Brother Luis Aguirre Bilbao (1914-1936)

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Lord God, you gave your servant, Luis, the grace to live as your Son Jesus lived, to live as a poor and humble worker. Through his intercession may we also live as humble and zealous servants as we strive to build a better world where love and unity characterize the life of all people! We pray in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Infancy and early childhood

We must allow the light from on high to shine on the simplicity and the orderliness that beautified the soul of the chosen child of God, Luis Aguirre, a virtuous man who allowed nothing to disfigure the presence of God during his earthly pilgrimage of twenty-two years. Luis, the son of Pedro and María, was

born in Manguía (Vizcaya) on August 19, 1914 (the year in which the European War was begun).

On the day of his birth he was baptized because it was feared that he would die. As a small child both his parents died and as an orphan he was deprived of the affection and the love and the security that little children need. Nevertheless, the pain of having lost his parents at such an early age did not scar his person or affect his behavior.

He was joyful by temperament and liked to play with the children that were his age. He had a brother who was a little older than he and they comforted and encouraged one another, accepting God’s plan for their life. It is, however, one thing to talk about accepting God’s plan and quite another to do this in the midst of the loneliness that often enveloped these two young children who were frequently seen playing together and wandering about town, attempting to put aside the sorrow of having lost their parents, a sorrow that followed them like a shadow.

The Municipality of Munguía had the right to place orphans in the Hospital-Asilo in Guernica and the two brothers began to reside there in 1919. There the Daughters of Charity, who were responsible for the administration of most of the charitable centers in Spain, received them with a mother’s love, aware of the pain and sorrow that these children experienced as a result of the death of their parents. When Luis was old enough to receive his first communion, some members of his family brought him to the parish in Munguís where he was able to celebrate that day in the company of the friends from his childhood. Thus he was able to receive communion surrounded by family and friends and this became an occasion of great joy for Luis.

I have my medal! I have my medal!

It was not strange that the Sisters would take a liking to Luis because he was a clam and gentle child, one who did not become involved in fights or arguments or throw fits of anger … he was always willing to help another child. He learned to read and write and do craftwork at the side of the Daughters of Charity. The Sisters spoke about the fact that each day Luis liked to pray the rosary with them in their chapel. He helped the Sister in charge of the kitchen who often asked him to run errands and to move some furniture from one part of the house to another … she knew that Luis liked to do this work and was also very prompt and responsible in his work. The fact that he prayed with them in their chapel was something that spontaneously arose within him.

He desired to wear around his neck a medal in honor of his patron, Saint Luis Gonzaga. He had heard people speak about him and wanted to be like him: simple, pious, obedient. One day he asked the Sisters for this medal and they bought the medal for him as a gift but told him not to tell anyone about the gift. Luis, however, was so happy with this gift that he shouted in front of his companions: I have my medal! I have my medal!

I want to be a Vincentian Brother

At the age of fourteen Luis entered a workshop in Guernica in order to learn the trade of mechanic/chauffer … he found other studies to be quite difficult. At the age of fifteen he expressed his desire to enter the Congregation of the Mission in order to be a Brother. Some family members were opposed to his decision to seek such a vocation, but he responded and stated: the trade that I am engaged in does give me any satisfaction; I want to be a Vincentian Brother. He entered the Internal Seminary on June 29th, 1931 … the director of the seminary, Father José María Aparicio, received him with open arms and explained to him the duties that the Brothers traditionally were responsible for.

Two months later, King Alfonso XIII abandoned the country and the Second Spanish Republic was inaugurated. The political, social and religious environment became more tense with each passing day. The national peace was threatened and the Catholic religion was attacked, churches and convents were looted and burned. Nevertheless, the national situation did not become an obstacle for Brother Aguirre who with great joy dedicated himself to the duties that Father Aparicio had entrusted to him and which he fulfilled with great responsibility.

During his time in the Internal Seminary, we can suppose that Brother Aguirre, in addition to the formation classes dedicated to the Brothers, studied the book entitled, Espejo del Hermano Coadjutor (The Image of the Coadjutor Brother), in which he would find select passages from the writings of Saint Vincent de Paul concerning the life of a Brother. He would have also learned about the exemplary life of Brother Veronne, a contemporary of Vincent de Paul and other Brothers who were models of virtue and work. The path of evangelical simplicity was the path that Brother Aguirres had chosen … as the gospel states it is to the simple ones that the wisdom of the Kingdom of God is revealed, a wisdom that is hidden from the learned and the wise of this world. He came to understand that in serving God and the neighbor one was able to find happiness and the fullness of joy.

After two years in the Internal Seminary, Luis took his perpetual vows on June 30th, 1933 in the presence of the superior of the Seminary, Father Quintín Alcalde. With the best of dispositions and with a burning fervor that was the result of his act of dedicating his life to God and to the following of Jesus Christ, simple, humble and hard worker, Luis left for Alcorisa. There the community was awaiting him and he would become the youngest member of the local community. His devotion and fervor were edifying. Another Brother has stated that he was always prompt and willing to do whatever was asked of him … and he always did so with an angelic smile.

