Father Andrés Avelino Gutiérrez Moral (1886-1936)

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'Gracious God, you who made your Son, Jesus, a model of gentleness and humility, help us through the intercession of your martyr, Andrés, to be self-controlled at all times so that we might, in turn, touch the hearts of others. We pray in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.'

Infancy and early education

Salazar de Amaya (Burgos), the birthplace of Andrés, had already given a famous Vincentian Missionary to the Congregation of the Mission. Here we are referring to Father IIdefonso Moral who, with Father Fortunato Velasco, founded the Philippine Province. Those events had taken place before Andrés was born. On November 13, 1907, Father Ildefonso died in Mexico, exhausted from his apostolic

ministry. He left, however, profound footprints in the history of the Congregation in Spain and the Philippines and Mexico and his reputation became know in the town of his birth: Salazar de Amaya. At the age of twenty-one Andrés Avelino became aware of the history of Father Ildefonso.

Andrés was the son of Juan and Vicenta. He was born on November 12, 1886 and baptized two days later, November 14 in the parish church of Salazar dedicated to Saint Columba. He was confirmed on October 25, 1893 at the age of seven in the parish church of San Cristóbal in Prádanos de Ojeda (Palencia). He had been strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit who would lead him along paths of truth and justice with the vitality indicated by his name.

His mother, Vicenta, was viewed by people as a devout and charitable woman. Her brother, Don Mariano Moral González, baptized Andrés … he was given Saint Martin, bishop and martyr, as his heavenly intercessor (November 12 is the feast of Saint Martin). A wonderful, but delicate plant blossomed forth on that day in the town of Salazar. At birth he was very weak (any strong breeze might have blown him away). As he grew he appeared to be a restless and nervous squirrel rather than a wise boy.

As a young man he took seriously the advice of his sister toward whom he had a great affection. Her words guided his conduct and from time to time he would say that he also wanted to follow the steps of Father Ildefonso Moral. He was related to Father Ildefonos and in a short time he would be admitted into the school in Tardajos (Burgos). He would always remember the counsel of his sisters and he would make every effort to put into practice her advice when, as a Missionary, he would preach missions and speak about the need for self-control (especially self-control with regard to one’s speech. During one of those mission sermons he said: When I was a child my sister did a very good deed when she spoke to me about my temper tantrums and my uncontrolled anger. Self-control and treating others kindly would become his battleground.

The fiery but noble temperament of young Andrés began to be corrected when in 1898 he came in contact with other young men his age at the apostolic school in Tardajos. Even though the political disaster in Spain that resulted in the loss of the colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines had no direct impact on the formation at the apostolic school, these events did, however, force the student (especially Andrés) to take an interest in learning about the territories that Spain had occupied. The discipline that was imposed on him in school and the suggestions that were offered to better his behavior and his antics … all of this made him an example with regard to respect for others. He was sincere and detested lies and laziness. He did well in his studies and had a desire to move forward with his classmates. He was perhaps a little bit better than his classmates in the areas of his behavior and his understanding of Latin and mathematics.

In Tardajos he met Eugenio Muñoz from Madrid who later became known as Noel and who in his Intimate Diary novelized life in the apostolic school. Many of his anecdotes provide a context for life at the school: study, prayer, recreation and discipline. He befriended some of the young men whom he called by name in his Diary, persons such as Andrés and Pedro Vargas.

Etched in the consciousness of young Andres was a tradition that had been celebrated since the time of the establishment of the school in Tardajos: the sending forth of the Missionaries at the beginning of the mission campaign. In those years this group was composed of Father Burgos and Father Marroquí. For this ceremony the professors and the students gathered together in the chapel or in the community room to extol the vocation of these evangelizers of people. The superior of the house would then speak to those gathered together and would call upon the Lord to bless the Missionaries who were going forth to proclaim the Good News. In turn, the Missionaries thanked those present for such a kind gesture and asked for prayers for the success of the missions that they were about to preach (missions that they had been contracted to preach in the Diocese). Upon their return the Missionaries were received once again with the same enthusiasm.

That traditions was very emotional for those who were studying in Tardajos with the intention of being missionaries and wanting to follow in the footsteps of Vincent de Paul or Francis Xavier. If the Missionaries were going to preach in one of the towns or villages where some student lived, the excitement grew and there was conversation about the customs and the traditions of that place. Even though the students had not seen or visited the towns and villages of their classmates they nevertheless had knowledge about those different places.

