On 23 July 1936 the people’s militias took possession of the Claretian seminary of Ciudad Real and at dawn of the 24th they all had to abandon the convent of the Carmelite Sisters where they had taken refuge. They had not yet finished eating that same day when one of the Fathers spoke with the Governor, but he couldn’t get anything of it. A few hours later, a Government delegate appeared ordering them all to remain in the house as prisoners. Four days did they remain there as such. Finally they obtained their safe-conduct to leave Ciudad Real and go to Madrid where they could be better controlled. When they reached the station, a great uproar rose up. Shouts were heard: “They are priests, don’t let them board the train, kill them….”
The train departed, but when they reached the station of Fernán Caballero, two militiamen gave the order to stop the engines. The 14 students got off the train, they were placed in a row and some 37 shots were heard.
The Martyrs of Fernan Caballero make up a group of 14 young seminarians, close to their priestly ordination, along with Br Felipe Gonzalez (47 years). For the Cause of their canonization, Fr Jose Maria Ruiz Cano (29 years) linked them altogether as protagonists of a moving story of martyrdom in the city of Siguenza. All of them, sixteen in total, were recognized as martyrs of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI on July 1st 2010, for having testified to their faith by surrendering their lives.
The events of their martyrdom occurred in two different places, Siguenza (Guadalajara) and Fernan 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 Siguenza and Fernan Caballero is a story of hatred that kills, alongside acts of forgiveness and love by the victims towards the assailants who murdered them. It is the story of a group that brings together 16 individual stories, all defined closely by the challenging reasoning of the Gospel: Unless a grain of wheat dies, it can not bear fruit, and he who loses his life for my sake will gain eternal life (Mt 16,25).
José María Ruiz Cano, martyr in Sigüenza
Fr. José Maria Ruiz is the only priest among the martyrs of Siguenza and Fernan Caballero. He was born in Jerez de los Caballeros (Badajoz) on September 3, 1906. Four days before completing his fourteenth year he entered the Claretian Minor Seminary of Don Benito. In 1923 Jose Maria returned to his village of Jerez to do his novitiate and to study the course of philosophy for three years.
Generous in spirit and kind in his dealings, he was fervent in his devotion to Holy Virgin Mary. The following sentence was written during his novitiate on the 10th anniversary of his First Communion: “7th June 1914 to 7th June 1924!What happy days for me! This day marks the tenth anniversary of my First Communion. I wholly consecrate myself to you, Mother. What a joy! ‘Totus Tuus ego sum’! (I’m fully yours) “
He Studied theology in Zafra and was ordained in Badajoz on 29th June, 1932. As a newly ordained he began the year of preparation for priestly and missionary ministry in Aranda de Duero (Burgos). In the following year he was assigned to Siguenza (Guadalajara) as the assistant Prefect of Postulants at the “Palace of Infants”. In 1934 he was entrusted with the responsibility of forming a group of 60 seminarians, whose ages ranged between 12 and 16 years. In Siguenza P. José María was awaited by the tragic days of religious persecution in 1936.
The short and simple life of P. José Mara Ruiz harbored a vigorous vitality that revolved around the total identification with his priestly and missionary vocation as the Son of the Heart of Mary and was shaped by his great loves: Christ, the Heart of Mary and the seminarians entrusted to him as the formator.
Sigüenza had been a haven of peace until the situation became extremely difficult on July 25th. 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 “at about one in the afternoon” says an eyewitness chronicler. – “He wanted to cheer them up, but could not hold back the tears”. – “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. This Servant of God put himself at the front of the youngest group. “Goodbye, Father, see you soon!” said Br Victor on taking his leave, “See you in Heaven” answered the Servant of God, and he set off for Guijosa, about 7km 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”.
They 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”, and then Fr José María said: – “Holy Virgin, save Spain; I die happy.”
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.
