Blessed Martyrs of Fernán Caballero and Sigüenza
The Martyrs of Fernán Caballero make up a group of 14 young seminarians, close to their priestly ordination, along with Br Felipe González. For the Cause of their canonization, Fr. José María Ruiz Cano linked them together as protagonists of a moving story of martyrdom in Sigüenza.
The events of their martyrdom occurred in two different places, Sigüenza (Guadalajara) and Fernán Caballero (Ciudad Real), but were brought together under the same Cause. It is not geographical distance that counts here but the coincidence of the same youthful illusions, full of faith and generosity, truncated in both places with the same violence.
As in all causes of martyrdom, the Cause of the Martyrs of Sigüenza and Fernán Caballero is a story of hatred that kills, alongside acts of forgiveness and love by the victims towards the assailants who murdered them.
FR. JOSÉ Mª RUIZ
Fr. José María Ruiz is the only priest among the martyrs of Sigüenza and Fernán Caballero. He was born in Jerez de los Caballeros (Badajoz) on September 3rd, 1906. He was ordained priest in Badajoz on 29th June, 1932.
As a newly ordained priest he began the year of preparation for priestly and missionary ministry in Aranda de Duero (Burgos). In the following year he was assigned to Sigüenza as the assistant Prefect of Postulants. In 1934 he was entrusted with the responsibility of forming a group of 60 seminarians, whose ages ranged between 12 and 16 years.
Sigüenza had been a haven of peace until the situation became extremely difficult on July 25th 1936. The Bishop and four Claretian members in the diocesan seminary were arrested and sentenced to death. Given these events, Fr José María gathered his seminarians in the chapel and said to them: «Everything is fine, but to prevent what might happen, I have to announce with deep regret that the School is now closed for a few days. Don’t cry. For the moment, nothing bad is going to happen. Our Superiors have agreed to this cautionary action … you will all leave here in groups to go to neighbouring towns, where we have been offered accommodation …»
Looking on over this supremely difficult situation was a beautiful image of the Heart of Mary with the Child in her arms. Fr. José María directed the following prayer to her: «O Lady mine! Oh Mother mine! Remember that I am completely yours, protect me and defend me as if I were yours». And then, kneeling with arms outstretched towards the Virgin, he said: «Mother, if it is your will that I should be a victim, here I am; choose me, but do not let anything happen to these innocent people who have wronged no-one».
The withdrawal from the small Seminary began. Our martyr put himself at the front of the youngest group. He set off for Guijosa, about 7 km from Sigüenza. They entered Guijosa as night was falling and were welcomed with open arms by the parish priest and the entire neighbourhood. Someone pointed out to Fr. José María that the boys were safe and that it was better for him to escape and save his own life. The answer, repeated several times, was always the same: «Let them catch me and kill me, but I will not leave these young lads».
The militiamen went to Guijosa looking for the Father with children who had fled Sigüenza. On the 27th, a little before lunch time, seven cars filled with revolutionary militiamen appeared in the village. A militiaman of Sigüenza said: «That’s the Priest over there».
For an hour he was held in a car flanked by two militiamen. The seminarians gradually gathered around … «Don’t be afraid, nothing is going to happen. I die happy» he told his boys.
The car pulled away… and the priest took his leave by saying: “Goodbye, lads”, and he blessed them. Soon the caravan of vehicles stopped at the boundary of Monte del Otero. A voice ordered him to get out of the car. Fr Jose María understood the order, forgave his enemies and set off, as a pilgrim to heaven, to climb up Otero.
The rifles rang out and our martyr fell face down with his arms crossed. It was one o’clock in the afternoon of July 27th, 1936. One of the militiamen later commented: «that monk who was with the boys, he even said that he forgave us when we were about to kill him».
The wave of violence against the members of the Claretian Seminary in Zafra began just after the elections of February 1936. In late April, the Father Provincial ordered them to leave the house and go to Ciudad Real, thinking they would find more favourable circumstances here. They stayed in a retreat house provided by the Bishop.
They breathed an atmosphere of martyrdom and the house was soon assailed. Fr Superior wrote later: «Fourteen of the sacrificial victims were in jail for 4 days and were executed on the 28th, and the remainder were in jail for 6 days. It is impossible to describe the suffering of those days”. Things got much worse in that prison, which had formerly been a house.
Trying to get out of that place of torment, Fr Superior managed to persuade the Civil Governor to give them safe passage to go to Madrid or wherever they saw fit. The first departure was prepared for the 28th of July. Amongst that group were our martyrs.
They went to Ciudad Real station in several cars. When they arrived, there was a huge commotion and voices were heard shouting: «Kill them. They are monks. Don’t let them on the train. Kill them!«. The train pulled out without further delay, but the threats were fulfilled 20 kms from the capital, in the station of Fernán Caballero.
A traveller on the train tells of what he saw: «They ordered the monks to get off, because they had arrived at the spot. Some voluntarily got off, saying: Let God’s will be done, we will die for Christ and Spain. Others were reluctant, but with the butts of rifles, they forced them off. Militiamen stood beside the train and the monks stood there facing them. Some of the monks extended their arms, shouting Long live Christ the King and long live Spain! Others covered their faces. Others bowed their heads. One of them, who was short in stature, shouted encouragement to everyone. Shots rang out and all the brothers fell to the ground … Some got up again and, with outstretched arms, shouted Long live Christ the King! then more shots, and again they fell«.
BR. FELIPE GONZÁLEZ
Brother Philip was also martyred in Fernán Caballero, not in the railway station but at the cemetery gates, on October 2nd 1936. His cause for canonization was linked, from the beginning, to that of the 14 Claretian Students on the first expedition to Madrid.
Brother Felipe came to Ciudad Real from Zafra, also. When the second expedition of the Community left for Madrid on July 30th, he stayed in Ciudad Real, taking refuge in the house of his brother Salvador. He was discovered, and was taken to the police headquarters in the Seminary where he remained until, on October 2nd, he was taken out in a car to Fernán Caballero. When they stopped the car in front of the cemetery, Brother Felipe climbed up the steps to the gate, he flung his arms out in the shape of the cross and shouted «Long Live Christ the King and the Heart of Mary!» A volley of rifle shots silenced his voice.
These Claretian Martyrs were beatified in Tarragona on October 13th, 2013. All of them, according to the motto of the feast of the beatification, were «strong and courageous witnesses of faith». They died forgiving and thus they became martyrs of Christ who, on the Cross, forgave his persecutors.