Admitted into the Congregation

After he completed his studies in the apostolic school, Andrés, on July 3, 1903, was admitted into the Novitiate which was located in the Casa Central of the Vincentian Community of the newly established province of Madrid. The apostolic school had served as a proving ground for entrance into the Internal Seminary. Once again, the study of the fundamental virtues that constitute the spirit of the Missionary and frequent interviews with the Director of the seminary, Father Guillermo Vilá, made Andrés realize that he had to soften his temperament by clothing himself in the spirit of gentleness and humility. In doing so he was able to imitate Jesus Christ, the evangelizer and also able to put into practice the teachings of the founder of the Congregation. The Director, Father Guillermo did not hesitate to suggest growing in the practice of the virtues of gentleness and humility. In fact, he recommended using a rosary (he referred to this as one’s “conscience”) he remind him of the various ways in which he could practice those virtues. Furthermore he had to read the conferences that Saint Vincent gave to the Missionaries on these virtues and then write an outline of Vincent’s teaching.

Andrés quickly became aware of the fact that Vincent was by nature angry and harsh but through his efforts to become affable and amiable he became one of the most gentle individuals of his era and together with his intimate friend, Francis de Sales, became a model of kindness and goodness. Andrés was encouraged by the exhortations of both saints, but especially by the words of Jesus who told his disciples: Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29). In light of so many exhortations it became easy for him to humble himself after some emotional explosion, easy to ask for forgiveness of one whom he might have offended. In this way he also tried to be affable.

After two years in the Internal Seminary his superiors approved him for vows and on July 4, 1905 Andrés pronounced his vows in the presence of the Visitor, Father Eladio Arnaiz. Equipped with the cultural and spiritual knowledge that he had acquired in the Novitiate, Andrés, together with his classmates, traveled to Hortaleza (Madrid) to begin his study of philosophy. He remained there for two years and the third year of philosophy was done at the Casa Central in Madrid, the same house where he spent the two years of Novitiate.

Andres’ sense of self-esteem and his dedication to study had provided him with a good philosophical formation. He then began (in the same house) his theological studies. His final year of theology was done at the Colegio de Limpias (Cantabria) where he arrived in October, 1910. We know this from a letter that he wrote to the Visitor, Father Eladio Arnaiz in which he stated: I thank you for having sent me to this house which in every way is most pleasing to me and while it is true that here one has to work very hard yet at the same time I know that such effort will produce fruit.

Andrés focused his theological studies on the ministry of the Congregation that was attractive to him: popular missions which he constantly thought about even when he was a professor in the school of Limpias. There he would write outlines of sermons and he did this following the method that Vincent had recommended to the Missionaries. He remained in Limpias until 1917 when he was sent to Tardajos.

We cannot be exact with regard to the date of his ordination because the document seems to have been lost, but we can suppose that he was ordained in 1911, in Santander at the conclusion of his fourth year of theology in Limpias.

Ready for ministry

At the school in Limpias he fulfilled the mission that had been entrusted to him spending time there with some of the great researchers and intellectuals: Father Lorenzo Sierra, Father Benito Paradela and Father Joaquín Atienza. He taught five courses and this occupied much of his time. His love for the Blessed Virgin which he cultivated throughout his life led him to establish the Association of the Children of Mary at the school. He encouraged his students to cultivate a devotion to the Blessed Mother in the same way that he encouraged them to acquire knowledge … recognizing that effort and sacrifice were involved in those tasks. From the time that Pope Pius X approved the Association of the Miraculous Medal (1909) many Missionaries did not have the time to establish this Association in the towns and villages and parishes and centers where ministering.

In November, 1917 Father Andrés was missioned to Tardajos not as a professor in the apostolic school but as a missionary preaching the gospel in the various towns and villages, a missionary like those whom, as a child, he saw sent forth to various places with cloak on their shoulders and crucifix in their hands. Father Arambarri, the Visitor, believed that Father Andrés was more gifted as a preacher than as a teacher and so during the next thirteen years he would travel throughout the Diocese proclaiming the good news of salvation to the humble people.

Father Gutiérrez Moral was known as “Father Task Master” ¬throughout the region that is boarded by the Arlanzón, Úrbel, Ubierna and Hormazuela Rivers because of his mobility and tireless ministry with both children and adults (which included visiting the infirm) as he traveled throughout the region where he was preaching missions. His gentleness was also well known in the area boarded by the Ebro, Rudrón, Duero, Arlanza and Esgueva Rivers. The chronicles of the missions refer to the movement of those rivers and compares them to the graces that bestowed on those people who participated in the mission.

