THE CLARETIAN MARTYRS OF BARBASTRO
Who are they?
They are 51 Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretians) who belonged to the Community of Barbastro. It was a large community, composed of 60 persons, dedicated to the formation of missionaries; it was a Seminary of the Congregation.
9 were priests. 12 were brothers. The rest of the community, 39, were seminarians who were in the last years of theology. It is good to highlight the youth of the great majority of these martyrs. Only 9 of these martyrs were over 25 years old.
Why are they martyrs?
On July 2oth, two days after General Franco uprising, a group of militia raided the house of the missionaries looking for hidden arms. The immediate reason for this search could have been manoeuvres in the Plaza de Toros, by the seminarians who were of the age for military service, to shorten their term in the army. But there were, above all, the calumnies that were circulating about the hypocrisy of the clerics and the danger they posed. Although they did not find what they were loofing for, in spite of a minute search, they nevertheless arrested all the missionaries. They separated the three superiors from the rest of the community ans took them to prison. The rest of the community was brought to the assembly hall of the school of the Piarists.
In our Martyrs there were no political motives or reasons that justified their death. The soldiers confessed publicly and expressed before those martyrs the reason for their hatred and their condemnation: they were religious and had to die.
They died because they were disciples of Christ, because they did not renounce their faith and their religious vows. Their fraternal life in the hall of the Piarists, their prayers, their hymns, their expressions of hope and forgiveness made us re-live the Acts of the first martyrs, the seeds and deepest roots of our Christianity. Having been separated from their superiors, they remained firm until the end. Their behavior in prison was always exemplary, even when they were subjected to all kinds of trials:
- The soldiers offered freedom to one or other of the martyrs, after having contacted their families or simply through compassion. No one accepted such offers.
- In the middle of summer, they were given a limited amount of water; very little to drink and none for their personal cleanliness.
- On various occasions they were subjected to mock executions. Placed in front of a firing squad, they heard the order to fire. Behind the walls that gave onto the street, the people vilified, insulted and threatened them.
Finally, they were shot in different groups. The three superiors were killed on August 2nd. The six oldest of the group held in the hall of the Piarists, on August 12th , twenty on the 13th and another twenty on the 15th, lastly, the two that were in the hospital, on the 18th.
Attitudes before martyrdom
We note also in the written testimony of the martyrs that they died for Jesus and the Church, and, like the Lord, forgiving those who were taking their lives. They went to the firing squad singing religious hymns and proclaiming praises to Christ the King and the Heart of Mary.
They died with a clear apostolic sense. They all had great ministerial aspirations and the desire to work for the salvation of souls. The priesthood, the missions among unbelievers, the working class, service to the Church: nothing escaped them or was outside their apostolic concerns. But what the Lord asked of them was their life, their blood, and the offering of their heart.
The young martyrs of Barbastro were true masters of spirituality for us. It is difficult to imagine that the martyrs would have been able to face martyrdom without an adequate formation and without an intense preparation.
In the Seminary they inculcated an unreserved love for Jesus and a filial surrender to the Heart of Mary, a solid piety, fidelity to their vocation and a joyful belonging to the Church and to the Congregation, asceticism and discipline. Heirs to the apostolic spirit of St. Anthony Mary Claret, they were taught to be attentive to the missionary challenges of their time and to be sensitive to the needs of the poor.
In prison, their religious instinct led them to follow their spiritual life in spite of everything. The Eucharist was the centre of their life as long as they could receive it. Clandestinely they were able to receive communion for a few days. A few would keep it on their bodies and the others would approach them surreptitiously to adore Christ in the Sacrament. They had the luck of having a priest with them, so that they could approach the sacrament of penance and receive from him the absolution of their sins. Prayer, the recitation of the Rosary and the office of the common of martyrs nourished their spirit, prepared them for full identification with Christ and to accept death with joy.
The Claretian Martyrs of Basbastro wrote a glorious page of Christian heroism. For 20 days in the summer of 1936 they endured untold suffering. The strength of the Eucharist and devotion to the Virgin helped them to stay positive in appearance and keep peace in their hearts, praying for and forgiving all who would kill them.