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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 October 2007, 21:55 GMT
Vatican honours Spanish war dead

The Vatican has beatified 498 Roman Catholics executed during the Spanish Civil War, in the largest ceremony of its kind ever held.

Most of the victims - nearly all of whom were clergy - were killed at the outset of the war in 1936, by militias fighting for the Republican government.

The move has been criticised by some because it recognises victims from only one side of the brutal conflict.

But the Vatican said it was not about "resentment but... reconciliation".

The Roman Catholic Church was closely linked with the right-wing forces of General Francisco Franco, who won the war in 1939 and went on to impose nearly four decades of dictatorship.

Many people think that by honouring the victims from only one side of the Civil War, the Roman Catholic Church is dividing Spaniards, says the BBC's Danny Wood in Madrid.

However, the Spanish government has supported the beatification and sent Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to the ceremony.

Killers forgiven

The Mass in St Peter's Square was attended by nearly all of Spain's bishops and tens of thousands of pilgrims, who congregated on Sunday morning to honour those lauded by the Church as martyrs of the Spanish Civil War.

It was conducted by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, while Pope Benedict XVI addressed a message to the pilgrims.

Began in 1936 when right-wing generals rose up against left-wing government
Much of Spain's establishment, including Catholic Church, sided with rebels
Nationalists also had support of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while Republicans were backed by Soviet Union
Nationalists prevailed in 1939, and imposed Franco dictatorship

The 498 victims included two bishops, 24 priests, 462 monks and nuns, three church staff and seven lay people.

They were among an estimated 7,000 clergy killed by left-wing Republican forces between 1931 and 1939.

One was Bishop Cruz Laplana y Laguna, who was taken prisoner by leftist militiamen two days after the war broke out in July 1936.

He was shot by a firing squad two weeks later, reportedly telling his killers before they opened fire: "May God forgive you, as I forgive and bless you."

This coming week, the Spanish parliament is expected to pass a landmark law acknowledging the victims of the war and its aftermath.

The Law for the Historical Memory also obliges the Catholic Church to change any pro-Franco monuments inside its churches.

This legislation has caused as much controversy as the Vatican's beatification, since Spaniards still find it very hard to reconcile their differences about this period of their history, says the BBC's correspondent.

The war is thought to have claimed the lives of at least 250,000 people. While atrocities were carried out on both sides, it is thought the right-wing Nationalists killed more people.

Your comments:

My uncle died fighting for the republicans during the Spanish Civil war. He was a communist and a Jew and I don't know whether the church had anything to do with his death but, the history of the church with respect to the Spanish people and its relations with Jews has been anything but stellar. I feel that there has been much controversy over these acts of "beatification" of various individuals with checkered pasts that the practice should be stopped.
Stuart Graham, Toronto, Canada

My father and grandparents lived in Madrid from 1933 to 1936. My grandmother who was living on Cervantes Street #24, saw how they attacked the doorman from the Catholic school my father was attending across the street and set fire to it. This prompted my grandmother to return to Cuba since my father had dual citizenshio and was about to be drafted to fight in the Spanish Civil War.
Miguel Aparicio, Venice, USA

The people the vatican are honouring are war criminals, not victims. The catholic church took clear sides during the civil war, and were instrumental in establishing and then propping up the Franco dictatorship. The fascist armies killed indiscriminately and they did so in collaboration with the catholic church. When the fascist army marched into my grandmother's home village in Andalucia, in the very first weeks of the war, it was the Catholic priest who betrayed local people to the invaders. He gave them a list of everyone who lived in the village, so they knew if anyone had fled or gone into hiding. He told them who the 'troublemakers' were, who the leftists were, the intellectuals, the trade unionists, the people who didn't go to church regularly and those who had not baptised their children. It did not take long for the fascists to round all of these people up, along with anyone they didn't like the look of and men of fighting age, and shoot them all en masse in the village square. Is it any wonder then, that those on the left didn't like the catholic church?
William Garcia, York, England

The grandfather of my ex partner was killed by the right wingers in front of his wife and children. Then she hung herself in front of her children. The Vatican is still siding with those that destroyed a legitimate and democratic government. Those that killed priests were wrong but were reacting to centuries of oppression.
manuel navarro, Alicante, Spain

I had members of my family killed in both sides, the difference is that the Republicans did not only kill people because of political reasons, but also for religious reasons. That part of my family was persecuted just because they were religious and they went to mass every day in spite of the fact that they were poor peasants belonging to the working class. one of them was 13 and their only crime was to be in the seminary because he wanted to be a priest. That's the reason why all the people to be beatified belong to one side. they were killed defending their faith, they refused to say blasphemes, to urinate or to spit on crosses etc, when they told them to do so and that's the reason why they were killed. However, when some of these people were told to say things such as "long life to Russia" or "long life to communism", they did, they did not care about politics. A martyr is someone who dies defending their faith and faith was only attacked by the Republican side.

