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4 December

Saint John Damascene and John Calabria
1889, opening of the first Marist school in Colombia

Marist Calendar - December

The persecution


Martyrs in Spain

src=http://old.champagnat.org/images/martiri/comic/001x.jpgBrother Laurentino shows clearly how much our brothers in Spain were aware that martyrdom was a real possibility for them and that the climb to Calvary had already begun.

We would like to forget that today. Our society has become more tolerant and we weigh up better the horrors that were perpetrated on both sides in what we call “the Spanish Civil War”. It could be that we are tempted to view our martyred brothers as simply political victims because of the forces and social violence at the time.

It is very rare for the political dimension to be absent from martyrdom. In the death of Christ, the political actors and motivations are strongly evident and the real reason that John the Baptist was beheaded was because a young woman had danced in front of a weak king. A martyr is the one who is killed because somebody wants to kill God, Christ, the Church and destroy all that builds humanity and organises society in the values of the Spirit.

The brothers were aware that they should avoid the trap and the pretext of politics. Brother Laurentino wrote to them in February 1933: “Now more than ever we must remove all that is political from our houses, as all of this can foster divisions and groups. What a sad spectacle would be offered by the religious who declared himself partisan of some political sector…The religious, or at least a Marist Brother, must have no politics other than Christ!”

Those who killed our brothers in Spain clearly expressed this project to expel God from the heart of mankind and of society; this was the collision of two different visions: Promethean man or man in the light of God. The testimony of Brother Elias Arizu Rodríguez confirms this explanation: “I had been called before the leaders of the Revolution to be expelled from Spain. I spoke to four men, Aurelio Fernández, Portela from the F.A.I. , Eroles and Ordaz, and I asked them why they were persecuting and murdering us. They answered that they had nothing against us personally; but that the ideas we profess are completely opposed to theirs and that they wanted to exterminate these ideas. Thus, the only reason for the death of so many Servants of God was the hatred of the Church and of its ministers.” This intention was clearly confirmed by one of the leaders of the revolution: “We intend, in all of Spain, but especially in Catalonia, to finish with all that smells of candle wax!” The militiamen of the Revolutionary Committee sang a similar refrain to Brother Hipolito, Director of the house at las Avellanes: “You and yours should manage to leave this area as soon as possible. In the case that this does not happen you are going to have a nasty time, we want neither religions nor religious people. Our religion is humanity.”

The material facts also talk of persecution. Out of about sixty communities and establishments that we had in Spain in 1936, forty-four had members who were victims of persecution, eleven establishments were burnt down, just as many were ransacked with countless numbers of chapels and sacred objects profaned. One hundred and seventy-two of our brothers were murdered but many more knew imprisonment, torture and insults. “As soon as the revolutionary movement was declared on 18th July 1936, churches and convents were set on fire, wrecked and destroyed; priests and religious were persecuted to the point of death, many were murdered… and religion was totally forbidden until the end of the war in January 1939.”

Today we have strong feelings about the large number of martyrs in Russia during the Marxist period and we admire their silent witness to their faith. Our martyred brothers in Spain deserve as much and for the same reasons. They speak to us of how to love and to remain faithful in extreme situations. As examples of humanity and holiness, they are a precious treasure in our Marist Family, they are our intercessors and they are our brothers.

The struggle that we know today is simply more muffled, but in the media and social laws there are constantly two opposite visions of mankind: the one who has no other vision than absolute mortality, a child of the absurd and the one in the light, a child of God, strong in the hope and the freedom that is given by love; daily violence without the pouring forth of blood but also without the pouring forth of life.

Reflecting on our martyrs will help us to respond to God and to all humanity in a way that is audacious, full of integrity, faithful and that opens the doors to hope.

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