Then, some militiamen who came back from desecrating the church, carried a roughly treated image of the Child Jesus. They shamelessly threw it at Fr José María, saying: – “Here, take it, so you can die dancing with him.” He lovingly pressed it to his heart. But the militiaman abruptly snatched it away and tossed it to the ground.
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, halfway between Guijosa and Sigüenza. A voice ordered the servant of God 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 27, 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.”
On the slopes of Otero, at the place of the martyrdom, you will find a cross erected to his immortal memory.
TOMÁS CORDERO, JESÚS ANÍBAL GÓMEZ AND 13 COMPANIONS
With the cross from Zafra to Fernan Caballero
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 in the capital of la Mancha. They stayed in a retreat house provided for the Claretians by Bishop D. Narciso Esténaga, which proved inadequate for a group of young seminarians. Its location in the middle of the city added further challenges for its residents.
Jesus Aníbal Gomez, from Colombia, wrote to his own people: “We have no garden, and primitive washing facilities … We haven’t even once managed to get out for a walk since we arrived: in fact, it is almost like house arrest; such as our circumstances require. It was no bed of roses but it was something we could offer up to the Lord. “
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, to the point that “they brought along prostitutes whom we could see with their bonnets and ornaments, walking along and looking provocatively into our rooms … We were all prepared for death, which we saw coming very soon … we suffered humiliation and deprivation with resignation, meekness and sympathy in the face of our persecutors”.
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. Those who remained in the house said: Have a safe journey!,
They went to Ciudad Real station in several cars, accompanied by militiamen. 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 Fernan 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. “
Amongst the pile of bloody corpses, Candide Catalan was seriously wounded and he would die hours later: “He appeared totally resigned to his fate, he uttered no complaints whatsoever …”, said the doctor who treated him at the station.
It must be noted that in the midst of so much pain and suffering, there was no shortage of angels of comfort. Fr Federico Gutiérrez, in his book Claretian Martyrs of Sigüenza and Fernan Caballero, notes a confidential remark made by Carmen Herrera, the station master’s daughter: “I and the freight clerk’s wife, Maximiliana Santos, helped the doctors treating the wounded brother. I used hot water to wash his wounds and the freight clerk’s wife provided a sheet for bandages. At the Station I gave him something to drink … “
TOMÁS CORDERO CORDERO
Tomás Cordero was born on June 8th, 1910 in Robledino de la Vanduerna in the province of León, the Astorga diocese. His parents were Vicente and Tomasa, farmers who were deeply religious and had a simple life. Tomas was the eldest of six children, and he was also the oldest of the group of fellow martyrs in Fernan Caballero.
As if inspired by the Lord, our servant of God soon understood that this privilege brought with it responsibility. That is what the parish priest clearly communicated in his report: “In school he is the first; in the church he is the most exemplary”.
The following letter from his father is extremely moving: “God planted in him all the delights of a child and the purity of an angel: he asked me to let him be a missionary, and at that time, it was so painful for me because I had lost my wife, so I opposed his wishes; Tomás was going to be the only breadwinner of the family, but he persuaded me to go with him to the Missionary Seminary in Plasencia on October 10th, 1924”.
He was there for two years, then he moved to Don Benito and later to the Novitiate in Jerez de los Caballeros, where he made his profession on August 15th, 1929. In that same town he began to study Philosophy.
Tomás was generous in spirit and delighted in sharing everything he had with his companions. During his philosophy course, his formator said the following of him: “Mr. Tomas Cordero is a highly recommended individual, pious, simple, obedient, hard working, a man of virtue.”
In December 1932 he received the Minor Orders in the Seminary in Zafra. This servant of God grew in wisdom, all the while cultivating and developing his spiritual devotion to the Virgin. The following words are a strong testament to his love of the Heart of Mary: “Slave to love. The slave bows towards the Queen, but the child rests on the Mother’s breast, there to enjoy the tenderness of her heart”. He received the most tender maternal embrace from the Virgin in Fernán Caballero at the age of 26.
