I have been doing a little research on some of our new Beati - the martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. Some of us Discalced Seculars joined up with some Daughters of Charity for a Mass of Thanksgiving on Monday evening, so I was swotting in preparation.
As you know 522 people were raised to the altars on Sunday (not without the usual controversy from secular sources) and while we applaud the beatification of such a large number, we cannot forget that 522 individuals were glorified for their individual witness to Christ and the Gospel. Lest we get distracted by such a great crowd of witnesses, it is good for us to learn about the individual stories, the individual heroism, the individual overcoming the fear of death and generously offering his or her life for love of Christ and his Church.
Today I would like to share with you the life story of one of our Discalced martyrs, Blessed Angel of St Joseph. My American readers may be happy to hear that Angel lived in the US for a few years, in Tucson, Arizona. His life is very interesting and offers inspiration not only to those who struggling for faith in an age of disbelief, but also for those who may be battling with personal problems, particularly personality problems.
Blessed Angel was born Juan Fort Ruis in Espulga de Francoli near Tarragona in Catalonia, Spain, on the 20th October 1896. He was the only child of his parents, and shortly after his birth his father abandoned his wife and the new-born. He had a difficult childhood and various personality problems emerged as he grew up. He was restless, impulsive and inconsistent and these traits remained with him throughout his life making that life very difficult for him and for others. That said he was not a bad child, he possessed a profound goodness and a tremendous generosity for others. These virtues endeared him to others and allowed them to endure his personal difficulties.
Juan trained as a baker from an early age but following visits to the Carmelites in Tarragona he began to discern a religious vocation. When he was twenty-two he entered the Discalced and began formation as a Brother taking the name Br Angel of St Joseph. In 1916 he was sent to the United States to work in the parish of Santa Cruz in Tucson, Arizona. While there he made his first profession in 1921 and his Solemn Profession in 1924.
While in Santa Cruz he found he had a charism for working with young people, and so he made time to minister to them in midst of his other duties. He formed a youth group under the patronage of St Joseph, built a hall for them use for their meetings and founded an annual magazine for them. These years were very happy ones for Angel. In 1934 he returned to Spain, assigned to serve as porter in the monastery in Tarragona. He threw himself into his duties and was soon known throughout the city for his joy and enthusiasm. Everyone knew Br Angel and he was held in high regard - a fame which would actually cost him his life.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936 the Prior of the community took the decision to abandon the monastery and hide the friars in various locations throughout the city. Angel was safely hidden in a warehouse. However, given his restless nature and his sense of duty to the community, Angel could not sit still, he had to be out doing something, helping someone. Blessed Fr Vicente of the Cross, a priest of the community, had found refuge with a member of the Secular Order, and on the 25th July Angel made his way to the house with news that the militia were to carry out a house inspection. Unfortunately, though in lay clothes, Angel was well known in the city, and so he came to the attention of a patrol and they were spying on him and following him every time he left the warehouse. On that visit to Fr Vicente he was under surveillance, and as soon as he arrived at the house, the patrol apprehended both friars. Angel and Fr Vicente were taken to the headquarters of the Workers Party of Marxist Unity. It was decided that the friars should be transferred to a prison ship. On the day of the transfer, however, the 31st July, the hatred of their captors was too much to be contained and so as the two were being led to prison they were taken under a railway bridge and shot. Their bodies lay for three days before being found and buried in a common grave.
Angel struggled with his personal demons but did so in the context of his faith and of his sense of duty to his brothers in the Order and the young people he served. A true son of St Teresa he found the humble place, the place of simple service, and he found joy there. His death was tragic and some may say that his restless nature, his impetuousness, led to his martyrdom. However it was also his fame - he was well known as porter of the monastery, and well loved among the faithful. Like Christ he could not hide from those who hated him and like the Lord he embraced the sacrifice that was awaiting him. Among the many lessons we can learn from Blessed Angel one of them must be this: that we cannot run away from being known to be Christian, we cannot hide, nor seek to slip into the crowd and remain anonymous so we can be left alone to live our lives privately. We cannot try to hide our faith by surrendering to the values of the world, we must stand apart, we must be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and as Jesus said, a light cannot be hidden, it must be seen in order to dispel the darkness.