Homily of Angelo Cardinal Amato on the occassion of the beatification of the Spanish Martyrs, Tarragona, Sunday, October 13, 2013

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1] Today the Church of Spain celebrates the beatification of five hundred twenty-two of its sons and daughters, martyrs, non-violent prophets of Christ’s charity. This is an extraordinary event of grace that enables the Christian community to rise above its sadness and fills all people with joy. Today we gratefully recall their sacrifice which is a true revelation of the civilization of love that was preached by Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation tells us: Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed (Revelation 12:10). The martyrs were not ashamed of the gospel but remained faithful to Christ who said: If anyone wishes to come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who wish to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24). Buried with Christ in his death, the martyrs now live with Christ through their faith in God’s power (cf., Colossians 2:12).

Spain is a land that has been blessed by the blood of its martyrs. If we limit ourselves to the heroic witnesses of the faith, victims of the religious persecution that occurred during the 1930’s, then we must remember that in fourteen distinct ceremonies the Church has beatified more than one thousand persons. The first ceremony took place in 1987 when three Discalced Carmelites from Guadalajara were beatified. We also highlight here the dates on which numerous persons were beatified: March 11, 2001 - 233 martyrs; October 28, 2007 - 498 martyrs, including the bishop of Ciudad Real and Cuenca (this ceremony took place in the cathedral of Almudena, Madrid); December 17, 2011 - 23 witnesses of the faith.

Today, here in Tarragona, Pope Francis beatifies five hundred twenty-two martyrs who shed their blood in order to give witness to the Lord Jesus. This is the largest beatification ceremony that has ever been celebrated in Spain. This latest group includes three bishops: -Manuel Basulto Jiménez, bishop of Jaén; Salvio Huix Miralpeix, bishop of Lleida and Manuel Borrás Ferré, auxiliary bishop of Tarragona. In addition we also beatify numerous priests, seminarians, men and women religious, young people and older people, mothers and fathers of families. All of those individuals are innocent victims who endured imprisonment, torture, unjust procedures and indescribable humiliations and torments. These members of the people of God, these baptized men and women, clothed themselves in the white garment of charity and followed Christ to Calvary in order to rise with him in the heavenly Jerusalem.

2] During the dark period of the anti-Catholic hostility that occurred during the 1930’s our noble nation became enveloped in a diabolical cloud that wiped out thousands and thousands of peaceful committed men and women. Church and religious symbols were burned; Catholic school and convents were closed, and part of our precious artistic patrimony was destroyed. Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical, Dilectissima nobis (June 3, 1933), vigorously denounced the political, anti-religious persecution.

We must remember that the martyrs were not the fallen victims of the Civil War, but the victims of a radical, religious persecution that sought the organized extermination of the Church. These martyrs, our brothers and sisters, were not combatants; they were not armed and were not found on the battlefront; they were not avid supporters of some political party nor were they seeking some provocation in order to launch a rebellion. They were peaceful men and women who were killed as a result of a deep hatred for the faith; they were executed because they were Catholic, because they were men and women religious, because they believed in God, because they steadfastly held on to Jesus as their only treasure, the One who was loved … and loved even more than they loved their own life. Their ministry was that of catechist in the parish and teacher in the schools; they cared for the infirm, were charitable toward the poor and assisted the elderly and the marginalized. They did not respond to the atrocities of their persecutors with arms and rebellion but rather responded with the gentleness of the strong.

At that time Don Luigi Sturzo, a diplomat and an Italian Catholic priest who had been exiled, wrote at article in 1933 that was published in the newspaper El Mati (Barcelona). He had a prophetic vision and realized that modern ideologies are true idolatrous religions that demand altars and victims, and thousands of victims and millions of victims. He also stated that the increased violence claimed more numerous victims than the violence that was displayed during the time of the Roman persecution [1].

3] Dear brothers and sisters, in light of this courageous and united response of the martyrs, especially the response of so many priests and seminarians, I have often asked myself: how does one explain this super-human force that leads people to prefer death rather than deny their faith in God? Besides the efficaciousness of divine grace, the answer must be sought in the good formation of the priests. In the years before the persecution, the seminaries and the houses of formation informed the young men in a very clear manner about the moral danger they would have to encounter. They were spiritually prepared to confront even death in order to fulfill their vocation. There was a pedagogy of martyrdom that prepared candidates to be strong and even joyful when called upon to make the supreme sacrifice.

4] So we ask: why does the Church beatify these martyrs? The answer is simple: the Church does not want to forget these courageous sons and daughters. The Church honors them with public ceremonies so that through their intercession they might obtain from the Lord many spiritual and temporal graces for all of Spain. The Church, the house of forgiveness, does not want to point the finger of guilt at anyone. Rather the Church wants to glorify these heavenly witnesses of the gospel of charity because they merit our admiration and our imitation.

In today’s celebration once more we want to shout out and proclaim the fact that the world needs peace and communion and harmony. Nothing can justify war, hateful fratricide, the death of our neighbor. With their charity, the martyrs opposed the onslaught of evil. Indeed, like a reinforced wall they opposed the monstrous violence that swept over them like a wave. With their gentleness they disarmed the tyrants and thus overcame evil with good. They are always the present day prophets of peace on earth.

5] Now a second question: why is the beatification of the martyrs from so many diverse dioceses in Spain taking place here in Tarragona?

