Rorate Caeli

The Passion of Spain - 80th Anniversary

Exactly 80 years ago, the tensions within the Spanish Republic reached unbearable levels and the alzamiento of July 18 began. The greatest persecution of Catholics since late Antiquity was about to begin in the territory retained by the Communist-inspired forces, and would be particularly brutal in the first six months of the conflict - giving the Church thousands of martyrs (including 13 bishops), of which around 1,000 have already been beatified.

Ten years ago, we began a special series of posts on the story of this relentless persecution, reverted only after Catholics joined the struggle for the faith: read it all in The Passion of Spain series. We also ask our readers to please share on our Twitter feed their favorite books, videos, online sources on this event, in any language - for instance, the Collective Letter of the Spanish Bishops (July 1, 1937); the response of several national episcopates, including the Bishops of Ireland; or the chilling images in the first and second annex on religious persecution of the Causa General.

(In the first image, Republican militiamen fire at the Monument to the Sacred Heart, in the Cerro de los Ángeles, province of Madrid -- the monument would be completely destroyed in the first months of the persecution. It would be rebuilt following the war. In the image below, a Russian Orthodox chaplain of the White Russian volunteers assembled by General Evgeny Miller, exiled in France, who would be kidnapped in French soil during the war, tortured and killed in his homeland - source. And in a Mass celebrated  near the Sierra Nevada, in Andalusia, for the Tercio Isabel la Católica, of Granada, one of the many Catholic groups fighting against the attempted extermination of the Church - source.)


As a final reminder of who represented what in that conflict, we once again recall the words of Pope Pius XII when victory was declared, in 1939:


(April 14, 1939)

With great joy We address you, most dear children of Catholic Spain, to express to you our fatherly congratulations for the gift of peace and of victory, with which God has deemed worthy to crown the Christian heroism of your faith and charity, tried in so many and so generous sufferings. Our Predecessor, of venerable memory, expected, with longing and trust, this Providential peace, which is undoubtedly the fruit of that copious blessing which he sent, in the very beginning of the struggle, "to all those who had devoted themselves to the difficult and dangerous task of defending and restoring the rights and the honor of God and Religion" [1]; and We do not doubt that this peace shall be the one that he himself foretold since then, "the sign of a future of tranquility in order, and of honor in prosperity" [2].

The designs of Providence, most beloved children, have once again dawned over heroic Spain. The Nation chosen by God as the main instrument of the evangelization of the New World and as an impregnable fortress of the Catholic faith has just shown to the apostles of materialistic Atheism of our century the greatest evidence that the eternal values of religion and of the spirit stand above all things.

The tenacious propaganda and the constant efforts of the enemies of Jesus Christ seemed to have desired to try in Spain a supreme experiment of the dissolving forces which they have at their disposal throughout the world; and even though it is true that the Almighty has for now not allowed them to achieve their goal, He has at least tolerated some of their terrible effects, so that the world could see how religious persecution, undermining the very bases of justice and charity, which are love for God and respect for His holy law, may drag modern society to unthinkable abysses of evil destruction and passionate discord.

Convinced of this truth, the sane Spanish people, with the two marks characteristic of their most noble spirit, which are generosity and frankness, rose up determinedly in defense of the ideals of Christian faith and civilization, deeply rooted in the Spanish soil, and, aided by God, "who does not abandon those who hope in Him" (Judith 13, 17), could resist the push from those who, deceived by what they believed to be a humanitarian ideal of the exaltation of the meek, truly fought only for Atheism.

This primordial meaning of your victory makes us dwell in the most promising hopes, that God in His mercy will deign lead Spain through the safe path of its traditional and Catholic grandeur; which will be the point that will guide all Spaniards, who love their Religion and their Fatherland, in the effort to organize the life of the Nation in perfect harmony with its most noble history of Catholic faith, piety, and civilization.

We thus exhort the Authorities and Shepherds of Catholic Spain to enlighten the mind of those who were deceived, showing them, lovingly, the roots of Materialism and Secularism from which their errors and wrongful acts came forth, and from which they could spring forth again. Propose to them the principles of individual and social justice, without which the peace and prosperity of nations, as mighty as they may be, cannot subsist, and which are those contained in the Holy Gospel and in the doctrine of the Church.

We do not doubt that it will happen thus, and the bases for Our firm hope are the most noble and Christian sentiments, of which the Chief of State and so many gentlemen, his faithful collaborators, have given unequivocal evidence with the legal protection which they have granted to the supreme religious and social interests, according to the teachings of the Apostolic See. The same hope is also founded upon the enlightened zeal and abnegation of your Bishops and Priests, tempered by pain, and also in the faith, piety, and spirit of sacrifice of which, in terrible hours, all classes of Spanish society gave heroic proof.

And now, before the remembrance of the mounting ruins of the bloodiest civil war recorded in the history of modern times, We, with pious regard, bow our head, above all, to the holy memory of the Bishops, Priests, Religious of both sexes, and faithful of all ages and conditions who, in such an elevated number, sealed with blood their faith in Jesus Christ, and their love for the Catholic Religion: «maiorem hac dilectionem nemo habet», "Greater love than this no man hath" (Jn 15, 13).

We also acknowledge our debt of gratitude towards all those who sacrificed themselves even unto heroism in defense of the unalienable rights of God and of Religion, either in the battlefields, or devoted to the sublime works of Christian charity in prisons and hospitals.

We cannot hide the bitter sorrow that the remembrance of so many innocent children, who, having been ripped from their homes, were taken to faraway lands, often in danger of apostasy and perversion: we desire nothing more ardently than to see them returned to the bosom of their families, where they will once again find the warm and Christian tenderness of their own. And those others who, as prodigal sons, wish to return to the house of the father, we doubt not that they will be welcomed with goodwill and love.

It falls upon You, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, to advise all, so that in their policy of pacification all will follow the principles taught by the Church, and proclaimed with such nobility by the Generalísimo: of justice for crime, and of lenient generosity for the mistaken. Our solicitude, also as a Father, cannot forget these deceived ones, whom a deceitful and perverse propaganda succeeded in enticing with praises and promises. Your Pastoral solicitude should be targeted at them, with patience and meekness: pray for them, seek them, lead them again to the regenerative bosom of the Church and to the warmth of the Fatherland, and lead them to the Merciful Father, Who awaits them with open arms.

Therefore, most dear children, since the rainbow of peace has returned to brighten the heavens of Spain, let us come together heartily in a fervent hymn of thanksgiving to the God of Peace and in a prayer of forgiveness and mercy for all those who perished; and, in order that this peace be fruitful and longlasting, We exhort you with all the fervor of Our heart, to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4, 2-3). Thus united and obedient to your venerable Episcopate, devote yourselves joyfully and with no delay, to the urgent work of reconstruction, which God and the Fatherland expect from you.

As a pledge of the copious graces, which the Immaculate Virgin and Saint James the Apostle, Patrons of Spain, shall obtain for you, and which the great Spanish Saints have merited for you, We bestow upon you, Our dear children of Catholic Spain, upon the Chief of State and his illustrious Government, upon the zealous Episcopate and their selfless Clergy, upon the heroic combatants, and upon all the faithful Our Apostolic Blessing.

[1] Speech to the Spanish refugees: AAS 28 (1936) 380.
[2] Speech to the Spanish refugees: AAS 28 (1936) 381.
[a RORATE CÆLI translation]