JESÚS ANÍBAL GÓMEZ GÓMEZ
Jesús Aníbal was born on June 13, 1914 in the colombian city of Tarso (Antioquia), Diocese of Jericó.
His parents, Ismael and Julia, were devout spiritual Christians and they were of high social standing. At home they prayed the Rosary every night, and at school they said he was a very pious boy.
At age 11, Jesús Aníbal joined the Claretian Seminary at Bosa. During the novitiate his behaviour was so exemplary that the Fr Rector believed that he had never been guilty of any misdemeanour throughout the entire year. The day of his perpetual profession he wrote: “I am your apostle, Heart of My Mother. I do not want a life where there is no love for you”. And as his preferred maxim, he chose the following: “to become passionate for Jesus”. Coming from a wealthy and distinguished family, Jesus Anibal always chose the strictest poverty, simplicity and humility.
At 21, he was sent to Spain to complete his theological studies and receive priestly ordination. In November 1935, he arrived at the Theological School of Zafra, in Extremadura. Jesús Aníbal’s stay here was very short, for on May 1st, 1936, up against the violent revolutionary threats that they suffered on a daily basis, the Community was disbanded and had to move to the capital of La Mancha in Ciudad Real, finishing there his much interrupted course of Theology. The troubles continued until July 24 when the convent was assailed and he was kept prisoner in the house along with his companions.
An episode during his imprisonment reflects the courage of Jesús Aníbal. A militiaman, when he discovered that he was Colombian, rebuked him with the following: “So you came all this way to become a monk?”. Jesús Aníbal replied, “Yes, and I’m proud of it.” The soldier hit him brutally with his rifle saying: “Well, you will have the same fate coming to you.”
He was shot at Fernán Caballero at the age of 22
PRIMITIVO BERROCOSO MAÍLLO
Primitivo was born on February 19th, 1913 in Jerte, in the province of Cáceres, diocese of Plasencia. He joined the Claretian Missionaries’ Seminary in Plasencia at thirteen years of age. At seventeen he made his religious vows, and in June 1935 he received the tonsure and minor orders of Porter and Reader.
This Servant of God had a very unhappy childhood. Before he was born his parents were forced to emigrate to Argentina to earn a living. On the way there, his father, Berrocoso Primitivo, died, and his mother Antolina Maíllo, returned to Spain, to the home of her parents, even poorer than when she left. And her son Primitivo was born just a month after arriving from Argentina. Antolina remarried and the son was put in the care of grandparents.
Don Ramon, the parish priest, said that: “One day I asked if there was a boy who would serve as an altar boy and I was introduced to “Tivo”, as he was affectionately known. Sometime after I easily guessed that a priestly vocation was in the making. He came to live with me and within eight months he had begun to master Latin Grammar and Syntax. His character was beginning to form. And when he was just thirteen years old, I put him in the hands of the Superior of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Plasencia, with these words: “Here I give you a future General of the Order”, such was my affection for this young boy … “
According to reports, Primitivo was exemplary in everything; steadfast in his piety and devotion to the Virgin. People confirm that he had an ardent desire for martyrdom from an early age. His novice master wrote the following report: “He is one of the most rounded Students I have known; robust in health, with a beautiful voice, great missionary ideals, with a special gift for writing, some of his writing receiving awards in Marian Competitions”.
On July 2nd, 1936, he asked to receive the last two Minor Orders at the next Ordinations on the 25th of the same month. But that was not to be. Instead of Holy Orders, he received the trophy of martyrdom along with his companions. He was 23 years old.
VICENTE ROBLES GÓMEZ
Vicente Robles was born in Villanueva del Conde (Salamanca), on April 25th, 1914. He entered the Claretian Missionary Seminary in Plasencia at the age of 11, and at 17 made his religious profession in Salvatierra (Álava). His parents, Pedro Ignacio and Fernanda, were a family of farmers deeply rooted in their faith: “The family environment was very Christian, and my mother prayed for her children to have vocations”.
