APOSTLES OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST

Nicola Gori, a graduate in foreign languages and literature from the University of Florence, collaborates with the Chair of Spanish Literature at the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy and is a correspondent for L’Osservatore Romano. A passionate specialist in mystical authors, he has published numerous works in this field. He was involved in the cause of the Beatification and the Canonization of Carlo Acutis. He is presently the postulator for the Beatification of the Spanish brothers of St. Gabriel and their Chaplain, presumed martyrs. Below is the first article he published in this regard: Apostles of the love of Christ.

The history of the Congregation of the Brothers of St. Gabriel in Spain is marked by the sacrifice of 49 Brothers and their Chaplain. These are the alleged martyrs for whom a canonical process is in progress at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. These 50 Servants of God, led by Bro. Estanislao, baptized as Lorenzo Ortega García, the Provincial Superior, were victims of the religious persecution that affected Spain in the years 1936-39, but which had its roots in the previous decades with the advent of the Second Republic in 1931 and which found fertile ground in the Marxist and Anarchist ideologies that spread in Europe after the Russian revolution of March-November 1917.

It is quite clear that, if we look at the chronicles and testimonies of the life and apostolic activities of the Brothers, the only fault they are guilty of is that of having wanted to follow Christ more closely with the promise of the evangelical vows. They had chosen to become religious by following the vocation that would lead them to give themselves to others within the Congregation of the Brothers of St. Gabriel, whose charism is inspired by that of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort, distinguished by a marked devotion to Mary.

These Brothers had decided to devote their lives to the service of the Education of Young people, working in various positions in the different Schools that the Congregation directed in Catalonia. They shared the talents that the Lord had given them and sought to walk the path of holiness within a Community.

If it is possible to find any fault with them, it lies solely and exclusively in their apostolic impulse to communicate the richness of Christ’s love to others. In fact, they were animated by the desire to share their experience of faith with their Brothers, especially with the new generations.

They were animated by a particular Marian spirituality, that of entrusting themselves entirely to Mary and through Her to Jesus. As St. Louis Marie said, one of the main effects of true devotion to the Mother of God is that She comes to live in the soul in such a way that it is no longer the soul that lives, but it is Mary who lives in it and who becomes, so to speak, the soul of the soul itself.

Our Servants of God made the following of Christ through Our Lady a definitive choice of life, which led them to total self-giving, making them worthy of martyrdom. The story of these Brothers is intertwined with that of a society that, with the advent of the Republic, wanted to impose an unbridled secularism in order to erase all reference to God. Atheism taken to its maximum expression found zealous executors in many sectors inspired by Marxist ideologies and the consequences were fatal for thousands of Christians, among them Bishops, Priests, Religious and committed Lay people. It was enough to belong to the Church in some way, even to be a simple member of Catholic Action, to immediately become an enemy of the new regime.

When the Civil War broke out, religious persecution was already well advanced, and that July 18, 1936, was only the fuse that lit the fire of hatred and violence that burned under the ashes. Our Gabrielite Brothers tried to save what could be saved, because their only objective was to spread the Kingdom of God and that is why they did not participate actively in any political party. They were far from activism in any form. Their only action was apostolic. However, the mere fact that they existed and represented Christ and His Church was cause for exasperated hatred. No one could offer the slightest resistance to this. The only possibility in the face of persecution was to flee. But even this option turned out to be temporary and short-lived. When the different communities of the Congregation spread throughout Catalonia were subjected to cruelty and violence, with the destruction of sacred images, the desecration of churches and the confiscation of “compromising” documents, the Brothers spontaneously sought refuge in the house of friendly families. When the situation became increasingly dangerous for the safety of their protectors, some of them headed for the mountain forests. Unfortunately, the lack of food forced them to return to the inhabited places and there they found the zealous members of the Popular Front who arrested them. Others concentrated in the provincial community of Can Valls, at Sant Vicenç de Montalt. This choice was fatal, because soon the militiamen stormed the Formation House and, with the exception of the Gabrielite Brothers under 18 years of age and some of French nationality, they were arrested and taken to the gloomy prison of San Elias, in Barcelone city. From there, in November 12, 1936, they were taken to the cemetery of Montcada i Reixac and shot en masse.

What is striking is that there was not the slightest respect for legality. They were not tried by any court, they had no opportunity to answer the charges, they had no recourse to any constituted power. Their death sentence had already been written for a long time, because wearing the religious habit was already a crime in the eyes of the militiamen. What becomes clear is the absolute prevarication and the imposition of an ideology that denied the dignity of people in the name of a collective dignity, which was to be achieved even at the cost of eliminating those who did not resigned themselves to the common thought and did not see it like that. The militiamen intended to build a new society on the basis of a common political and visionary identity, in which, absurdly, God was not only superfluous, but also an obstacle. It is rather curious to see how they tried by all means to erase religion from the hearts and minds of people, but the very fact that they fought a battle to this end indirectly admitted the existence of God. Witnesses of this were our Gabrielite Brothers, who proclaimed, with the sacrifice of their lives, the primacy of Christ over the world and all other realities. It is very interesting to see how, according to the documents of the time and the testimonies provided, the attitude of the Servants of God in the face of martyrdom was one of trust in the Lord, of abandonment in Him, with the certainty that they did not fear the one who had the power to kill the body, but the one who could cause the body and soul to perish. During the last days of their lives, the group of Brothers arrested in Sant Vicenç de Montalt spent their time in prison praying, especially the Rosary, asking the Lord to give them the strength to overcome that terrible ordeal and even praying for their persecutors. They were led to the slaughterhouse like lambs offered in holocaust pleasing to God. Not even after the execution did they have peace, because the militiamen wanted to erase their memory by delivering their tortured bodies to the oblivion of the earth, without even giving them the dignity of a burial, but trying to erase their traces. Even the memory of their sacrifice would have been a sign of the presence of God, for to die because of faith is already an unavoidable testimony of the existence of a reality that transcends earthly limits and projects itself into eternity. Our Brothers are, therefore, the proof that the end of life in this world is not the end of everything, but the transformation and the beginning of a new adventure in friendship with God.

What remains of their witness? An indelible sign of divine primacy in life, proof that violence and blind hatred against the faith never have the last word and that these Brothers, most of whom killed in the prime of their youth, continue their mission from Heaven helping those who are still on the way on this earth.

Since I was appointed Postulator of the Cause of these 49 Servants of God and their Chaplain, I have seen that the faith of these religious people was truly great.

Despite the diversity of their geographical origins, social backgrounds, ages and temperaments, faith was the glue that united them, and the desire to follow Christ was the force that nourished their daily lives. Those who follow the same path of consecration within the Congregation of the Brothers of St. Gabriel and all those who share the same Spirituality, even if only by attending the Schools they direct, whether as students, teachers or personnel employed in various functions, are today invited to live that same spirit of faith.

Just a few words to explain the current situation of the Cause. Once the entire diocesan investigation in Barcelona was handed over to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican, the Positio is being finalized, that is, the document in which the testimonial and documentary evidence is summarized and elaborated. This Positio will be the basis on which historical experts, theologians, Bishops and Cardinals will evaluate whether the Servants of God can truly be declared Martyrs for the faith. To accompany the Process of the Cause, all the faithful can pray to the Servants of God so that through their intercession they may obtain graces and healings that will be presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

 

Painting that recalls the executions carried out by the groups of the CNTFAI in the Cemetery of Montcada i Reixac, where 39 Brothers and their Father Chaplain, coming from the prison of San Elías, were executed in odium fidei. The painting highlightsthe figure of the then Bishop of Barcelona, Manuel Irurita, who underwent the same fate.