Three martyred Spanish Carmelites teach us how to persevere in faith, in the face of evil.
History is filled with many horrific tales of the persecution and martyrdom of Catholics. Often these stories are about Catholic nuns who stood tall for Christ, staring death in the face and then embracing it for Him. These stories gush forth inspiration, and the ladies who died defending their faith many times did so in the most horrible ways imaginable. Sixteen Discalced Carmelites, offering their lives to save many, stood together singing as one by one they willingly went to the guillotine, effectively ending the nightmare known as the French Revolution. They all died on July 17, 1794. They are known as The Martyrs of Compiegne.
Eleven Sisters of the Holy Family volunteered their lives in exchange for those of two priests and 120 laypersons at Nowogrodek in Nazi-occupied Poland. These sisters, aged 54 down to 26, were marched into the woods and machined gunned to death on July 31, 1943. These sisters are known as The Martys of Nowogrodek.
And, there was the Spanish Civil War, where secular intolerance for all things Catholic bubbled over in a clerical bloodletting that was basically carried out by people with no civil or military authority. The coup d’etat that had taken place had no guidelines or directions that came with it. Consequently, the lack of law and order allowed for the raging secular hatred to be encouraged and acted upon by untrained and undisciplined militia groups. These groups were, more often than not, really”hate” groups. And most of that hatred was directed toward Catholic clerics, priests, brothers and nuns.
Among the Catholics was a group of three nuns who were as innocent of wrongdoing as children would be. Yet, because of their love of Christ, they would be slaughtered. As were their sister martyrs from the French Revolution, these nuns were also Discalced Carmelites, and they would be the first women martyrs of the Spanish Civil War.
Sister Maria del Pilar was 59 years old and had become a Carmelite in 1898, when she was 21. Sister Teresa del Nino Jesus y de San Juan de la Cruz was 27 years old and had entered the Carmelites at the age of 16. Finally, Sister Maria Angeles de San Jose was 31 and had been a Carmelite for six years. Their convent had been invaded by one of the militia groups and the three of them had fled and were hiding in nearby apartment.
Dressed in lay clothes, the Sisters would leave their apartment rarely and only for necessities. On July 24, 1936, they were walking down the street about a block from their hideaway when a group of militia spotted them. A militia woman screamed out, “Nuns! They are nuns. Kill them!”
The sisters began to run as the Satanic-inspired militia opened fire. Sister Maria Angeles was killed immediately and her body fell right where she stood. Sister Maria del Pilar was wounded by the gunfire and then attacked with a knife. Sister Teresa was stunned but unhurt.
Several military guards showed up and stopped the shooting. They tried to help Sister Maria del Pilar and commandeered a bus. When the driver stopped and opened the door he saw it was a nun, he said, “She’s a nun, let me finish her off for you.”
They grabbed another vehicle and got her to a hospital. Sister Maria died that evening. Her last words were, ‘Padre, perdonalos, Viva Christo Rey.” (“Father, forgive them. Long live Christ the King!”)
Sister Teresa was captured by a man who was intent upon raping and then killing the gentle woman. Some of his friends joined him and surrounded her demanding that she proclaim, “Viva el Comunismo” and they would give her freedom. Sister Teresa, spitting in the eye of unimaginable fear and terror, stretched out her arms in the form of a cross and screamed out, “Viva Cristo Rey.” They opened fire on her as she whispered once more, “Viva Christo Rey.”
The brutal murder of these three Carmelite Sisters is considered by many to be one of the most barbaric acts of the Spanish Civil War. Pope St. John Paul II beatified all three of the Sisters on March 29, 1987. They had all died in odium Fidei or “in hatred of the Faith.”
We ask Blessed Maria Angeles, Blessed Maria Pilar and, Blessed Teresa del la Cruz, to pray for us all.