The novice Master’s report is highly complimentary about the qualities of this servant of God: “Mr. Vicente Robles is a real gem: very talented, very diligent, industrious, consistent and dependable. He is very pious and has worked consistently hard on his integrity. He is of good character and is in a good state of health”.
The sad events of May 1931, the burning of convents and open religious persecution, forced the closure of the Novitiate. Along with his brother Agapito, already a student in Theology, he had to go to his village and wait for better times. “In the village”, his brother says, “we celebrated the liturgy as if we were in the convent: meditation, Holy Mass, Communion, spiritual reading and examination of conscience, and in May we read the book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, by Grignon de Montfort. “
Fr Augusto Andres Ortega, his spiritual director during his years of Philosophy in Plasencia, spares no praise for Vicente Robles during the process for the Cause of his canonization, endorsing the statement made by the novice master, “I must highlight Vicente Robles and Otilio del Amo, especially Vicente Robles, who could not have been required to do more to improve his spiritual life … I don’t think Vicente Robles nor Otilio del Amo were even capable of venial sin… I think they were forever in the presence of God: they were two very special, rare souls, and especially Robles”.
Vicente lived his consecration to the Heart of Mary profoundly, to the point of always signing himself Vicente Heart of Mary Robles, because he wanted everybody to know that he no longer belonged to himself but to the Heart of the Virgin; and at the top of his letters and writings he wrote the jubilant cry: Long live my Mother! At the time of his martyrdom, Vicente Robles was 22 years old.
GABRIEL BARRIOPEDRO TEJEDOR
Gabriel was born on March 18th, 1915 in Barahona, in the province of Soria and, at the time, in the diocese of Siguenza. His parents were Mariano and Asuncion, both good Christians. As a child, Gabriel ‘at six years of age knew perfectly how to respond and help at Mass, and to say the rosary in the parish church”. At ten he entered as a boarder in the Diocesan Seminary of Siguenza, run by the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
As his studies progressed, he felt called to the priestly, religious and missionary life, and decided to join the Claretian Congregation. Few vocations have been so sorely tried as his. For three years he had to fight the opposition of his parents, but when he had finished the first year of Theology and received the tonsure (miraculously, he would say) his parents relented and gave their consent. Overjoyed he applied to enter the Novitiate and was allowed to enter Salvatierra (Alava). The Novice Master said of him: “The Novice, Mr. Barriopedro, is 17 years old. He has spent three and half months with us. He has excellent health, he is sociable, humble, serious, gentle: he stands out for his friendliness, he is kind, affable, benevolent, compassionate, peace-loving, devout and pious: his behaviour is exemplary”. He made his profession on June 29th, 1933 in Jerez de los Caballeros. He then went to the Seminary in Zafra to continue his studies until, victims of persecution, all the students had to seek refuge in Ciudad Real.
A characteristic aspect of his spirituality was his devotion to the Heart of Mary. He wrote on the eve of his profession: “The Virgin is everything for me … I am not afraid of difficulties, nor will the sufferings sadden me; nor will the labours bear down on me, because one glance from her will be enough to soothe and brighten my spirit”. When he died, Gabriel was 21.
CLAUDIO Y ÁNGEL LÓPEZ MARTÍNEZ
Claudio López and his brother Ángel entered the Claretian Seminary at the same time, made their profession on the same day, worked the same number of years as priests, and together they were martyred in Fernan Caballero.
The two brothers were born in Mundilla de Valdelucio (Burgos); Claudio December 18th, 1910 and Ángel October 2nd, 1912, into a family of good honest Christian farm labourers. Their father was called Eusebio Lopez Arroyo, and their mother, Joaquina Martinez Val.
The two boys were altar boys, so both were very humble and often went to communion. They arrived at the Seminary in Plasencia on September 22nd, 1924. They completed their Novitiate and the three years of Philosophy in Jerez de los Caballeros.
