518 - January 2012
December 7th, 2011 - January 9th, 2012



Sacred Triduum of the Martyrs: Day 1

The Oblate Province of Spain has lived three days of intense celebration of the beatification of the Oblate Martyrs. Oblates, Oblate Sisters, Lay Associates and friends of the Oblates and especially, the families of the 23 martyrs (22 Oblates and a layman committed to the faith) came from different parts of Spain and the world. Of particular note was the visit of Father General, Louis LOUGEN, who took the opportunity to make a visit of all the houses in the Province of Spain, traveling in a few days many kilometers of Spanish geography.

He was joined by several members of the General Administration: Frs. Gilberto PIÑÓN, Warren BROWN, Clement WAIDYASEKARA and Miguel FRITZ. Also present were the Spaniards, Fr. Luis Ignacio ROIS ALONSO, General Councillor for Europe and formerly the provincial of Spain, during whose mandate the postulation’s work in the diocesan phase was completed in Madrid; and Fr. Joaquín MARTÍNEZ VEGA, the present General Postulator who so ably managed to bring the Cause to completion in Rome. Also, provincials from different parts of the globe have come (Italy, Lacombe-Canada, the United States and Poland; there are also representatives from many other provinces, delegations and missions of the Congregation (France, Italy, Poland, Germany, South Africa, Cameroun, Lesotho, Brazil, USA, Canada, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, the General House in Rome and the International Roman Scholasticate), along with the Superior General of the Oblate Sisters, María del Mar GÓMEZ MAÑAS. Many Spanish Oblates stationed in missions in other parts of the Oblate world have come for this event with their Older Brothers, since all of them had done their formation in this martyrs’ house in Pozuelo. The Spanish Province, lead by its provincial, Fr. Otilio LARGO MACHO, were good hosts for everyone, in an atmosphere of brotherhood.

The days leading up to the event were for logistics and preparation: organization of the liturgy at the Cathedral of Madrid, Nuestra Señora de la Almudena; meeting pilgrims at the airport and at the train and bus stations; lodging them at the Provincial House of Pozuelo and in the Diego de León community (the former Provincial House of the martyrs); printing papers, brochures, etc.; and distributing materials and pilgrim packets, as well as many other tasks. Fr. Eutimio GONZALEZ, the coordinator of organization, responded generously and efficiently to the task given him.

The Oblates of Spain did not overlook the spiritual preparation: in the houses and the parishes, there were prayers, vigils and meditations about the martyrs. Basically, they used the materials that had appeared daily on our official web page.

On the 16th of December, there began a sort of Sacred Triduum for those who would experience these events in person; it began with preparatory vigil. This took place in the auditorium of the school of the Sisters of Our Lady of Cluny, located in front of the convent of the martyrs in Pozuelo de Alarcón.

The vigil began at around 22:00 and filled the auditorium with 400 persons. For an hour and a half, two Oblates, Fr. Javier MONTERO and Fr. DAVID MUÑOZ MEDINA, together with laity from various Oblate parishes in Spain and friends of the Oblates, led us on a tour of the history of the martyrs, through a clever combination of prayer, drama, music, meditation and narration of how the story unfolded.

At the end, the audience could not contain their excitement and they cheered the team that had organized the vigil. Tears could be seen in the eyes of many. And they all felt the enthusiasm caused by the example of fidelity left by the martyrs and the desire to live fully this experience of the Holy Spirit which the Congregation and the Church hopes that this beatification will be for each one of us. (Diego SÁEZ MARTÍN)

Sacred Triduum of the Martyrs: Day 2

It began at noon on December 17, the ceremony of beatification of the Servants of God, Fr. Francisco ESTEBAN LACAL and 21 Oblate companions, plus the layman, Cándido Castán San José. It took place in the Cathredral of Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena in Madrid. One had to be there at least an hour and a half or two hours ahead of time to get a seat. Even that was not enough. By 10:30, most the pews were filled. Needless to say, later on, others would be arriving until all of the seats in the Cathedral were filled. Notable among those attending were the families of the newly beatified: brothers, nieces, nephews, great-nephews and nieces, and even a brother and several grandchildren of the layman, Cándido Castán.

Not less amazing was seeing the group of priests and bishops, almost 200 of them. There were about 20 bishops. Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided at the celebration. Joining him were the Cardinal-Archbishop of Madrid, Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, and the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Antonio Cañizares. There were two Oblate Bishops: Michael D. PFEIFFER of San Angelo, Texas, and Ramiro DIAZ, bishop emeritus of the Apostolic Vicariate of Machiques (Venezuela). There were also bishops from the dioceses of origin of the new martyrs and some auxiliary bishops.

There were more than 150 priests, but half of them were Oblates. Many of them had arrived on the 16th, coming from various parts of the world. The rest were diocesan, friends of the Oblates or of the families of the newly beatified.

