During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939), the Church was severely persecuted and large numbers of bishops, priests, religious and laity suffered martyrdom. The Claretian Missionaries lost more than two hundred members, as well as ministerial enterprises and property.
Zafra (Badajoz) was in an area controlled by free-wheeling militias, and on March 15, 1936, the front doors of the Claretian seminary were set on fire. To avoid much worse, the Claretian superiors decided to disperse the students to Almendralejo, Don Benito and Ciudad Real, which at least on paper appeared to offer greater security.
By May 4, 1936, eight priests, thirty students and nine brothers had arrived in Ciudad Real, resigned to living in a woefully inadequate residence. Yet, in spite of the hardships, they strove to maintain the normal rhythm of collegial life, anchored in prayer, study and recreation. Of these forty-seven, twenty-seven gave their lives for Christ.
Civil war broke out on July 18, 1936. The Claretians in Ciudad Real realized they were not safe there and, indeed, on July 18, a group of fifteen armed men barged in as the community was eating lunch. The twenty-four Claretians were ordered to leave the premises immediately, but since they had nowhere to go on short notice, they were held under house arrest for several days and threatened at every turn.
All but frantic, the community sought to come up with a safe way to escape.
Finally, after intense negotiation, a few – just eight at first but later fourteen – were guaranteed safe passage to Madrid. On July 28, the group walked to the railway station, wearing secular garb but were recognized, causing some bystanders to call for their deaths. The militia held them inside the terminal until the train arrived, but militias from other areas arrived on their way to Madrid, and a heated discussion ensued regarding the Missionaries. The out of town militias insisted on executing the Missionaries then and there.
Nonetheless, the fourteen seminarians were boarded onto the caboose. Arriving at Fernán Caballero, two militiamen ordered the train to remain in the station. The Missionaries were told to get off the train. “Your trip is over.”
Lined up between the second and third track of the station, the Missionaries were shot and died shouting: “Long live Christ the King. Long live the Heart of Mary!” The other passengers witnessed their martyrdom. Some said they were forced to watch and that among the passengers there were both cries of horror and cheering.
The fourteen Claretian Martyrs who suffered martyrdom at Fernán Caballero are: Tomás Cordero, Claudio López, Ángel López, Primitivo Berrocoso, Antonio Lasa, Vicente Robles, Melecio Pardo, Antonio María Orrego, Otilio del Amo, Cándido Catalán, Ángel Pérez, Abelardo García, Gabriel Barriopedro and Jesús Aníbal Gómez from Colombia.
. Brother Felipe González was also martyred at the entrance to the cemetery of Fernán Caballero on October 2, 1936.
- BETICA. Bulletin of Betica (BBt), t. 5 (1936) and t. 6 (1936).
- GARCIA HERNANDEZ, P., Chronicle of martyrdom, 271 Claretian Missionaries Martyrs 1936-1939, Madrid 2000.
- GUTIERREZ, F., Claretian Martyrs of Sigüenza and Fernan Caballero, Madrid 1999.
- MESA, C. E., Jesus Anibal Gomez, Madrid 1950.
- RIVAS, D., Betica Martyrs, Seville 1948.