Martyrs of Montril

Died 1936

Among those beatified as martyrs by Pope John Paul II are a number of victims of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. The Civil War was a complex struggle. The Nationalists, headed by General Francisco Franco, claimed to be defending the Catholic Church in Spain against the leftist politicians of the new Spanish Republic, but Franco tended to favor the current European trend to a rightist totalitarianism. For all the international confusion about which side was politically correct, there is no question that in the early months of the struggle, thousand of innocent nonpolitical Catholics who looked to Franco for leadership were systematically killed by the Republic’s Popular Front simply out of spite for the Catholic Church. Carefully kept records of Catholic Church people inform us that by the war’s end in 1939, 6832 clerics (two thirds diocesan, one third religious) and 283 nuns had been executed; and thousands more lay Catholics had died, of whom no catalogue could be kept.

In beatifying such martyrs, therefore, the Church, unable to acknowledge all the thousands by name, has wisely chosen to beatify or canonize a few token groups. One such group is the eight Martyrs of Motril, seven Augustinian Recollect friars and one diocesan priest, all of whom were executed in July - August 1936 at seaside Motril in the province of Granada, Spain. Here is their story.

The Augustinians were Fathers Vincente Soler, Deogracias Palacios, Leon Inchausti, Jose Rada, Vincente Pinilla and Julian Moreno, and Brother Jose Ricardo Diez; the diocesan priest was Father Manuel Martin Sierra. As the Pope pointed out in his homily at their beatification on March 7, 1999, most of these men were seasoned missionaries, simple men who had no interest in political debate, but had spent years in social and educational work not only in Spain but in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and the Philippine Islands.

In February 1936, the Popular Front came into power in Spain, and promptly launched an aggressive attack on the Spanish Catholic Church. Some religious orders apparently thought it wisest to take flight elsewhere, leaving their churches and monasteries behind. The Motril friars decided to stay in their monastery and stick with their parish. On May 1, the government forbade further worship in the Augustinian church. A menacing mob of 7000 gathered at the church door. Two days later there was another such demonstration. As the faithful left Mass, the crowd insulted them and threatened them with guns. On July 16 the Motril churches were officially closed, and three days later the celebration of Mass was banned. The whole Augustinian community thereupon took a vow not to abandon their parish.

Early on July 24, five of the community, Fathers Palacios, Inchausti, Rada and Moreno, and Brother Diez were violently seized by gunmen and riddled with bullets. The next day Father Pinilla was machine-gunned at the entrance of the Church of the Divine Shepherdess. He had taken refuge there with the parish priest, Father Sierra. Sierra was also shot down.

Father Vincente Soler had hidden in the home of two young women of the town. But on July 29 he was betrayed and taken captive. Soler led his fellow prisoners in prayers and heard their confessions. Indeed, he even converted one of the socialists, Juan Antinez. On August 15, the feast of the Assumption, 28 prisoners were executed. Father Soler was tenth in the line. He blessed and absolved the first nine, and then laid down his own life.

A martyr, in Catholic tradition, is usually defined as one killed “ex odio fidei” (“out of hatred for the Faith”). That the blood-letting at Mortil was motivated by bitter hostility against the Church is perfectly evident. As early as October 1936, Pope Pius XI declared of the “white- robed army” of victims of the Popular Front, “These are true martyrs.”

--Father Robert F. McNamara