TARRAGONA, Spain (CNS) — A Vatican official moved more than 500 Spanish Civil War martyrs closer to sainthood during a special beatification Mass in Tarragona, the archdiocese that suffered most under “the Red Terror.”

An estimated 20,000 people from throughout Spain as well as small contingents from Portugal and France attended a special outdoor Mass Oct. 13 celebrating the beatification of 522 members of Catholic religious orders as well as laypeople.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, celebrated the Mass. Archbishop Jaume Pujol Balcells of Tarragona and Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid concelebrated.


The ceremony was held in Tarragona because nearly 150 people, including Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Borras Farre, and 66 diocesan priests, were murdered there during the war. Many of those who attended the Mass did not have a direct connection to those being beatified.

“This is a very special occasion in the history of the church in Spain,” said Josep Maria Ibanez, 49, a resident of Sitges. “If you are Catholic, it is important to be here to show your support for the church and for those who were killed for their faith.”

The altar was set up on a massive stage at the educational complex of Tarragona, not far from the city’s port facilities. In a televised message, Pope Francis urged those in attendance to join “from the heart” in the celebration to proclaim the beatified martyrs. The pope said those martyrs were “Christians won over by Christ, disciples who have understood fully the path to that ‘love to the extreme limit’ that led Jesus to the Cross.”

He noted that popes always tell people, “Imitate the martyrs.”

“It is always necessary to die a little in order to come out of ourselves, to leave behind our selfishness, our comfort, our laziness, our sadness, and to open ourselves to God, and to others, especially those most in need,” he said.

Cardinal Amato added that “Spain is a land blessed by the blood of martyrs,” given that more than 1,000 Spaniards have been beatified, a step toward canonization.

Spain was in a state of chaos throughout most of the 1930s, beginning with the exile of King Alfonso XIII in 1931. Anti-Catholic leftists, communists and anarchists were prominent in the government and began a wave of terror by burning churches in Madrid and Andalusia. That was followed by the murders of 37 priests, brothers and seminarians in the small mining town in Asturias in 1934. When nationalist forces tried to seize control of the country the civil war continued until 1939, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands on both sides, including several thousand more members of the clergy.