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In giving forgiveness

24/10/2007: Spain

In reading the memoirs of the surviving Marist Brothers from the Cabo San Agustín, a boat seized and anchored in the port of Barcelona, the references that they made to Aurelio Fernández, one of the leaders of the Iberian Anarchist Federation, have always attracted my attention. It was he who intervened in a fundamental manner in the negotiations that the Institute of the Marist Brothers made with this anarchist organisation to allow the students and the brothers who found themselves in the zone of the republicans to move to France.

The brothers are very sober in their information. Before the delegated Judge, in the process of instruction of the cause of forty-six servants of God, the witnesses who provide some details about this affair are rare. The Marist historians themselves – who have described the anarchist atmosphere of Barcelona in 1936 – have not given very much information about him.

My desire to know the man who was named Aurelio Fernández pushed me to do some research on the life of this famous anarchist. I knew in which school he was formed: I knew his correspondence during the years of the Republic and the civil war; and I knew that, at the end, he was exiled to Mexico. I also knew that he resided for a long time in the Mexican city of Puebla.

Taking advantage of an opportunity that was offered to me by the Provincial of Catalonia – Brother Emili Turú – to go to Mexico, I used my time in Guadalajara and Mexico City to interview exiled Spaniards residing in the two cities. Some of them had known Aurelio Fernández, but no one could tell me his pied-à-terre.

I then contacted the Spanish embassy and explained my reasons for my visit to the official. He telephoned the Spanish Consul in Puebla and, surprise, it happened that Aurelio Fernández and he were old acquaintances. The Consul told me that he had already died but that Violeta, his companion, was still alive. He gave me her address and her telephone number. With this information I contacted her and she very amiably said that she would receive me at her house with pleasure.

A former student from Mexico accompanied me to Puebla. Towards ten o’clock in the morning, we were received by Violeta. At the start, it was with mistrust and astonishment. But when I explained to her the reasons for my visit and when I said I had come from Barcelona – a city very dear to her as she had lived a good part of her life there – it was easy for both of us to enter into a frank conversation. She told me about the life of the anarchists in Barcelona; their adventures and struggles for the working class; the reprisals against the fascists, the priests and the monks. The interview was long and moving. Her memories reminded me about all that I had read about the brothers, victims of the hatred that these people kept in their heart against the Church and all that concerned it. I thought about Brothers Laurentino, Virgilio, Andres, Atanasio, Epifanio and so many others; in their fraternal love and in their innocence; in the many memories that the documents of the surviving Marists had given me, when they were transferred to San Elías in buses. I remembered their silence in the concentration halls; their prayers; their forgiveness of those who had betrayed them, those whom we also wanted to forgive and do forgive. I took notes, trying to pass on all these memories that came to my mind as these good brothers would have done.

Our whole conversation was very cordial. When we finished speaking, I invited Violeta to share a meal with us in a restaurant but she excused herself explaining that she had a cold, something that was quite obvious. Without wanting to embarrass her, I gave her a gift that I had bought for her. I explained that this was proof of the Christian forgiveness of these one hundred and seven brothers who had been betrayed by Aurelio Fernández and especially of the forty-six who were murdered in the cemetery of Montcada (Barcelona) during the night of the 8th October 1936. With the same aim in mind, I wanted to give her a kiss on the cheek, a symbol of the forgiveness of all the Marist Brothers who had been betrayed by Aurelio Fernández, the companion of Violeta.

Brother Mariano Santamaría, Vice-Postulator

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