More than 20,000 people on Sunday in the northeastern Spanish city of Tarragona attended the largest beatification ceremony in history where 522 of the faithful killed during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War were so honored.
The ceremony began with a message from Pope Francis in which he pointed out the example of these martyrs - whom he said imitated Jesus Christ - and insisted on the need to “open ourselves up to others, to those who most need it.”
The pontiff directed himself in Spanish to those attending the ceremony, urging them to join “from the heart” in the celebration to proclaim the beatified martyrs whom, he said, are “Christians won by Christ, disciples who have learned well the meaning of that uttermost love that brought Jesus to the cross.”
Those attending the ceremony were, mostly, members of religious congregations and relatives of those who were beatified and, as had been requested by the Spanish Bishops Conference, none of them displayed either flags or posters during the event.
The special envoy from the Holy See, the Vatican’s prefect for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, who presided at the ceremony, emphasized the importance of forgiveness “as the essence of Christianity.”
“Spain is a land blessed by the blood of martyrs,” given that more than 1,000 Spaniards have been beatified in 14 ceremonies, Amato said.
Sectors of Spanish civil society such as the Coordinator of Laicism and Dignity and progressive Catholic groups urged during the days leading up to the ceremony that church authorities apologize for having supported the Franco dictatorship and the 1936 coup against the Spanish Republic.
They also criticized the fact that tribute was paid to some victims while others among those killed are still interred in common or unknown graves without any public recognition.
Amato said that the 522 people beatified on Sunday were not victims of the Civil War but rather of “a radical religious persecution that undertook the programmed extermination of the Church” and he faulted the 1930s for being a “dark period of anti-Catholic hostility.”