Thursday, September 22, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of Bl. Tomás Sitjar and the Martyrs of Valencia.

Today the Society of Jesus remembers Father Tomás Sitjar and ten other Jesuits who were martyred in the early months of the Spanish Civil War. Little known outside Spain, Father Sitjar and his companions are part of a much larger group of Spanish martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001. Though the cause of the group known as the Martyrs of Valencia was introduced by the Spanish Catholic Bishops in the 1950's, their beatification was delayed by decades in part for political reasons. Because the Martyrs of Valencia were murdered by representatives of the fiercely anticlerical Spanish Republic, the Vatican was hesitant to move too quickly on their cause for fear that such an action would be regarded as a sign of favor toward the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Following Franco's death in 1975 and the eventual softening of Civil War-era divisions in Spanish society, the cause of the Martyrs of Valencia began to move forward. (The causes of numerous other Spanish martyrs of the 1930's got moving at around the same time - see this page on the website of the Spanish Bishops' Conference for comprehensive data.)

Today's Memorial of the Martyrs of Valencia challenges us to confront the true nature of war. We can too easily justify or ignore the atrocities perpetrated by soldiers fighting for causes we believe in. In the English-speaking world, the Spanish Civil War has long been the subject of a romantic myth that portrays the Republican forces as noble idealists bravely resisting the reactionary Nationalists. Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and numerous other literary works have done much to build up this myth. Accepting the myth can be tempting, but deep down we ought to know better. While Franco's Nationalists committed some very serious atrocities, so did the Republicans. In any war and especially in civil wars, no one can truly claim to have clean hands. Remembering the Martyrs of Valencia and the thousands of other priests and religious who died in the Spanish Republicans' campaign of religious persecution helps remind us that war produces many victims but no lasting victors. AMDG.


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