Claudio, as reported by his superiors, was a excellent member of the community, robust, well mannered, formal, pious and trustworthy, and stood out for his strength and virility which, without intention on his part, was much admired by others. Ángel was pious, exemplary, formal, industrious and trustworthy, healthy, very talented and of good character. Fr José Riguera, their classmate, once said: Angel and Claudio were really pious and exemplary. During periods of silence, they were frequently seen with rosaries in their hands, and every day, without fail, they did the Via Crucis. They had great missionary zeal, especially Ángel, and their ultimate goal was to be prepared as good missionaries.
In 1931, at the proclamation of the Second Republic, the seminarians were expelled from the Seminary of Jerez. Angel and Claudio returned to their village and continued their pious practices. Several times they went down to visit the nearby sanctuary of our Lady of Vega, recalling the visits to the sanctuary in their childhood days. Although their families and friends discouraged them from going back to the seminary, Angel and Claudio did not hesitate to return. They started the study of theology in Zafra, but the persecution in Zafra in May 1936 forced them to leave and seek shelter in Ciudad Real.
It was in this city that they endured the worst days of religious persecution, becoming prisoners in their own home. Distributed two by two in each room, Angel Lopez had as a companion, Fr. Jose Maria Marquez, who later became the bishop of Humahuaca (Argentina), who during the process of canonization would make the following statement: “We were prepared for death. My cellmate, Angel, lifted my spirits and begged me to pray for our persecutors, for Spain, and to pardon our enemies”. In another cell with Claudio was Br Gregorio Barriuso, “He raised my spirits and we spent the day and night praying.” On the afternoon of July 28th, 1936, the two brothers, still together, achieved the glory of martyrdom in Fernán Caballero. Claudio was 26 and Angel 24 years of age.
ANTONIO LASA VIDAURRETA
On June 28th, 1913 Antonio Lasa was born in the small town of Loizu (Navarra). In several villages a town council was formed, and on the religious side there was, of course, a priest, but when there wasn’t one, the whole family would go to the neighbouring village to hear Mass, even though it was snowing. His parents were Miguel Lasa and Josefa Vidaurreta, both devout Christians.
Every four years Missionary Fathers would go to Erro, at the head of the valley where Loizu is situated. Antonio wanted to be like them, and when he turned eleven years of age, he entered the Seminary of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
Antonio was blessed with an enviable set of qualities: he was quick-witted, had a good memory, very studious, and his piety was calm and rational, fruit of a gentle harmony between head and heart. The report from his Master in the Novitiate of Salvatierra was even more succinct, but no less complimentary: “Antonio Lasa has excellent talent and in his behaviour, he is one of the best novices”.
He completed three years of Philosophy in Beire, and the first year of Theology in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, but then Antonio had a severe crisis in 1933-34. It would seem that he didn’t get on with his formator in theology, and so became a critic and rebel within the system. At the end of the third year he received permission from his superiors to move to the Claretian Province of Betica, where the seminary was in Zafra, arriving there in 1935. From the outset he was happy amongst his new companions, but social circumstances dictated that the seminary had to move quickly to Ciudad Real. Here his brother Felix Lasa, a doctor, visited him, and he said of the meeting: “I visited him shortly before his execution. Having seen the events of May 1st in Madrid, … I came to Ciudad Real with the intention of getting him to leave with me”. But he stayed on in Ciudad Real. On July 28th, 1936 Antonio Lasa died a martyr in Fernan Caballero at 23 years of age.
MELECIO PARDO LLORENTE
Melecio Pardo was born on August 3rd, 1913 in Bustillo de Chaves, province of Valladolid. His parents were Pardo Benigno and Isidra Llorente, who had brought up a deeply Christian family.
Melecio entered the Seminary in Plasencia on October 13th, 1926. During his years of studies, the Prefect said he had an outstanding missionary spirit and he loved nothing more than to preach the word of God … Although he was not excessively intelligent, he stood out in the field of spirituality for his piety, for his sense of vocation, commitment to the Virgin and his missionary calling to work in non-Christian countries.