My grandfather was killed by the Franco soldiers when they arrived to his village because one of this new "saints" did point to him with his finger. He never carried a weapon; his only crime was that he never went to the church. This pope was a member of the Hitlerian Youths, so it's not a surprise that he's supporting the dark side of Spain. Europe wants to be a model of modernity, but the Vatican is a shame for humanity.
Alberto Alvarez, Barcelona, Spain

"Faith was only attacked by the Republican side", and a legitimate, legal and democratically elected government by the other...However, even this isn't true, as there were many clergy members executed by the Nationalist (fascist) side for defending the elected government. It must be remembered that, while atrocities were indeed committed in the name of the "left", this was not ordered by the government nor was it sanctioned, while as another post has mentioned, it was the explicit policy of the "right" to murder. It should be no surprise that the Catholic church who openly supported and support the Nationalists, is now beatifying their clergy who were summarily assassinated by rogue bands expressing centuries of pent up angst. One only has to look at the walls of churches all around Spain which still glorify their beloved Fascist leaders. Next time in Spain look for the words "Jose Antonio" engraved on a church wall near you and suppress the chills that rise up your spine when you realize that many around you wish that the dictatorship was still in place.
Troy Nahumko, Caceres, Spain

I always wonder why nobody seems to remember those killed during the post-war, anonimously accused as "reds", taken by force from their beds early morning and shot in front of their families. They were thousands, among of which were several members of my family. Also those who didn't want to collaborate with the regime, like my grandad, and lost everything. Most of them were working people who wanted just to have a normal life in such horrible times. Funny enough that now people are still using "rojos" and "fachas" to define others... more than 40 years later. How sad.
alicia, london, england

I am an American who is the son and grandson of exiles. My whole mother's family from her father's side were swamped by the HUNGER and BLOOD of the Celtic region of Spain, Asturias, where daily bombs or constant battles happened right before the civil-war and early civil war years. My great uncles suffered the most trying to maintain safe there families. While others families divided and hated because of political differences, it was dreadful. Looking at the defects of the catholics will not heal, after all the catholics had done also a lot of good and is working on healing the wounds. No religion has the whole truth after all, they are as political parties. Let just see the best of each just as Abraham Lincoln "who has the right to criticize, merely who has the heart to help!"
J. Santos Barros, West Hollywood, Ca

My uncle was in one side and my father on the other. None of them really understood politics or played any mayor role in the civil war. MOST people were like my father and uncle. They followed their basic instict and basic needs, such as food, shelter and family security (most people with no knowledge of what is going on would do the same thing today). There were many rights and many wrongs done in the name of being right. It is easy to show who did bad things in any side. There were bad things done in boths sides. What can the new generations (or old ones) accomplish by bringing out rotten thoughts? We have to look forward, not backwards and make sure that at the present time we do not let people push their own agenda and interests at the expense of confronting both sides with past events. Lets the new generations be healthier and more educated, so there cannot be a second civil war in our country.
Antonio Bejarano, Miami. USA

All of my grandparents suffered losses in their respective families during the Civil War, to both Republican and National militias... My own maternal grandmother was forced into the local church next to a dozen other teenage girls by a Republican militia. Held against their will for almost two weeks, they had to witness how their house of worship was desecrated, the militians urinating and defecating on the altar. All girls, -still virgins- were systematically raped and beaten. For the rest of each day, they were forced to serve their torturers as maids. When my grandmother's best friend risked yet another beating by numbly asking " Why are you doing this to us?" she was sneered at, but obtained this answer: " Because you little bitches believe in God"... Spaniards... saw themselves caught up between the two extreme factions that made equal contributions to the horrors of our Civil War and the forthcoming dictatorship which for fourty years smothered people like my father, who was imprisoned for his oposition to the regime, or every woman in my family, who, according to the patriarchal regime's rules, had extremely limited access to gynecological care and zero access to birth control, were not allowed to file complaints for domestic violence by the police, couldn't be seen by a priest without a headscarf on and by law required written permission from their men in order to catch a simple bus out of town, Saudi Arabian style... If religious victims must be beatified, let's make sure to choose those innocent ones who didn't turn their religious beliefs into a political weapon and were not in connivence with fascist Franco. If Franco's victims must be commemorated, let's make sure they didn't belong to extreme, violent communist or anarchist factions of the old Republic... Let's make sure we honour and remember the example of those few who didn't lose their moderation and their democratic convictions in the face of extremism of both types... We can't risk leaving our XXth Century hanging, unresolved, nor transformed into a strictly left-wing-friendly fairy tale as it is currently happening more often than not. A realistic view of our past, thanks to which everyone gets to shoulder their share of the blame, is the only thing that will help its enquisting itself in our present and future.
Laura, Netherlands

Clergy mark the ceremony in St. Peter's

Timeline: Spain
04 Sep 07 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Spain
04 Sep 07 |  Country profiles


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