WITNESS: REDEMPTORIST MARTYRS OF CUENCA
– Community strong in faith
We find ourselves in the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Madrid, in front of the gravestone that keeps the remains of these six missionary Redemptorists in Cuenca (Spain). A redemptorist community of martyrs.
We read in our Constitutions, number 43, that, when we talk about community, the first community, the original community, the natural community, that is, the religious community; as a community that has to be open to its surrounding world, a community that must help religious men and women to discern and read the signs of the times, signs of the times that should lead the community to an adaptation to the circumstances to keep on evangelizing. Since they are not out of the society, the congregated belong not only to their religious community, but also to the community formed by all the persons they live with, among whom they should be ferment, and to whom they should be witnesses of hope and Gospel. All this we read in Constitution 43 is what these six missionary Redemptorists lived. The community was for them a workshop to live their missionary redemptorist vocation, and a workshop to read the signs of the times which they were going through: the religious persecution, and a workshop to answer with fidelity to their vocation, with faithfulness to God, with this faith they all had.
When the religious persecution started on 20th July 1936, due to the Spanish military mutiny in Africa, the community in Cuenca scattered among friend families, on the 25th-26th July there were searches and, in order not to jeopardize the future of those families, they decided to look for safer places to hide. Fathers Ciriaco Olarte and Miguel Goñi sheltered with the priest Enrique García; fathers José Javier Gorosterratzu and Julián Pozo, and brother Víctor Calvo, asked to be hosted at the diocesan Seminary, which was watched over by the Civil Guard, and the rest of the community sheltered at the Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor, where, in an atmosphere of prayer, community and daily celebration of the Holy Mass, they started to get prepared to martyrdom.
On the 30th July 1936, father Ciriaco Olarte tells to father Miguel Goñi: “the day after tomorrow it’s Saint Alphonsus Feast, maybe we’ll celebrate it in Heaven”; and father Miguel Goñi answered to him: “We have no martyrs in the Congregation, maybe we’ll be the first ones.” These prophetic words came true: on the 31st July, at 9:30 in the morning, after the celebration of the Holy Mass, someone knocked at the door of father Enrique García, and a group of militiamen took both fathers. Being pushed, insulted, shouted, and derided, they were taken to the River Huécar, were they were hit and shot… Almost lifeless, they went through a long agony by the River. There they gave the absolution to one another and laid down their lives to the Lord.
Those who were at the Seminary knew about the martyrdom suffered by their redemptorist confreres. Some days after that, the bishop and his secretary, who were at the Seminary, were martyred. That way, everyone there realized that they were going to face the same destiny, and they started to prepare for martyrdom. On the 9th July, father Julián Pozo, a 22-year old priest, who had been ill during his all life, who had been dedicated to confession, to listening and… to smile! (he always had a smile on his face), was taken out with another priest (the cathedral’s dean), and both were martyred in a path close to Cuenca. We can imagine that he also smiled at those who killed him.
The following night was the turn of father Javier Gorosterratzu and brother Víctor Calvo. They were taken out together with a group of priests from the Seminary and martyred next to the cemetery’s walls.
We can see that they all lived their martyrdom in the community: two by two, by three… and they lived it with other non-Redemptorists: diocesan priests and laypeople.
Father Pedro Romero’s case is different. He lived at the Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor until September of 1937. At that moment, the Revolutionary Committee took control of that Home and, when he saw that he couldn’t celebrate the Holy Mass, he decided to leave the place. He shelters with a friendly family, where he receives all those who approach him looking for confession, the celebration of the Holy Mass… But someone informed against him, and he is called to testify. In order not to jeopardize anyone, he decides to live on the street, to be homeless, dressed in his redemptorist habit, to live on charity, going to those who asked him for the sacraments (confessions, celebrations of the Holy Mass, prayers for the dead… and even baptism). He slept at the mercy of the elements, and he ate thanks to charity, he lived as an authentic missionary amid those circumstances, on the street. He was booed and humiliated by kids who threw stones to him, and so he lived until June 1938, when he was arrested and taken to prison. There, exhausted because of all sufferings, he died on the 4th July 1938. Nor did he live his fidelity alone, but also with other priests and other laypeople who were with him in prison because of their faith.
These missionary martyr confreres remind all Christians (religious, Redemptorists, laypeople…), the importance of life in common, the importance of the community. It is a community that has to be a workshop of fraternal life, a workshop of spirituality, to face the challenges that society and the historical moment present to us, to us witnesses of our faith and the ferment of the Kingdom of God in the middle of our society. This community helps us read the signs of the times and give testimony of our faith.
Author: Antonio M. Quesada Montoro CSsR
Translation: Carlos Alfonso Diego Gutiérrez CSs