Fr. Joaquin Alonso, companion of Melecio who was with him until hours before his martyrdom, often remembered the sad night of May 12, 1931, when they were forced to abandon the novitiate at Jerez . After spending a few days in Maimona, hosted in the house of the sister of Antonio Orrego, Meletius had to return to Bustillo de Chaves with Otilio del Amo, his countryman and friend since childhood. Full of courage, both returned to the seminary in the end of July and Meletius began to prepare himself for his profession to be held on 5th September . They were overflowing with joy. Years later in 1936 when the Theologate of Zafra was dispersed, Melecio and Otillo del Amo took refuge in the Claretian house of Córdoba, until they could go to Ciudad Real to rejoin their companions.
In Ciudad Real Melicio was able to finish the course dreaming of the pulpit. “Rhetoric was the weakness of student Meletius Pardo. The pulpit would be his right place. “, thus it was spoken of him. His jovial spirit helped him overcome the difficulties he encountered which ended in ruthless persecution. On the way to Madrid with hopes to reach freedom, Meletius Pardo, aged 23, received the crown of victory on 28th July. His voice which was trained to proclaim the true freedom will never fade out.
ANTONIO ORREGO FUENTES
Oliva de la Frontera (Badajoz) was the birthplace of martyr Antonio Orrego. He was born on January 15th, 1915, the son of Pedro and Isabel, humble craft workers, but firmly rooted in the Christian spirit. Antonio’s father died when he was very young.
He joined the Seminary in Plasencia before his eleventh birthday. Without being exceptional in any way, he was perfectly well suited for the integrity and the life of a missionary. He began his novitiate in 1931, in Jerez de los Caballeros. Social unrest forced the closure of the seminary and Antonio Orrego, along with four others, went to seek refuge in the village of Los Santos de Maimona, at the house of his sister Amelia. From there he went to Salvatierra (Álava) to finish his novitiate and then returned to Plasencia to study philosophy. Antonio was said to be pious, obedient, charitable to his fellows, had a deep love of the Virgin and was impeccable in his behaviour.
He pursued his studies of Theology in Zafra until he was, again, obliged to seek refuge with his sister in Los Santos de Maimona. His brother Octavio said of the events at that time: “My mother urged him to go with her to their home in Oliva, saying that his life was in danger and that it would be a great loss for the family if they killed him, but he answered as follows: What greater glory is there than to have a son a martyr? “.
In early May 1936 he rejoined his companions in Ciudad Real. He finished the second year of Theology and prepared for his Perpetual Profession, which he completed on June 29th, the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, a month before his martyrdom. On July 5th, intending to receive Minor Orders on the 25th of that month, he wrote to his mother: “Our dreams are turning into beautiful realities. Son of the Heart of Mary, and soon to be tonsured and in Orders … and then later, Minister of the Most High. ” Antonio Orrego died a martyr of Christ at 21 years of age.
OTILIO DEL AMO PALOMINO
Friend and neighbour of Melecio Pardo, Otilio del Amo was born in Bustillo de Chaves on April 2nd, 1913. His parents, Eustasio and Basilisa, were staunch Christians. His brother Eustasio, a priest, said: “My parents came from a Christian background. My father was a labourer. They didn’t want Otilio to become a religious, but rather a diocesan priest. My brother was naturally very pious”.
Otilio joined the Seminary in Plasencia September 28th, 1927. When he had completed the Humanities course, in 1931, he had to go home and spend two months in his village. His brother said of his stay in the village: It confirmed him in his religious vocation, and never gave in to the opposition of his parents, and he said to me, “No matter what life has in store for me, if I give it to God through martyrdom, even better”.
The opinion of Otilio del Amo’s spiritual director, Fr Augusto Andres Ortega, will be discussed later when we draw a comparison with the martyr Vicente Robles, but suffice it to include here the important testimony of Fr Eladio Riol: “Mr. Otilio was a special case. He boasted an extraordinary set of human, intellectual and moral qualities, such that they even bestowed on him evident authority among his peers. He was unquestionably an exemplary student throughout. He could be named superior after finishing his studies.
