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Dominicans Celebrate Newly Beatified Martyrs

ROME, ITALY -- November 19, 2007--- Brian Pierce, OP (St. Martin) was among many Dominicans who witnessed the beatification of almost 500 Spanish Maryrs in Rome recently. He recalls the events and reflects on their meaning for us as members of the Order of Preachers.

I write these reflections, at the request of our brother, Carl Trutter OP, to share a few impressions of my experience of participating in the celebration of the beatification of the 498 Spanish martyrs this past weekend in Rome (all martyred between 1934-1937, during the Spanish Civil War). Though I did not see any of our other brothers from the Southern Province at the ceremony, one friar from Santa Sabina told me that he sat next to our brother, Jose David Padilla. It was a sea of humanity!

The weekend of celebration and reflection began for me on Saturday morning, Oct. 27th, the day before the beatifications, when fr Vito Gomez, OP, the Order's Postulator General (and the grand nephew of one of the Spanish martyrs), preached a very moving homily during the morning mass at Santa Sabina in Rome (where fr Carlos, Master of the Order, was present). Speaking about St. Dominic's long hours of prayer before the tomb of St. Peter in Rome in the winter of 1217, fr Vito noted that it was precisely at Peter's tomb that Dominic had the profound spiritual experience in which Peter and Paul appeared to him in a vision. St. Peter gave him a staff (“and not a cross,” noted fr Vito) and St. Paul gave him a book. Then they said to Dominic, “Ve y predica” (“Go and preach!”). “It was very soon after that experience,” he said, “that the second papal Bull, calling the Order a universal Order of Preachers, was issued.” Then, referring to the more than seventy Dominican martyrs soon to be beatified, fr Vito went on to say, “Tomorrow, here in this chapel of Santa Sabina, the picture of Buenaventura Garcia Paredes OP, former Master of the Order, will be venerated publicly for the first time. Many of these martyrs served as missionaries (in China , the Philippines , Peru , Central America and Louisiana ). They are the fruit of Dominic's prayer, for it was there, at Peter's tomb, that the universal mission of the Order was confirmed by the Church.”

It seemed only right, then, that the beatification of our brothers and sisters in St. Dominic (friars, sisters, laity and one contemplative nun) would also happen at the tomb of Peter. Under a lovely blue sky and a hot, autumn sun, Cardinal Saraiva presided at the beatification ceremony, along with hundreds of concelebrants (all wearing the religious garb of their respective martyrs) and tens of thousands of people stuffed into every corner St. Peter Square . Dominican women and men, lay and religious, from many different countries, but especially from Spain , were present for the celebration. Pope Benedict XVI also made an appearance at the end of the ceremony, greeting the crowd in several languages and leading us in the praying of the Angelus.

Before the beginning of the mass, several very moving excerpts from letters and testimonies of some of the martyrs were read. One testimony told of a layman removing his shoes before being led to his execution. When his persecutors asked why, he responded, “Jesus went to the Cross barefooted; I will too.” He was shot with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross, praying for forgiveness for those who were about to kill him.

The evening before the beatification ceremony, at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, a poem was read that had been written by a lay Dominican, Antero Mateo García, for his Carmelite daughter on the day of her profession. Both Antero, a railway worker, and his wife had joined the lay Dominican chapter in Barcelona . On several occasions Antero had served as a “camillero,” helping to carry the infirmed in cots on pilgrimage to Lourdes . On August 6, 1936, while waiting for his wife and Carmelite daughter's arrival at the train station, Antero was detained. On the night of August 8, beneath the “ Dragon Bridge ” in Barcelona , he was executed. He was 61 years old.

At the head of the Dominican list of martyrs was the former Master of the Order, Buenaventura Garcia Paredes OP. As prior provincial, with residency in Manila in the Philippines , he helped to strengthen the missionary efforts in China and Vietnam , and purchased the property where the University of Santo Tomás is located today in Manila . In 1911 he helped to establish the presence of the Spanish Dominicans in the Tangipahoa region of Louisiana , USA . In 1926 he was elected Master of the Order, and finally retired to Ocaña , Spain a few years later. On August 12, 1936, at the age of 70, he was martyred in Madrid . Next to his body they found his rosary and breviary.

Another of the Dominican martyrs was a young Mexican by the name of Reginaldo Herdández Ramírez. Forced to flee the diocesan seminary in Guadalajara , he was sent to Spain where he entered the Order in Asturias . Known for his writing and language skills, as well as his gifts as an artist and painter, he was sent to Madrid to study Law very soon after being ordained in 1933. When the Republican persecution of the Church began to spread, he sought safe haven in the Mexican embassy, but was refused because he was a priest. Captured on August 13, 1936, he immediately identified himself to his captors, “I am the Mexican religious that you are looking for.” He was executed the same day. He was 27 years old.

Also in this list of the 498 “Spanish Martyrs of the XX Century,” we find the name of the first Spanish contemplative nun to be beatified. She is also the first Dominican nun to give her life as a martyr. Sister Josefina Sauleda Paulis OP, from Barcelona , entered the monastery in 1905, where she served as infirmarian, chantress, procurator, prioress and mistress of novices. On July 19, 1936 she and her sisters were forced to flee the monastery and hide out in the homes of different families. She was captured on August 31 and interrogated for twelve hours. Despite many threats, she refused to reveal the whereabouts of the chaplain and other sisters. She was finally led outside to a waiting car, but before getting into the car she said, “If you are going to kill me, why don't you do it right here?” Her body was found the next day at the local racetrack. She was 51 years old.

And the list goes on and on.

There is a final note that I would like to add to this reflection. Two days before the Spanish martyrs were beatified in Rome , another European martyr was beatified in Austria : Franz Jagerstatter. In fact, our brother Art Kirwin OP ( Province of St. Martin de Porres ) attended the beatification of Jagerstatter, a husband and father of three, who was beheaded on August 9, 1943 for refusing to be conscripted into Hitler's army during World War II. The chaplain that visited him before he was killed stated, “I can say with certainty that this simple man is the only saint I have ever met in my lifetime.”

I think it is important to mention this second beatification because it reminds us that martyrdom is a path of fidelity to Christ and not the result of siding with one or another political ideology. Just as there are Spanish martyrs who were killed by communist extremists, so too are there martyrs who were victims of Franco and Mussolini's fascism and Hitler's Nazism in Europe . Fidelity to Christ knows no boundaries. What a marvellous witness to know that our Dominican Family was present at both beatifications. I pray that the martyrs of the XX Century will show all of us the way to faithful discipleship in our living out of the gospel of Christ.

Brian J. Pierce, OP

SOURCE: International Dominican Information (IDI)


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