Friday, May 25, 2012

The Worthy Son Of Dominic

When it comes to the atrocities committed during the Spanish Civil War, defenders of the Republicans always cite the murder of poet and dramatist Fredrico Garcia Lorca as an unforgivable crime.  The brutal murder of such a cultured man, we are told, just shows how evil and philistine the Nationalists really were.  The killing of innocents regardless of who they are is always wrong, and in killing Lorca, the Nationalists murdered one of the world's greatest artists.  Lorca was not an innocent, though, he was firmly in the Republican camp and was using his position to push the new regime's agenda - so he was politically involved.  It is still not a reason to murder the poor man.  Warren Carroll in his book, The Last Crusade maintains that General Franco did not give the orders to kill Lorca - he was not even aware of the execution until later, and when he found out he disciplined the ones responsible.  I'm sure historians and literary critics will argue that one out for years.

But Carroll also points out that as the defenders of the Republican cause lament the killing of a renowned man of letters by the Nationalists as an act of cultural desecration (my phrase), he points out that the Republicans themselves killed renowned and famous people in their rage against the Catholic faith.  I am by no means defending the killing of Lorca by referring to the killing of other notables, atrocities were committed by both sides, but we do need to recognise that the murdering of eminent figures occurred on both sides.

Among the notable figures murdered by the Republicans, and since beatified, was Fr Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, the former Master General of the Dominican Order (the Superior General).  For those who are not au fait with Catholicism, the Master of the Dominicans is a very important position in the Church and he can be highly influential. 

Fr Buenaventura was born in Castanedo de Valdes in Asturias in the north of Spain on the 19th April 1866, and baptised the same day.  His parents Serapio and Maria were very pious and brought their children up in the Catholic faith, passing on not only their knowledge but their practice of prayer and an example of faith and trust in God.  Their children were impressed by this example and Buenaventura's older brother became a priest. As a child, Buenaventura helped his father herd sheep while attending to other duties, including his schooling.  Like his elder brother he discerned a vocation to the priesthood, but within the Dominican Order.

He spent two years at the Dominican Apostolic School in Corias, and while his teachers felt he was ready to enter novitiate, the superior thought his health was little too precarious at the time to receive him, and so he was sent home.   When he recovered his health, he entered the Order in another province, in Ocana, Toledo. He made his first profession in 1884, Solemn Profession in 1887 and was ordained priest on the 25th July 1891, the Feast of St James.  He continued his studies and in 1897 he was awarded a doctorate in Philosophy, and the following year a doctorate in Civil Law.

In 1899 he was sent to the Philippines, where he took up a position in the University of St Tomas in Manila and wrote for and eventually edited Libertas, a Catholic daily newspaper. In 1901 he was elected the Coventual Prior of the Royal Monastery of St Tomas in Avila, and so he returned to Spain.  He continued his academic work, publishing a number of important books, including studies of the pontificate of Leo XIII.  He founded the College of Santa Maria de Nieve in Segovia, and in 1910 he was elected the Prior of St Dominic's in Ocana.  In this capacity he had to attend the Provincial Chapter in Manila, and there he was elected the Prior Provincial of the Holy Rosary Province, a Province that spanned a large part of Spain and parts of Asia: it was the biggest province in the Order at the time. 

As Provincial Fr Buenaventura was zealous for the renewal of a missionary spirit, travelling a great deal between Europe and Asia meeting the friars and nuns, establishing new provinces in the east, and in Spain re-establishing the old province of Aragon whose territory had been incorporated into Holy Rosary. He began the building of an extension to the University of St Tomas in Manila, set up an important Dominican journal promoting the teachings and spirituality of St Dominic, and extended the province into new territory in the US.  He stepped down in 1917 and was sent to found a new Priory in Madrid, and serve as Prior.

In 1926, at the Order's General Chapter, held that year in Ocana, Fr Buenaventura was elected the Master of the Order.  When news of the election came to him he was stunned.  Brought before the Chapter to formally accept, he fell to the ground and with tears in his eyes begged to be freed of the office - he was not capable of the onerous duties the position required.  The Prior Provincial of Spain, Fr Luis Alonso Getino, told him to trust in divine providence and asked him to accept.  He did so and took the oath of office.

Moving to Rome, Fr Buenaventura spent the next two and half years working tirelessly in the service of the Order.  Coupled with his official and ceremonial functions, he led a renewal of the Order, renewing the Constitutions of the nuns, visited many countries, tried to help and support the Dominicans in Mexico during the persecutions there and restored the Polish province of St Hyacinth.  It was Fr Buenaventura who re-situated the Angelicum University to its present site in Rome, the former convent of Sts Dominic and Sixtus.  His health, however, was not good, and so on the 30th March 1929 he resigned as Master and returned to Ocana.  There is evidence which suggests that his health was not the only reason for his resignation, but rather his failure, in the eyes of officials in the Curia and perhaps even the Pope, to deal with politically motivated friars in France - he took too long, it seems, to investigate them.

He was in the Priory of Ocana when the Civil War broke out, and the community was attacked on the 19th July 1936.  Fr Buenaventura had managed to get out the night before, and found refuge with a friend, Pedro Errazquin.  It was suggested he go to the Philippines, but he said he needed Rome's permission to do so.  He was given permission and he applied for a passport, but it was refused because he was a religious. 

At the end of July his friend Pedro was arrested and shot.  Fr Buenaventura fled to the another refuge, the Pension House, where he ministered to a small community of residences there.  His last days were spent in prayer and reflection awaiting, he must have known by then, his death.  On the 11th August the militia had found out where he was and arrived to arrest him.  He was taken to prison, a checa (the prisons Republicans established in various buildings).  The next day he was taken out and shot as he clutched his rosary and his brievary, his body was buried in the cemetery of Fuencarral.

In 1940 his remains were transferred to the crypt of the Holy Rosary Church in Madrid, and then in 1967 to the chapel of the Monastery of St Tomas in Avila.  He was beatified in 2007.  Blessed Buenaventura was not only honoured as a martyr within the Dominican Order, but the obvious holiness of his life had been acknowledged by many even in his lifetime.  His martyrdom crowned a life of heroic virtue and renown as a scholar and superior.

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