The sad events of April and May 1936 in Zafra did not allow him to successfully complete his first year of Theology. When the Theology School closed down, he had to find refuge in the house of the Claretian Missionaries in Cordoba with his fellow countryman Melecio. After a few days they got a message to join up with their companions in Ciudad Real. On the train Otilio wrote a letter to his brother: “We are walking like strangers in our own land; everywhere we are hated; we can’t stop anywhere; at the minute, I’m on the train to Ciudad Real, and from there maybe to martyrdom; but let God be served”. He was martyred at the age of 23 years.
CÁNDIDO CATALÁN LASALA
Candido Catalan was born in Corella, in the province of Navarra and diocese of Tarazona, on February 16th, 1916. His parents, Feliciano and Jacinta, raised their family in comfortable circumstances, steeped in Christian tradition. At the age of 11, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his paternal uncle, Fr Catalan Cándido Monreal, then Provincial Superior of the Claretian Missionaries of Betica, entering the Seminary of Plasencia.
He did his novitiate in Salvatierra (Álava) and professed on October 24th, 1932. All those who had dealings with Candido Catalan said of him that he was “a very young child” of marked immaturity up to 17 years of age: in his faith, his openness, and in his daily routine. However, in 1934, when he was studying Philosophy, the Prefect’s report has a very different tone: “We have noticed a very positive change in Candido Catalan both in scholarship, where has gone to the top of the class and in virtue”. And in 1935, when he began his first year of theology, the transformation was complete: “He is a student who has matured from a religious point of view, is pious, charitable, obedient, humble, industrious, optimistic.”
When he was beginning to feel a sense of happiness, the tragic events of Zafra happened, and Candido had to find refuge with his companions in Ciudad Real. He finished the course there, but social unrest increased. The Religious were held as prisoners in their own convent, but he thought he saw a glimmer of hope in the safe-conduct given by the Civil Governor to the Father Superior, so that they could leave town. On July 28th, 1936 Candido was a member of the first group to head off for Madrid, with 13 other classmates. At the railway station in Fernan Caballero, they were forced to get off the train, and in view of the other travellers, they were shot while shouting Long Live Christ the King and Long live Spain!.
Candido Catalan was grievously wounded, surrounded by the bloodied bodies of his companions. He was to die hours later while being taken to the hospital in Ciudad Real: “He was a spectacle of utter resignation, without a word of complaint …” said the doctor who treated him at the station.
This young boy was the youngest of all the martyrs of Fernan Caballero. He was only 20 years of age.
ÁNGEL PÉREZ MURILLO
Ángel was born on June 6th, 1915 in the village of Montánchez (Cáceres). His parents were Jose Sanchez and Josefa Pérez Murillo Cortijo.
His sister Matilde says that Ángel learned to read and write in the village school and then went to the Missionaries’ School of the Heart of Mary in Montánchez. She says the following about her brother’s early leanings, “From being a small boy, he showed leanings towards the priesthood, imitating things done by the priests, saying Mass, and he even had a confessional … My father refused steadfastly that he should become a religious, but my brother replied that he would be the unhappiest person in the world if he wasn’t allowed to follow his vocation”
Ángel joined the Seminary at Plasencia in October 1928, at thirteen years of age. Then in 1931, because of the riots and the burning of religious houses, he had to return to his village, but then returned to the seminary happy and cheerful, despite having to overcome, once again, the opposition of his father. He did his novitiate in Jerez de los Caballeros and went on to attend Plasencia for three years of Philosophy.
From the reports written by his formators, it would be impossible to gain more praise than he did: “He’s kind, gentle, attentive, humble, peace-loving, easygoing, sociable, amenable and obedient, devout and pious, quiet, composed, agreeable, active, soft-natured .. . outstandingly talented, good memory, generous spirit, sympathetic, noble, dignified, happy, wise and prudent, charitable both in the presence of God and his neighbour”.