There were many moving moments. Of course, one of them was when Cardinal Amato read the decree of Beatification from Benedict XVI. At that moment, they uncovered the image of the newly beatified, and their family members carried in procession some palms, one for each newly Blessed, which they placed around the image. There were many emotions and more than one tear welled up in the eyes of many of those present.

The homily, quite heartfelt and simple, spoke of the new martyrs’ faithfulness to God. “When we ignore God, we lose our humanity,” Cardinal Amato stated, referring to the savage murder of the Oblates and Cándido Castán, as well as many thousands of Christians in Spain, land of saints and martyrs, as the Cardinal Prefect called it. He also stressed that all Christians are called to give their lives, although not in such cruel circumstances as the martyrs had to suffer; he presented us with the martyrs as examples of fidelity.

Fr. General, Louis LOUGEN, at the end of the celebration, spoke some words of thanks to the bishops, religious, priests and laity, especially the family members who were present at the celebration and who, in different ways, had helped make the event to take place.

Afterwards, we had a lovely and joyful family gathering: the Oblates, the Oblate Sisters, family members and lay associates had a festive lunch, together with the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid and members of the diocesan curia. The time of fraternal sharing lasted for several hours. Joy filled the room and there was much laughter, sharing, storytelling and jokes, all in a relaxed atmosphere.

There remained in each one present a feeling of thanksgiving to God which on the next day, December18, would be a shared feeling: there would be a Mass of Thanksgiving for the Beatification in the Parish of the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima, part of the Oblate community of Diego de León (the former Provincial House of the martyrs). (Diego SÁEZ MARTÍN)

The cry of a thousand mothers

Excerpts from the homily of Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, during the celebration of the Beatification of the Oblate Martyrs and a Layman, December 17, 2011. After briefly telling the martyrs’ story, the Cardinal said:

The cry of a thousand mothers cannot silence the pain of the Church at the loss of these her sons, killed because of hatred of God. Unfortunately, history shows that when man erases from his conscience the commandments of God, in his heart are also broken all ties to goodness, thus leading him to committing monstrous deeds. In losing God, man also loses his humanity.

We might ask ourselves: were our martyrs ready for the ultimate sacrifice? The answer, based on witnesses and on their own words, is affirmative. They were aware and they were getting ready, through lives of prayer and sacrifice, for their surrender to their executioners. They certainly knew of the antireligious sentiments of many of the locals who were angry because the Oblates openly wore the cross on their chest and welcomed into their house meetings of Catholic railway workers.

Just four days after the outbreak of the civil war, the anti-Catholic hatred, which had burned and destroyed many churches in Madrid, arrived in Pozuelo de Alarcón, came down upon the scholasticate of the Oblates with unprecedented cruelty. They occupied the building; all the religious were arrested, without questioning, without a trial, without proof, without the possibility of defending themselves.

A priest, six young students and Mr. Cándido Castán San José, husband and father of two children, were killed at once, on the day following their arrest. The others endured four months of suffering, following their painful Way of the Cross: fear, life in hiding, the constant risk of being discovered, arrest, prison, ridicule, humiliation of all kinds, torture, mutilation and death.

It’s good not to forget this tragedy. It is also good not to forget the reaction of our martyrs. To the wicked actions of their murderers, they responded with kind words, prayer and forgiveness for their persecutors, accepting death with fortitude, for love of Jesus Christ. Their behavior gave light to the darkness of evil.

We are touched by the words of the young, eighteen year old Oblate, Clemente Rodriguez Tejerina, who, months before his martyrdom, had told his sister, Josefa: “If we have to die, I am ready; I am confident that God will give us the strength we need to be faithful.”

We seem to hear the words of the apostle Paul who wrote these words to the Christians in Rome: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? […] No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35, 37)

The Lord Jesus himself was hated, persecuted, condemned and killed. And he warned his disciples, saying: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.” (John 15:18) Persecution is one of the beatitudes of the Christian: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)

The martyrs teach us that our witness to the Gospel involves not only a virtuous life but also, at times, martyrdom. Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Letter of Beatification, says that the 22 Oblate Martyrs and the layman, father of a family, “while remaining faithful to their vocation, relentlessly preached the Gospel and, by shedding their own blood, bore witness to their genuine love of the Lord Jesus and of his Church.”

This is the message which the martyrs offer us. Society has no need of hatred, violence and division, but only of love, forgiveness and brotherhood. In a world weakened by wounds of every kind, the Christian is called, even today, to give a strong testimony of God’s providential presence and the effectiveness of his grace which, in a way so mysterious but real, changes evil thoughts into thoughts for good.

Let us imitate the strength of the martyrs, the strength of their faith, the immensity of their love, the greatness of their hope. As we prayed in the Collect: “O God, through the merits and the intercession of the Blessed Martyrs, let us bear witness of faith and truth to the world.”

