Blessed Vicente Soler, priest, and companions, martyrs

In the 1930’s Spain was tearing itself apart. A 3 – year vicious civil war was beginning. The Church was suffering much, especially in areas where communist and anarchist dominance was greatest. The southern province of Granada was such an area and in particular Motril, its second city. Seven Augustinian Recollects, six priests and a brother, as well as one of the diocesan parish priests of the town died martyrs for the faith in July-August, 1936. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II on 7th March, 1999.

In late June 1936 revolutionary militias entered and searched the Augustinian Recollect enclosed convent in Motril but no further damage was suffered. Troops arrived from Granada but their attempt to impose order on the revolutionary mobs was not successful. Chaos and terror reigned in the city of some 22,000 people. The church and monastery of Our Lady of Victory were well known, with a community of six priests and two brothers devoted to chaplaincies and pastoral care especially of the sick and housebound around the city. The community also tried to help the poor and needy of the area and its workers’ night school was well known. As the violence and uncertainty increased so did the worry of the largely elderly community, many of whom had spent most of their lives on the missions in the Philippines and South America. The Prior sent one elderly brother to the local hospital and he would be the only member of the community to survive.

Most of the Recollect community were to die on the morning of 25th July, feast of St James, Patron of Spain. At about 6am a mob invaded the priory and set it on fire. They forced five members of the community onto the street where they shot them in cold blood. They were Fr. Drogracias Palacios, Fr. Jose Rada, Fr Leon Inchausti, Fr. Julian Moreno (nephew of St Ezekiel Moreno), Brother Jose Diaz. The following morning two more martyrs were to die. The mob had come on Fr. Vincent Pinilla and the local parish priest, Fr Manuel Martin, at the parish church. They were forced out and machine-gunned on the steps.

Only Fr Vicente Soler, who had been for a short period Prior General of the Augustinian Recollects in the 1920’s, remained. He was arrested at a friend’s house on 29th July and thrown into the town jail together with a large number of people the revolutionaries wished to eliminate. Fr. Soler was able to minister to his fellow-prisoners, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation, in the coming days. The conversion of a well-known communist who had fallen foul of the dominant leaders made a special impression. On the night before the feast of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, Patroness of Motril, Fr. Soler was one of nineteen prisoners loaded onto a lorry and taken to the wall of the town cemetery to be shot. He had time to give absolution to the others who were about to die and to forgive and bless even his executioners before falling to a hail of bullets by the cemetery wall. The bodies of the martyrs, first thrown in common graves, were later reburied and eventually moved to the chapel at Our Lady of Victories priory.

We end with some words of Pope John Paul II at the beatification of our martyrs: Vincent Soler and Companions did not die for an ideology, but freely gave up their lives for Someone who had already died for them. Thus they returned to Christ the gift that they had received from him. By their faith these simple, peaceful men, detached from any political interests, worked for years in mission territories, suffered a multitude of hardships in the Philippines, watered the fields of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela with the sweat of their labours, and undertook social and educational projects in Motril and other parts of Spain. By their faith, when the supreme moment of martyrdom arrived, they faced death with serene courage, comforting others who were condemned to death and pardoning their executioners. « ‘How is this possible?’ we ask, and St Augustine responds: ‘Because he who reigns in heaven ruled the minds and tongues of the martyrs and through them conquered the world’ (Sermon 329)».