Friday, 17 November 2017

Two Degrees of Separation from Sanctity

The Spanish 20th Century Martyrs of the Vincentian Family

My nephew's fiance is staying in our home for a couple of months as they prepare for their marriage next year. Last weekend she headed back to Spain, not for work nor for a wedding but for the Beatification of her Great-great Uncle. The saints can sometimes seem impossibly far away, haloed ancients in another dimension yet It was amazing to suddenly be brought into such close contact with a bona fide martyr of the Catholic Church. 

I asked my nephews Marco and Victoria to write about what it's like to see a family member raised to the glory of the altar!

Blessed Enrique Pedro Gonzalbez Andreu
A few months ago we received an invitation to attend the beatification of Enrique Pedro Gonzalbez Andreu in Madrid, together with 59 other Spanish martyrs of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. This was particularly significant as Enrique is Victoria´s great-great-uncle and I had never witnessed a beatification ceremony in person. It was with excitement that we boarded our plane on a cold night in London, heading to Madrid, where we would meet Victoria´s extended family, who travelled from Cartagena, in the southeast of Spain. Over 30 of us made the trip to bear witness to the Church´s recognition of these martyrs´ lives and deaths. The Mass and beatification would take place on Saturday 11th November at the Palacio Vistalegre in Madrid. 

Enrique Pedro (“Pedrin”) Gonzalbez Andreu was born in Cartagena in 1910, and at the young age of 19 joined the Sons of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal a group belonging to the Society of St Vincent de Paul. A devout Catholic, he was becoming known for his writing and 23 of his articles had already been published in local newspapers. At the height of the Republican persecution of the Church in Spain in 1935 he wrote an article entitled “Denial” in which he encouraged his readers to confess their faith in Christ and God during difficult times, with a great love for the Catholic Church and his country. During the turbulent beginning of Spain’s Civil War, he was detained with two friends, Allepuz and Ardil, who would become his companions in martyrdom: the three of them would find encouragement in each other to give up their lives for God. Two days before his death Enrique wrote to his family: “To those at home, I know you have heard of the sentence against me. I am calm and pray you don’t give in to despair, trust in God, as I do. A hug to all of you, Pedrin”. At the age of 26, he was shot on the morning of 22nd September 1936, wearing his Miraculous Medal. Victoria´s family still has this medal as a precious relic, together with his last letter. Before dying, the three friends explicitly forgave their executioners. Enrique´s only fault was being a Catholic.

Before the Mass started, we were shown videos detailing some of the martyrs´lives, and Victoria even got interviewed by the local TV station! After the opening hymn, the beatification rite was beautifully conducted by Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the body of the Church that investigates cases that lead to the canonization of saints. Many parts of the Church joined the Cardinal in this celebration: families, priests, nuns, bishops and archbishops. in particular, Marco was pleased to see Rouco Varela, Archbishop Emeritus of Madrid and open defender of the Church in Spain’s “culture war” with former President Zapatero in the early 2000s. At the end of Mass, the choir was joined by the assembly in singing the “Salve to Our Lady of Charity”, a popular hymn from Cartagena, composed by one of the martyrs being beatified that day.

This was a wonderful experience for us, as not everyone can say they have a Blessed in their family, who can intercede for them. We witnessed how 60 ordinary people lived extraordinary lives, by truly living their faith in the face of adversity. The humility and courage with which they lived the last days of their lives is something which we all aspire to. For Victoria and her family, this day firmly united her family within the Church; for Marco, this experience brought him closer to his fiancé and her family.

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