There are two reasons: the largest group of people, one hundred forty-seven of the total number that are being beatified today, are from this ancient Spanish diocese and includes the auxiliary bishop, Manuel Borras Ferre and the young seminarians: Joan Montpeó Masip (20 years old) and Josep Gassol Montseny (22 years old).

The second reason is based on the fact that in 259 CE in Tarragona, Bishop Fructuoso and his two deacons, Augurio and Eulogio were burned alive in the Roman amphitheatre that had been built in the city.

Let us briefly recall here the martyrdom of those early witnesses from Tarragona because it contains the essential dynamic of any persecution, namely, on the one hand, it reveals the arbitrariness of the accusations and the cruelty of the tortures and, on the other hand, it also reveals the super-human strength of the martyrs in accepting their passion and death with calmness and with words of forgiveness on their lips.

Tarragona was the site of a flourishing Christian community in the third century and was also the object of a violent persecution that was directed by the emperor, Valeriano. The bishop, Fructuoso and the deacons, Augurio and Eulogio, were the victims of that persecution. We have the account of their martyrdom which informs us about the process, their interrogation, their responses, their sentence and their execution [2]. The capture of Fructuoso and his deacons occurred on Sunday morning, January 16, 259. Imprisoned, Fructuoso prayed continuously and gave thanks to God for the grace of martyrdom. There in prison he continued his ministry as pastor and evangelizer by comforting the faithful and by baptizing and proclaiming the gospel to non-believers. Some days later, on January 21st, the three were brought before the consul, Emiliano, and they were questioned. Fructuoso and the two deacons refused to offer sacrifice to idols and reaffirmed their fidelity to Christ. The three were then condemned to be burned alive. They were brought to the amphitheatre where the bishop shouted out that the Church would never be without a pastor and that God would remain faithful to his promise to protect the Church.

6] What message do the ancient and the modern martyrs offers us. Pope Francis recently reminded us that the joy of God is forgiving … The whole Gospel, all of Christianity, is here! But make sure that it is not sentiment, it is not being a “do-gooder”! On the contrary, mercy is the true force that can save people and the world from the “cancer” that is sin, moral evil, spiritual evil. Only love fills the void, the negative chasms that evil opens in hearts and in history. Only love can do this, and this is God’s joy! [3]

We are called to participate in the joy of forgiving and to eliminate from our mind and heart the sadness of rancor and hatred. Jesus said: Be merciful as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). It would be good to reflect on our willingness to forgive. Pope Francis suggests: In silence, let's all think... everyone think of a person with whom we are annoyed, with whom we are angry, someone we do not like. Let us think of that person and in silence, at this moment, let us pray for this person and let us become merciful with this person [4].

May today’s celebration be one of reconciliation, one of forgiveness that is extended and received, and one of triumph, the triumph of the Lord’s peace!

7] Thus we have a second message: the conversion of the heart to goodness and to mercy. We are all invited to a process of on-going conversion of the heart to goodness and to mercy. We are all invited to become converted to that which is good. This applies not only to those who declare themselves to be Christian, but also applies to those who are not Christian. The Church invites persecutors to not fear conversion, to not fear the good and to reject evil. God is a good father who forgives and receives with open arms his children who have strayed as they walked along paths of evil and sin.

Everyone, good and bad, needs conversion. We are all called to be converted and to clothe ourselves in peace, communion, respect for the freedom of others, and serenity in our relationships. That is the way in which our martyrs acted, in which the saints acted … as Pope Francis stated: the saints followed the path of conversion, the path of humility and love, the path of the heart and beauty [5].

This is a message that concerns, above all, young people who are called to live the Christian life with fidelity and joy. To live in that manner means to go against the current: to go against the current; this is good for the heart, but we need courage to swim against the tide. Jesus gives us this courage! There are no difficulties, trials or misunderstandings to fear, provided we remain united to God as branches to the vine, provided we do not lose our friendship with him, provided we make ever more room for him in our lives. This is especially so whenever we feel poor, weak and sinful, because God grants strength to our weakness, riches to our poverty, conversion and forgiveness to our sinfulness [6].

It was in this manner that the martyrs, old and young, acted. This is the manner in which the young people acted, young people like the seminarians from Tarragona and Jaén and the layman of twenty-one years from the diocese of Jaén. They were not afraid of death because their eyes were focused on heaven, focused on the joy of eternity and the infinite love of God. If they did not experience the mercy of their brothers and sisters, God’s mercy, God’s boundless mercy, was very present to them.

Pardon and conversion are the gifts that the martyrs give to everyone. Pardon leads to inner peace and conversion creates unity with others.

Our martyrs, messengers of life and not death, are our intercessors for a life of peace and communion. May this be the precious fruit of this celebration which is taking place during the Year of Faith!

May Mary, the Queen of martyrs, continue to be the powerful helper of Christians! Amen


[1] Luigi Sruazo, Miscellanea Londinese, Vol. II, (1931-1933), Bologna, 1967, p. 286. The article was published on December 9, 1933 in the newspaper, E. Mati, (Barcelona).

[2] Pedro Battle u Huguet, Santos Fructuoso de Tarragona y Augurio y Euloghio, diáconos: Las actas de su martirio, Tarragona, 1959.

[3] Pope Francis, Angelus, September 15th, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Pope Francis, Meditation, April 19th, 2013.

[6] Pope Francis, Homily, April 28th, 2013.

Translated; Charles T. Plock, CM