In August 1935 the first year course in theology began at Zafra, and in May 1936, after a few days taking refuge in his village, he went to Ciudad Real to meet up with his companions. Ángel, aware of the danger he was in, said in a firm voice: “Let’s face up to death.” On July 16th, 1936, twelve days before his martyrdom, he made his perpetual profession. He was then 21 years old.
ABELARDO GARCÍA PALACIOS
The small town of Villandiego, province and diocese of Burgos, was the birthplace of Abelardo Garcia on 15th October 1913. His parents, Angel and Estefana, were farm labourers. Abelardo’s mother died when he was only two years old.
At eleven he entered the Claretian seminary in Plasencia, probably encouraged by his uncle, Fr Ignacio Palacios Abad, who also would die a martyr in Don Benito. His formators, during the early years of his formation, described Abelardo as humble and long-suffering. He began his Novitiate full of hope and joy, but was not admitted to Profession.
He began a new phase of his life with the Augustinians; first in Uclés and then in La Vid. From here on, in 1934, he studied Philosophy, and he wrote back asking for admission once again to the Congregation of Claretian Missionaries, “You can’t imagine the great affection, carried almost to the point of delirium, that I have for the Congregation; day after day, feeling more and more desperate, I have so longed to get back to the Congregation”
He pleaded for an urgent response, because the day of his profession in the Augustinians was fast approaching. The Superior advised that he should not take his profession, despite being approved, and Abelard went home to his village without receiving a response from the Missionaries. He finally received his letter of admission, but in circumstances of not having the wherewithal to even make the trip down to Jerez de los Caballeros. Providence helped him unexpectedly and he was able to leave for Jerez. He began a new Novitiate and made his profession on January 3rd, 1936: he had achieved what he had long coveted. He then went to the Theologate of Zafra and, from there, to Ciudad Real along with his persecuted companions. Faced with the fears of one of his companions, Abelardo replied: “Well, what do you think might happen to us in the end? That they kill us? Oh, what happiness there would be in that, if one day people read in the CMF Annals: The following were shot for God and for the Congregation: Mr. Abelardo Garcia, etc “. This dream was fulfilled when he was only 22 years old.
Two months later
Brother FELIPE GONZALEZ DE HEREDIA BARAHONA
Brother Philip was also martyred in Fernan 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.
Felipe González was born on May 24th, 1889 in the village of San Asensio (La Rioja). His parents Joseph and Ezequiela were well known in their village for their kindness, honesty and piety, and their charity in helping those in need, and for how well they raised their two children, Felipe and Salvador.
Felipe’s family put his vocation to the test, as seen in the following letter: “The signatories below, parents of young Felipe González de Heredia, declare that, having subjected him to many tests, they want to really find out if he has a vocation to the religious life and, finding him totally resolved and eager to commit himself, whether as a priest or as a brother, we want to allow him the greatest possible freedom so that he can make his religious profession, our greatest desires being for the glory of God and the service of such a holy and venerated Order”.
He did his novitiate in Jerez de los Caballeros and made his profession on March 25th, 1909 as a lay brother. He had reached his goal, and was now a Missionary Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The testimonies of those who had dealings with him agree that: his was a favoured soul, he was humble, simple, dutiful, patient, kind and compassionate, extremely long-suffering, a great lover of the Heart of Mary and of the Congregation. The testimony of Cardinal Arturo Tabera, in the process of his canonization, will speak for everyone: “Brother Philip, with the loving presence of a lay Brother, simple, pious, religious, always dedicated to the humble tasks of the house, far removed from worldly things : I knew him personally for three or four years in the Seminary in Zafra”.
Brother Felipe came to Ciudad Real from Zafra. 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 Fernan 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. A witness, who happened to be travelling in the same car, said: I noticed that the Brother went very quietly in the car and he shouted aloud Long Live Christ the King and the Heart of Mary!