When the time of mission had been concluded in Tardajos, Father Andrés was transferred to the area of Orense where he would remain for three years (1930-1933). From the center of that area he became engaged in the ministry of preaching popular missions throughout the Diocese. The Novena that he preached in Monte Medo in honor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal provided words of encouragement to the people of Orense (the same way that his confrere, Father Faustino Diez Peña had been able to do in 1869 when he also won the trust and the confidence of the people who were devoted to the Virgin).

Father Andrés now became involved in a ministry in which previously he had not participated with much frequency, namely, retreat master for the Daughters of Charity in Asturias. His dealings with the Sisters were very familiar from the time of his first meeting with them in Santander. Immediately before his capture by the communists he had just completed directing a retreat of the Daughters in the school of San Vicente in Gijón where he was also able to establish and encourage the members of the Association of the Daughters of Mary. The Sisters found in him the gift of discernment and spiritual accompaniment.

“At your service”

Father was aware of the risks that he ran while living in the residence in Gijón. He knew that he could well confront the same reality that his confreres in Oviedo encountered if he did not look for refuge in another place and if he did not flee from Asturias. Nevertheless he opted to remain in the house in Gijón in order to continue with his pastoral responsibilities. One day (we do not know the exact date) the communists went to the house of the Vincentians in Gijón. Father Gutiérrez opened the door and they asked to see him …. And so he immediately responded: “at your service” … Father Andrés was then led away. Nobody knew where he was taken so that he could be executed secretly without anyone knowing what had happened.

His forehead was marked in blood with the sign of the cross

We do know that on August 3, 1936 he was locked up in an improvised prison in Gijón. About 3:00pm three or four members of the militia secretly removed him from that prison … they covered his head with a sack and then drove him to the town and the parish of San Justo. Thus began the final and most painful stage of his life in which he would be able to identify himself with his Lord and Master. Andrés was forced to carry his cross to the top of the mountain where he died forlorn of everything except God. Since his executioners knew that he was a priest there was no need for any interrogation in order to condemn him to death. Without any further delay he was beaten and sentenced to death amid insults and laughter and humiliation.

When they had arrived in the town Father was forced to carry his cross up the mountain and he did this at great sacrifice. He opened a path among the weeds while his persecutors pushed and shoved and prodded him with sticks. Several times he fell to the ground. The journey to the top of the mountain was painful: a true death march. According to an eye-witness he began speaking and he prayed the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Finally, after he had climbed some 70 meters his persecutors (without saying a word) vilely shot him, leaving him lying on the ground. It was the afternoon of August 3 and this occurred beneath the scorching heat of the afternoon sun. At the age of fifty Andres said good bye to the inhabitants of this world in order to begin to converse with the men and women in heaven, the individuals who had accompanied him until the end of his journey.

The eye-witnesses stated that the communists left in their car and then many people from the town of San Justo found the path that Father Andres walked as he was led to his death. These people then climbed the mountain in order to render homage to this martyr for Christ. People in various areas of the town had heard the shots that killed Father. Because of the fame ` of his martyrdom (a fame that continues to the present time) many people have become aware of the details surrounding his martyrdom.

According to the witnesses who saw his lifeless body, the Missionary was lying face-up with a bullet hold in his left temple and bathed in a pool of blood that had flowed from various parts of his body. His beret, covered with blood, lay next to his shoulders and various pieces of his skull. His forehead was marked in blood with the sign of the cross. His last action was to raise his blood stained hand to his forehead and seal his martyrdom with the sign of the cross.

The following day his body was placed on a ladder (the type that is used in that area to harvest apples) and as if his body was on a stretcher he was taken down the mountain in a truck and his body was transported to Villaciciosa (San Justo belongs to the municipality of Vallaciciosa). On February 14, 1940 the remains of the Servant of God were transferred to the Municipal Cemetery in Gijón (Suco Ceares), where they repose today.

[This biography, which can be found in Spanish on the website of the Madrid Province (http://www.paulesmadrid.org/), is an adaptation of the work done by Antonio Orcajo, CM and published by Editorial La Milagrosa, Madrid in the year 2012 under the title Misioneros Paúles Mártires de la Revolución Religiosa en España: 1934-1936 and translated into English by Charles T. Plock, CM].