POOR, PITIABLE SPAIN. So rich in saints in Heaven, but, to the outside observer, so poor in saints on Earth. There were days, of course, when Spain was governed by saints and holy men and women, but today Spain is ruled by the wayward, the foolish, and perhaps even the downright evil. Error is proclaimed truth, wrong is called right, and evil hailed as good.
Of course, these things that happen today have happened in the past as well, and even within living memory — less than a eighty years ago. It is announced from Rome that, with the approval of the Holy Father, two more groups of Spanish martyrs for the Christian faith are to beatified, and that, owing to the number of souls, the beatification will be held in the Eternal City itself. The mass beatification will be held this October on the Feast of Christ the Universal King. The feast is significant for these martyrs on a number of levels, namely that it was proclaimed by Pope Pius XI, during whose pontificate these martyrs sacrified their earthly lives, and that “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Long Live/Hail Christ the King!” was their motto. One group is composed of those martyred during the leftist Asturias rebellion of 1934, and the second group is composed of martyrs killed in 1936 and 1937 during the Civil War. Each case has been the subject of deliberative study first in Spain and then in Rome for decades before beatification is approved.
In total, 498 names will be added in October to the list of those already beatified or canonized. Among those 498 names are a number from the many killed in the massacres of Paracuellos de Jarama. Coincidentally, Gerald Warner recently touched upon this place of death in a Scotland on Sunday column on the occasion of Edinburgh University revoking the honorary degree bestowed upon Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. In the column, Gerald discussed various honorary degrees which had been bestowed upon monsters, tyrants, and evil men, and finished his column with a case from Spain.
The most morally grotesque academic elevation was perpetrated in Spain, in 2005, when the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid conferred a doctorate honoris causa on Santiago Carrillo, former leader of the Spanish Communist Party. As chief of police in Madrid in 1936, he had presided over Cheka death squads that murdered huge numbers of people (2,800 in one weekend) for the crime of being ‘bourgeois’. Throughout the squalid degree ceremony, people concerned with the honour of Spanish academe punctuated the proceedings with shouts of “Murderer!”
The most effective denunciation of this naked emperor, however, had been made during his journey back from exile. As the aircraft approached Madrid, with the arrogance of a reinstated member of the nomenklatura, he told the stewardess to ask the captain if he could enter the cockpit to get a better view of the capital. Moments later the public address system came to life: “This is your captain speaking. In 15 minutes we shall be landing at Madrid Barajas airport. Before that, I would like you to see the historic site of Paracuellos de Jarama to the right of us. That was where thousands of innocent people were executed during our civil war. The man responsible for those executions is one of your fellow passengers, Don Santiago Carrillo Solares. He is sitting in seat 27-B.”
“That pilot,” Gerald concluded his column, “deserved an honorary degree”.
There is a good website which lists many of the Catholic martyrs of the Spanish Civil War; it starts here and carries on for sixty pages. The list also contains photographs or images of the individual martyrs when it has been possible to obtain them. Look at these photographs, see the faces of these holy men and women who now intercede for us in Heaven. They are priests and bishops, nuns and brothers, penniless Franciscans and wealthy aristocrats. They are fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, workers, craftsmen, students, nurses, teachers, young and old. In many cases, entire monasteries and convents were killed en masse, their cloisters flowing with blood, and the bodies of the martyrs dumped by the sides of highways, their killers vainly hoping their names would be forgotten and struck from history. But, as has oft been said before, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. We are human, and can only see with our eyes. Who knows what untold and unseen burdens have been lifted from Spain’s shoulders by the intercession of their prayers?