionaries, people who believed in Christ. Some in dying even had time to shout Viva Cristo Rey! Almost as if to say I continue to believe, despite you taking away what is fundamental, what is a gift from God, life.

But let us consider one thing – martyrdom is the last act of life. What were these people before? They have been people like many: they have had their problems, they have had their difficulties, their sufferings, they have gone through a life journey, they have faced what were also difficulties in growing up, to live fully not only the consecrated life but above all the missionary reality. And it is precisely in this that we identify the specificity of these twelve Redemptorists. Not all of them could preach, especially the coadjutor brothers, but they offered their full availability. They used their talents to collaborate with those who preached, with those who taught, and with the priests who governed the Spanish religious province.

They did this with generosity. They did it with such charity towards each other, and it is something that, let’s say, makes one think, makes one think especially in today’s world.

There are two very interesting brothers – one now elderly, almost blind, who could not practically live on his own. Like this blind brother, a lay brother did not abandon him and experienced martyrdom with him so as not to leave him alone. This brother was very young. And he accompanied him to safety from the Marxists who wanted to kill them at all costs. A gesture of giving life, but also a gesture that tells us how important it is to feel the other as one’s own flesh, to regard him as a brother, to feel him as a neighbour. That is why they did it. These were not priests but consecrated men who were offering their service in the community at the time so that priests could freely prepare themselves for preaching or for the various priestly offices they were responsible for.

There is another thing to consider. Not all were geniuses of great minds. Some had difficulty in their studies; others had problems in learning what there was to do. But did they succeed with tenacity? Yes, but above all, with such confidence that this was their vocation. Therefore, there was an essential clarity that allowed them to go on despite everything. Christ was calling them to live in that state of life. And when they realised that it was a certainty, they did not give up; they did not turn back. They went on until the end, until death.

What is missionary work? Considering these twelve martyrs, you see that being a missionary means making a fundamental choice that I will continue as long as I live to proclaim Christ, speak of him, and make him known to others. These people did this even in the worst of times when they were in hiding. When they found themselves in prison, they continued missionary action with prisoners who were in the same situation as they were facing death. To give courage, to give hope.

But not only to give them the prospect of an afterlife with God, but to give meaning to what had gone before. To a whole path of life. Because the death of a martyr gives meaning to his entire life. One cannot arrive at martyrdom if there has not been an exercise of virtues and Christian virtues. One cannot arrive at martyrdom. And that is what St Alphonsus said.

If the power of God within us has not become history, has not become fact, has not expressed itself in everyday life, and above all, has not expressed itself with others. Love for one’s neighbour is not so much an aspect, as I like to say, of gentle expression at the morphological level of the face, but it is, above all, genuine attention to what the other person is. It is not to please the other but to care about what is good for the other, what is suitable to grow together and to share the possibilities that God has given us: his strength, energy, and courage. These are what these brothers have done – they have shared.

We Redemptorists live in the apostolic community where we are not necessarily always in a situation of explicit proclamation. Sometimes the proclamation has to be given to the confreres we have next to us, without necessarily being teachers to others, to those people with whom we live, but with a witness of what today is commonly called “solidarity”, which is nothing other than sharing, or what is called service, which is the same thing. For no one is the servant of another. Only one became such, and that was Christ. But each of us tries to preserve his own identity, and with this identity – conscious, mature, we go to the other to give him what we have best, to try to take also from the other, to help him put out what he has best – his capacities. So that we can become together, and that means communion. This means community. This means making Church to put our possibilities together and become for other possibilities.

The martyrdom of these people teaches us all this. It teaches us that without true communion with Christ, we cannot look upon the other as brother. Without allowing Christ to become within us that neighbour that we desire as help, we will never become help for the other, and we will never give the witness that these twelve people dared to give. They were taken out violently, from night to morning, and sometimes shot dead by the side of a road. Some were not even found dead. Others were first massacred and then shot. And terrible. Perhaps if we think about it, we imagine it as in a horror film; we are frightened and terrified, and we ask ourselves: who knows if we would have had the courage not to deny Christ?

Here is what St Alphonsus says: Here the power of God intervenes, God who does not abandon us because we know him and he knows us because he has found space and we have made space for him, because we have made him become this word, which with our flesh, with our life, once again becomes the story of salvation and redemption.

Missionary work means this. To be missionaries means to become explicit proclaimers of the word. But with words and with works. Work that does not always mean giving; many times, it only means being present in the life of the other, albeit silently, but present as a brother, as a friend, as one who listens, as one who understands, as one who like God uses the mercy of forgiveness.

We live this beatification with this yearning, with this hope, to be able to imitate him. Not so much imitate what they did. Imitate this spirit. Imitate this profound sense of adherence to Christ and the Church. This acceptance of becoming his word today becomes a soothing proclamation for others. And let us pray that these twelve martyrs, these twelve people, will become, will continue to be for us, a sign of a mission that helps those we meet every day on our path.

Fr Antonio Marazzo, CSsR

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