Beatification of 7 MSCs as Martyrs of the Faith

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The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, along with the entire Chevalier Family, are in celebration this year 2017. We are celebrating the beatification of seven of our members.=

On July 8, 2016, our Holy Father Pope Francis signed the document prepared by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in which Fathers Antonio Arribas, Abundio Martín, José Vergara, Josep-Oriol Issern and Brothers Gumersindo Gómez, Jésus Moreno and José del Almo, all Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, were declared blessed. The celebration of the beatification takes place in the cathedral of Girona on May 6. They are the first members of our Congregation to be declared blessed.=

These religious lived and worked in the Pequeña Obra (minor seminary) of Canet de Mar, Barcelona, preparing some 65 young people for religious life and priesthood. Their superiors were fully conscious of the very critical moment that Spain was experiencing and they were preparing the community for what might happen, including martyrdom.

The days that followed July 18, 1936, were ones of anguish and desolation and saw the beginning of a religious persecution. A few days later, on the 21st, the parish church of Canet de Mar was burned down. On that same day, about 4:00 in the afternoon, a group of armed people knocked violently on the door of the house and demanded that the entire community of the seminary abandon the premises by order of the People’s Committee. They were led to a near-by park beside the Shrine of Mercy. This park became a concentration camp in which, for two weeks, the religious and the students of the minor seminary were kept under surveillance.

On August 3, about 5:00 in the afternoon, a member of the Committee came and asked for the director. He told him: “You people are in imminent danger. The Committee has decided to shoot you this very night. Leave and do not get me involved. Don’t worry about the children; nothing will happen to them. And we consider the elderly priest to be like the children.” Much to their regret, the religious had to abandon the seminarians. They formed two groups for their escape: one group of four and another of seven, four Fathers and three Brothers.

This second group was the one chosen to give God glory by their martyrdom. Thus on August 3, fleeing those who wanted to kill them that night, they began a long journey of two months towards the French border. They passed through places they did not know, hiding all the time, barely able to sleep or eat, in adverse weather conditions. They did, however, receive help in several farms. What is truly remarkable is that they were able to stay together as a group all this time.

On September 28, they arrived at a farm house called Mont-Ros as night began to fall. One of the religious went to the house to ask for directions. They did not want to stay to eat; they only wanted information about the road to the border. They followed the instructions they had been given and after traveling a little more than a kilometer, a group of Committee members was waiting for them. They had been betrayed! They were immediately apprehended and led to Committee headquarters.

This is how, exhausted by the fatigue and the sufferings of almost two months of flight over mountains and down ravines, innocent and without guile, they came to follow the footsteps of the Master. At about 10:00 at night, they were handed over to the Committee of Sant Joan les Fonts, Girona. From that point on, things happened very quickly. They were taken to the school house where the Committee had its seat. They spent the night in that hall. A neighbor woman, from the terrace of her house, saw them pacing in the hall praying the rosary.

The next day, September 29, between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, a crowd assembled in the door of the school house. All could see how the religious were taken out, bound two by two. The one who walked alone had his hands tied behind his back. They were silent; almost all of them were peaceful. One of the youngest was crying… The crowd was impressed and kept silent. One of the Committee members showed off like a thug by attacking the Pope, the church and the clergy with the vilest of intentions: “Not one of your race will remain!”

The prisoners were put on a bus. The bus came to a stop before crossing the bridge on the River Ter. There, there was a fallen-down house near a small slope. It was the perfect place! The great moment had arrived! Some witnesses who were working in a field nearby saw the bus stop and how at first they took out four, bound two by two, and pushed them towards a slope. They heard arguing and then shots and they saw how the four bodies leaned forward at the same time. Next they brought out the other three and put them in front of those who had fallen. They suffered the same death.

It took but a few minutes to carry out the holocaust and the witness of faith.

What was the attitude of our brothers in that decisive and sublime moment? The Calvary suffered by those seven religious and the circumstances surrounding their death make it possible for us to see in them an unquestionable witness to fidelity to their commitment as Christians and to the practice of the Evangelical Counsels which they had professed.

That same afternoon they forced some men from the town of Serinyà, known as good Christians, to carry the bodies to the town cemetery. They were buried in tombs dug in the ground, four bodies in one and three in the other. This was their resting place until March 30, 1940, when their bodies were exhumed and transferred to the cemetery of Canet de Mar, near the MSC community.

The solemn celebration of their beatification takes place on May 6, 2017, in the cathedral of Girona. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, will preside over the ceremony in the name of Pope Francis. From that day on, the remains of the martyrs will be placed in one of the chapels of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, calle Rosellón 175, Barcelona, and can be venerated by all the faithful. These seven Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, by their life and by their death as martyrs, give the fullest meaning to the motto of our Congregations: May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be loved everywhere!

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