May the new Martyrs be, above all, life teachers for their brother Oblates of Mary Immaculate; may they, in the school of these martyrs, strengthen the love of Christ and of the Church, and be generous and eager missionaries of the new evangelization in the whole world.

Last October 29, the Archdiocese of Madrid celebrated the Beatification of Sister Maria Catalina Irigoyen Etchegaray, a woman rich in faith and love, a sublime example of faithful and joyful consecrated life. Today, Madrid has lived, with renewed joy, the glorification of the Blessed Oblate Martyrs and Blessed Cándido Castán San José, exemplary father of a family and model of the Christian worker.

Glorious Archdiocese of Madrid and glorious Spain, fertile land of saints and martyrs, who offer the world the vision of the good life of the Gospel, practicing the love they preached! As long as there are righteous people in your land, Divine Providence will never abandon you and the blessing of the Lord will come down, full of grace and of gifts, upon civil society, your families and each of you.

May the Immaculate Virgin Mary, mother and help of Christians, help you celebrate Christmas with a pure and holy heart.

Sacred Triduum of the Martyrs: Day 3

On December 18, there was a special aura about Madrid. Most people did not realize it. Those of us who the day before were at the ceremony for the Beatification of the Oblate Martyrs knew what it was and why: we have we more intercessors for our pilgrim Church on earth. And we wanted to thank God for this.

In the parish of the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima, home of the Oblate community of Diego de León, several hundred people gathered to give thanks for this gift of the beatification. There were some 90 Oblates. On the previous night, some had left for their own missions. At the main altar, together with Fr. General, Louis LOUGEN, there was the retired Oblate Bishop of Machiques (Venezuela), Ramiro DÍAZ; Fr. Joaquín MARTÍNEZ VEGA, General Postulator; Fr. Otilio LARGO MACHO, Provincial of Spain; and a priest who is a grandson of Blessed Cándido Castán.

Fr. Joaquín Martínez Vega preached the homily. He read some messages received from various places around the world, giving witness to the impact this beatification has had for the Church and the whole Oblate world: messages ranging from as far away as Vietnam to the Vatican to Mallorca (Spain). He spoke from the heart and was filled with emotion at times as he showed his joy at the beatification of our brothers.

As at the Mass of Beatification, there was a procession with palms at the time of the offertory. After communion, the Region of Asia-Oceania honored the Provincial of Spain by giving his a lotus flower. The lotus flower is born in stagnant water and when its stem pierces through the water, it blossoms clean and immaculate in the light of the sun. Such were the martyrs: they were not defiled by the evil of their time but they lived and bloomed for God.

At the end of Mass, there was a very special moment. Fr. Olegario DOMÍNGUEZ, of Spanish origin, was one of the Oblates who personally knew the martyrs. Over 90 years old, he has been a missionary in Paraguay. But, as he himself told those present, for all these years he has been hoping for the beatification of his former juniorate companions with whom he shared secrets, hopes and dreams; so he could not help but come. At the age of 90, he kept the appointment! And how could one not ask him to share some of his memories? So at the end of Mass, with tears, he told us of his feelings of great joy. He recalled the strong and demanding, yet at the same time understanding, personality of the provincial, Blessed Francisco ESTEBAN LACAL. “With one look,” he said, “he put us on the path on which he wished to steer us.” He also told of several facts that show his strong-minded personality, motivated by the faith. While studying in Rome at the International Scholasticate, Fr. Olegario found some letters from Fr. Esteban. Between 1932 and 1935, several times he wrote to the Superior General saying he did not believe he possessed the qualities necessary to be provincial and he asked to be relieved of his office. In 1935, seeing the escalating persecution, he wrote to Fr. General: “This time, I do not ask you to relieve me of the office of provincial: in the present circumstances, that would be cowardice.” Thus, he faced his mission with courage and accepted the will of God. In another letter, he told of the death of the first 7 martyrs. In coded language to avoid censorship, he said to the Superior General: “Mr. Theodore Labouré: Vicente [BLANCO, superior of the scholasticate] has just lost seven of his own. Signed: Esteban.” Several times, Fr. Olegario wept as he recounted his memories and his feelings and just as many times, he made those of us present cry. We all thanked God for having these precious intercessors.

After the Eucharist, we Oblates had a fraternal meal in order the celebrate, as a family, the gift of having these giants of the faith, our Older Brothers, the Blessed Oblate Martyrs of Spain, Fr. Francisco Esteban Lacal and his companions. After the meal, it was time for goodbyes for those who were returning to their missions. We were all renewed at the end of this Sacred Triduum.

And to end this chronicle, there are some videos about the beatification on the internet. At this link, one can find the ceremony of December 17 in the Cathedral: http://goo.gl/PRlx1

Te Deum laudamus! (Diego SÁEZ MARTÍN)

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