"In Jesus we find everything"

General Government of the Brothers and Sisters, Rome


Home / News / Letter of the Superior General about the Martyrs

Letter of the Superior General about the Martyrs


Think of Damien de Veuster, who leaving home, family and country gave himself generously to the service of those abandoned on Molokai, opening possibilities for those who had lost hope and coming to identify himself with his beloved leprous patients even to the point of death. Think too of the twentieth century martyrs in Spain: Teófilo Fernández de Legaria Goñi, Isidro Íñiguez de Ciriano Abechuco, Gonzalo Barrón Nanclares, Eladio López Ramos and Mario Ros Ezcurra. These five men – along with many others – witnessed to their faith with their own blood in a painful situation of confusion, persecution and violence. And then there is Blessed Eustaquio van Lieshout who exercised his ministry of healing of body and soul among those whom he met on the way.

38th General Chapter, Mission 4

   We already knew the date of the upcoming beatification of the 20th century Martyrs in Spain: October 27, 2013. Now we also know the place. Last month, November, the Spanish Episcopal Conference decided that the beatification would take place in Tarragona, which is located some 100 kilometers to the south of Barcelona.

   The site chosen has a great history of Christian faith and martyrdom, like the Hispanic protomartyrs: Fructoso, Bishop of Tarragona and his two deacons Augurio and Eulogio. Soon more details about the beatification ceremony will be given. The Office for the Causes of Saints of the Spanish Episcopal Conference and the host diocese are in charge of organizing the event. For our part, a commission has been set up in the Iberian Province that, in coordination with the Postulator General, will take responsibility for organizing the Congregation’s part in this event.

   The recent General Chapter proposed that “our brothers, Damien, the twentieth century martyrs and Eustaquio are an inspiration for our mission” (Mission 20). These three “icons” represent “the testimony of many brothers who in their own time and circumstances incarnated the charism they received from the Founders” (Mission 4). Referring to the 20th century martyrs in Spain, the Chapter said that they “witnessed to their faith with their own blood in a painful situation of confusion, persecution and violence” (ibid.).

   The death of the martyrs effectively confronts us with the sinister aspects of human nature. Their stories speak to us of a vicious violence that goes to the extreme of killing defenseless people. This deadly hatred is engendered by very diverse circumstances that are difficult to analyze. What motives drive some to assassinate Christians, men and women religious, priests? We know that ideologies that exclude, the ambiguity of the Church’s public commitment, the accumulated rancor, the interests of power, the fears and phobias, and many other factors played a weighty role in 20th century Spanish society in the time in which our brothers were assassinated. The same can be said of France during the revolution when the Good Father decided to risk even death if necessary, and the situation in Paris with victims of the Commune, and the colonized countries where foreign missionaries were killed, and the Muslim countries where today they exterminate Christians, in short, any situation where they kill people because of their faith. The “religious” always lives entangled in the contradictions of human existence. It cannot be otherwise.

   The beatification of the martyrs is not going to dispel this ambiguity of history. It is not a judgment that separates the actors in this drama into the “good” and “bad”. The joy that these martyrs provide us with is not the “victory” of some over others. No. A beatification is always a praise of God who shows the wonder of His grace in the fragility of his sons and daughters. The joy of the martyrs arises from the recognition of this “strength” of God, which is the power of charity.

   God is not indifferent to the cruelty of history. His active and silent presence insures that the assassination of those who die confessing the faith and pardoning their executioners might not be another sad story condemned to powerlessness and obscurity. On the contrary, the death of those who die because they believe in Jesus proclaims the love of God, which our brothers professed and preached, is stronger than the attachment to life. Therefore martyrdom can be received as a message of hope for everyone, the victims as well as the executioners. A message of relief and of hope for the pain of an ever-suffering humanity that trudges on lacerated, yesterday as today, by unbearable scenes of hatred and cruelty. A message rooted in faith in Jesus. Because Jesus Christ, who was also a martyr, whom they also killed without justice or mercy, is the reason and fount of reconciliation for all. It is a disconcerting blessing of peace that wells up from the bowels of the most extreme violence. Only a love that forgives enemies breaks the chains of evil. Only overflowing mercy conquers death. Only God can reconcile and save His scattered children. Only God the Father can give life to those who have died.

   Our martyred brothers died as believers. They fulfilled the desire, which our recent General Chapter also speaks to us about: “Our desire, expressed in the formula of profession, is to live and die in the service of the Sacred Hearts. When the end of life draws near, what we want to do is prepare ourselves to die as believers and to make of our death an act of praise for the God who loves us. In that way, our death will be a witness to Christ, a final act of mission” (Mission 37).

   Recently a Lebanese superior general, who lives in a monastery in Iraq, told me that, for them, evangelization is martyrdom. It is not a “white” martyrdom, but a “red” martyrdom, one of blood. Because, he explained to me, each day that I set foot outside of the house I know that I could be the victim of an attack. We stay there. We do not flee from the threat. This is our way of witnessing to faith in Jesus.

   “The Spanish martyrs of the Twentieth Century encourage us to be witnesses of the faith at a time when many people, including ourselves struggle to believe.” (38th General Chapter, Mission 20). This is the “white” martyrdom to which we are called. In spite of the difficulties, we have received a vocation to live as believers from day to day, making our lives a humble reference to Jesus and to his Gospel; and preparing ourselves for death by placing our trust in Him in whom we believe. But, who knows if there will not be some among us of whom the “red” martyrdom will be asked as well? Some who, like those who will shortly be beatified, will one day find themselves face to face with the horror of violence from their fellow men; in front of which they will be called to witness to the One whose “love is better than life” (Psalm 63:4).

   We are in Advent. Christmas, which we are getting ready to celebrate, will also speak to us of violence, cruelty and martyrdom. “Herod … became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under…” (Mt 2:16). Innocent children who were brutally assassinated give testimony to a Jesus whom they do not know. The biblical backdrop makes us see Herod as if he were a kind of Pharaoh, as an assassin of children who would have settled in the very same promise land: the height of misfortune. From the heart wrenching pain of the victims echoes the quotation from Jeremiah: “In Ramah is heard the sound of sobbing, bitter weeping! Rachel mourns for her children, she refuses to be consoled for her children—they are no more!” (Jer. 31:15). Don’t those same cries continue to resound in Palestine, in the Congo, in Colombia, in Iraq, in Syria, in Nigeria, and in so many other places today, right now?

   But the prophet does not stop at the weeping. The text that Matthew references continues to unfold a dazzling vision of the new covenant (precisely the covenant that brings us the child who flees with his parents to Egypt): “Thus says the LORD: Cease your cries of weeping, hold back your tears! There is compensation for your labor” (Jer. 31:16). And a little further on it continues: “Judah and all its cities, the farmers and those who lead the flock shall dwell there together. For I will slake the thirst of the faint; the appetite of all the weary I will satisfy.” (Jer. 31:24-25). It is a question of the longed for reconciliation between two brothers who were enemies, of Cain (farmer) and Abel (rancher); and of the announcement of the banquet of the Kingdom, where there will be no more hunger or thirst. This banquet will be inaugurated with the broken bread and the cup shared in the Supper that this child, now an adult, will offer to us before dying – a martyr- on the cross.

   Let us then dedicate our lives to the same: reconciling people, soothing parched throats, and witnessing to the love of Christ, that we constantly make memory of in his Eucharist.

   Happy celebration of our martyrs! Merry Christmas!


Fr. Javier Álvarez-Ossorio sscc
Superior General