If we have to died in order to defender the faith, then so be it

With the inauguration of the Second Spanish Republic (April 14, 1931) the religious environment became almost unbearable. During the month of May convents were burned. The Asturian Revolution (1934) had given the Congregation its first martyrs. Impressed by these national events, Luis wrote to his older brother (April 21, 1936): Now we are living at a time when everything appears to be contrary to what it should be because all the criminals are walking free and the innocent are imprisoned. What is the purpose of burning convents and churches? What is the purpose of desecrating the sacred species and committing all these sacrileges that we have witnessed in our country? What is the purpose of removing the statues and burning them? We need prayer and sacrifice for our country. Let us place ourselves in the hands of Our Lord and act in accord with the will of God. Let us prepare ourselves for a holy death and if we have to die in order to defend the faith, then, so be it, there is no other solution.

As if to confirm what he had written, Brother revealed to one of the Sisters at the school in Alcorisa, Sister Concepción Gutiérrez Vadam, that he and another Brother in the community (most probably Brother Felipe Barbero), in light of the danger that they faced, read together prayers in which they entrusted their soul to God … he also stated that he was not afraid to die. One of his confreres, Father Pedro de la Cerda Cámara, confirmed what Brother Luis had said: He was always content and smiling and he was so prudent in his practice of charity that he captivated people with the way he interacted with them. Other witnesses stated: he was happy, good and affable. His joy was contagious and his strength was revealed during those final moments when with a spirit of resignation and courage he accepted the events that were about to unfold. He was trusted by all the priests and brothers.

On July 29th while the community was still celebrating the feast of Saint Martha, patron of the Brothers, they received confirmation of the fact that the communists had entered Alcorisa. Fearful of being surprised and arrested the gathering was immediately ended. Brother Luis, together with Father Velasco, who had been his spiritual director, opted to remain at the seminary while the others left for Zaragoza. They had exchanged embraces of farewell to their confreres and now they remained alone, waiting to see how events would unfold. The sense of responsibility kept them united as they fulfilled their obligations.

The militants at once took possession of the town and then took over the town hall and the school which would serve as prisons for the fascists --- a name that was given to the priests and committed laypersons. They then approached the residence of the Vincentian community. With their rifles they brutally smashed through the doors of the seminary. Father Velasco and Brother Aguirre went to the front in order to receive the communists and attend to them with much respect (even though they had not merited such respect). Both Brother Luis and Father Velasco were then forced to accompany the communists as they searched the house. As they walked through the house the soldiers destroyed many of the furnishings and in the chapel they riddled the statues with bullets (these had been the object of veneration by the people and the students at the apostolic school).

According to Father Velasco, immediately after the search was completed, Brother Luis was executed. In a letter that he wrote from jail and that was addressed to a young seminarian, Manuel Herranz (July 30, 1936), Father Velasco stated: Yesterday afternoon, everyone had fled the seminary before the arrival of the communists. Brother Luis and I remained behind. When the soldiers arrived we met them and accompanied them as they searched the house. As they were about to leave, they executed Brother … and that fact was confirmed to me today.

Events occurred just as Father Velasco had described to the Manuel Herranz. In fact the events occurred so quickly that Brother did not even have the opportunity to say farewell to life as he knew it. Father Velasco was taken as a prisoner and therefore separated from Brother Luis who was confronted by the soldiers. He tried to clarify things and with a smile on his face stated that nothing had been done at the seminary that merited their being treat in this manner and being condemned to death. His persecutors, however, thirsty for blood refused to listen to Brother’s explanation … they made his kneel down in the courtyard of the seminary and then with his arms outstretched in the sign of the cross he was executed. Just before he was shot he said: If I have to die, I die for God and for Spain! The Marxists cried out: long live communism! But with greater force Brother cried out the louder: long live Christ the King!

The cry of the faithful followers of Jesus confirmed the fact that Christ the King was the voice of freedom, the voice of resistance to republican violence and persecution that had sworn to destroy the church. In the name of Christ the King thousands people shed their blood and thus negated the shouts of the republicans, the shouts of Russia, and the shouts of communism, shouts that were demanded of them if they wanted to save their life. But Luis viewed the salvation that was obtained by Jesus Christ as the only valid salvation for those who believed in and professed the name of Jesus Christ.

Through his profession of faith Brother Luis Aguirre sealed in blood his humble, simple and hard working life. God had revealed to him that true wisdom consists of love which gives life to faith and hope. What had happened to the shyness of his childhood? That shyness had been transformed into courage and strength, gifts that he had received through the grace of the Holy Spirit. In life and in death Brother Luis belonged to God. How wonderful it must have been when Luis saw God face to face after having given a witness of faith and love to the Son of God, Jesus Christ … after having given a witness of faith to his missionary vocation!

On the afternoon of July 29th, 1936, on the feast of Saint Martha, the patron of the Brothers, the first victim of the religious persecution in Alcorisa had imitated the heroism of the first martyrs of the Church. Brother Aguirre was twenty-two years old, the youngest Vincentian Missionary martyred in that town. All the witnesses declared that he was executed as a result of being a member of the Congregation of the Mission which he loved with all his heart and soul … he was executed simply because he was a Brother.

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM