Tuesday, 21 April 2020 22:27



The beatification of our MSC Martyrs and 7 indigenous laity from Quiché (Guatemala) was confirmed for December 4, 2020.
msc lay martyrs

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints will be the representative of Pope Francis to preside over the Beatification. The celebration will be held in Santa Cruz de Quiché, Guatemala.

Here are their stories:

It was engendered by poverty, racism, social differences, oppression, corruption, lack of work. It began with demonstrations, turned into confrontations between guerrillas and the army, grew into an "undeclared civil war" and led to a cruel persecution of the Catholic Church in several of the departments. Among them, the department of El Quiché in the west of the Republic of Guatemala suffered the most from this persecution. Not without reason did the bishop-poet Pedro Casaldáliga write:

Put on your wedding clothes,

You, the most martyr of all,

Santa Iglesia de Quiché.

Thousands of Catholics, especially catechists, were killed at that time. It was enough to have a Catholic bible or a rosary or to dedicate oneself to helping others for one to be classified as a guerrilla member, and, therefore a prisoner of death. Among the multitude of those killed for their faith, their living the Gospel, their service to the most needy and for trying to live like Jesus, ten people were chosen to begin their process of beatification. It was an arduous task that took more than 10 years. And we hope that they will not be the last. Three Missionary Priests of the Sacred Heart, pastoral agents of the diocese of Quiché, with seven of their catechists form the initial group of the martyrs of El Quiché.

Pope Francis decreed on January 23, 2020, that these three Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, together with seven of their Mayan catechists from El Quiché, could be counted among the number of the blessed of the Church.

These will be the first of the indigenous races, declared blessed in Central America.

We present some brief aspects of the martyrdom of these our brothers. May their example stimulate us to follow Jesus with ever greater joy and fidelity, revealing to us the love of God, for which these brothers; gave their lives.


The MSC Martyrs

 msc martyrs central america

José María Gran Cirera.

You were warned. They had been told. They told him that he was in danger, that he was being persecuted, that they were looking for him. But, he said that he was in the same danger as the people in the village he served and that; he would not be left alone. A few months earlier he had told his older sister. "What would you think of a friend, if, in the moment of adversity he abandoned you?" And climbing the mountain with his friend and sacristan, Domingo, they were ambushed by the institutional forces of the Republic who shot them in the back and left them abandoned. He was 35 years old, and had only been in Guatemala for about five years, in the department of El Quiché, for "whose people I have taken a special affection and respect”. I thank God for being in Guatemala," he wrote to his family. This young missionary and priest from Catalonia, Jose Maria Gran Cirera, who affirmed that "my work is to make them aware of the true image of God as Father", lived his mission with a joyful and helpful giving of self until the end. It was June 4, 1980 when he fell riddled with bullets in his back.


Faustino Villanueva Villanueva.

The "secret anti-communist force", a hidden and effective paramilitary group, had decided to put an end to him. They were frightened by his action of awareness of human dignity and of the school and catechetical education that he was developing, moved by the Gospel and what this meant for their economic interests. One of his members, who was supposed to be a friend, repented and warned him to leave the municipality as soon as possible. But the Navarrese Faustino Villanueva Villanueva had clear ideas. He had written to his mother: "We cannot leave the people abandoned... the events we are living through, do not stop worrying and frightening us." Faustino was one of those who carried José María Gran's coffin on his shoulders, on his way to the cemetery in Chichicastenango he asked a question: "Who will be next?" And the next one was him, practically a month away. Some men in the evening asked to speak to him and he, being helpful as he was; with one of them he entered his office and a few minutes later a shot was heard and the men fled on a motorbike. The shot shattered his face. It was July 10, 1980. The motorbike was seen in the army barracks in Santa Cruz del Quiché. After a life given to the Indians, he was killed at the age of 49.

Juan Alonso Fernandez.

The commander of the post, told him that "it was disgusting for him to have a priest in front of him, that's why he spat on him, because it made him nauseous to see a priest." The Asturian Juan Alonso Fernandez endured a cruel torture that night. He said that "what they wanted was to kill me and I don't know how, they refrained from doing it, because I feel that they would have better killed me and not done what they did to me. In spite of everything, Juan did not give up. He celebrated the Eucharist in the village and went out to celebrate it in a neighboring village. There they waited for him, kidnapped him, tortured him again and shot him three times in the head. Days before, he had said, taking the crucifix that he always carried in his chest: "I became a priest because of this one, and if I have to die because of this one, here I am". It was February 15, 1981. He was 47 years old.

These three Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, priests at the service of the Diocese of Quiché in Guatemala, lived the spirit of their Congregation and knew how to assume truly number 12 of their Constitutions: "Trusting in the grace of God, we will be ready to give, if necessary, our life for them.


The Lay Martyrs of Quiche


Domingo del Barrio Batz. Born in Ilom in the municipality of Chajul. Father of three children. One of the sacristans of the parish of San Gaspar with the mission of accompanying the priests in their missionary journeys through the extensive parish. He worked as a translator, catechist and empirical nurse in the villages visited. He was the faithful companion of the priests and with Fr. José María Gran he was also their friend. When Fr. José María, warned of a possible attack, advised him to return by a longer route because he had family waiting for him and he loved them, Domingo replied that he would not be separated from him and "if anything happens to us, God willing... if they kill you they will kill me too, because we come together and return together. Don't be sad”. Going up to Xe Ixoq Vitz, on the way to Chajul, he was riddled with bullets by soldiers in an ambush together with Fr. It was June 4, 1980. He was 29 years old.


Tomás Ramírez Caba. He was born in Chajul. Married in second marriage to Rosa Caba. He lived for a time in the Ixcan. For more than twenty years he was the major sacristan of San Gaspar de Chajul. When the parish was left without priests due to the circumstances of the undeclared civil war, he was given the task of taking care of the great colonial temple and its outbuildings. He carried out his duty with constancy, working as a catechist, guiding the prayer of the faithful and working in the cooperative. The military wanted to occupy that space for their warlike interests and they always met with the opposition and strength of Thomas. He stated that "my commitment is to give my life here in the church... if I am killed here I would be happy". He always refused to hand over the keys of the convent and the church. Taking advantage of a gunfight in the village, the soldiers shot him in the back in the courtyard of the church and took over the temple and convent and put their center of operations there. It was September 6, 1980. He was 46 years old.


Nicolás Castro. With a birth certificate registered in Uspantán, he lived in Chicamán. He was a catechist, extraordinary minister of communion, health promoter, and cooperative member. When in that time of war; catholics were forbidden to meet in oratories and chapels, he proposed to meet in the mountains or at night in their houses. He was aware that, in that time of persecution, a special strength was needed that could only be found, in the Eucharist. He would go to San Cristóbal de Alta Verapaz to look for the Blessed Sacrament in the Parish and he would carry it in his backpack, between omelettes, so that his people could receive Communion. This is how he exposed his life on each trip. He was aware that he was going to be killed and did not give up his work. He was violently taken out of his house and in the courtyard of his home he was shot in front of his wife and children. It was September 29, 1980. He was about 35 years old.


 Reyes Us Hernández, also known as Gaspar Us. Born in Macalajau, Uspantán. Leader, committed to social and health development with his people: school, road, cooperative, temple... in every work that the community undertook, he was there as an animator. Catechist and singer. A man in whom faith and works were truly united. "I am threatened by the army and it is probable that they will kill me, but, I am not afraid... I am well committed to the Church and I do not see that this is a crime". At night they went to look for him, he went out to the patio of his house and there they killed him, they shot him in the back and in the head, then they burned his house. It was November 21, 1980.


Juan Barrera Mendez. Bor n August 4, 1967 in Caser ío Potrero Viejo, El Tablón, Zacua lpa. He was one of the few graceful people who enjoyed school. That reality and his religious restlessness led him to accompany the catechists to read the Bible in their meetings and in the assemblies of the communities of Catholic Action. He took advantage of these opportunities to meet with companions of his age, to teach them the Word of God, to pray and to sing. In 1980 his canton was massacred by the army with the now traditional accusation that they were guerrilla members. Days before, in the face of the violence that he heard growing in El Quiché, he organized a prayer group that met at night to pray for peace. This group was accused of being guerrilla members and, action was taken against its participants. The soldiers took Juan for interrogation, tortured him and shot his body. Young Juan "repeated that we should not be afraid, that if we had to die it was for God. The Word of God does not end with death, we must go on. And he repeated again: "I am dying because I am working on the Word of God. I will give my soul in the name of the Lord. He was a little over 12 years old when he died in 1980.


Rosalio Benito. He was one of the first member s of the Catholic Action of Chinique, back in the 1940s. He was illiterate but learned all the prayers for all the circumstances of life and how to sing, thus, becoming a catechist and animator of the community. He took great pains to prepare the celebrations, especially the Eucharist. He was dedicated to his mission, he did not miss the opportunity to be formed by attending courses, even if he had to walk for long hours. He evangelized in the cantons around his own. With the first small group of catechists of Catholic Action, he made a promise of fidelity, until death. With great difficulties encountered in his long life, he fulfilled his promise. At the age of eighty he suffered a cruel death, being tortured and having his body thrown into a water well with other murdered companions. It was July 22, 1982.


Miguel Tiu Imul. He was born in Par r axtut, Sacapulas. He raised a lar ge family that he constantly invited to pray. He was a catechist and a man willing to help others. He told his family; "you should not be afraid of death, because when you tell the truth, people say that you are bad". He always told the truth. He was aware of being persecuted and in fact a few months earlier he had been imprisoned and tortured. At that time, any catholic, who committed himself to reality and denounced injustices, was considered a part of the guerrilla, as in the 60s and 70s they were called communists, because he fed the guerrillas, they said. He did not want to leave the canton. He claimed that "if I die, I die like Jesus. He was not a sinner and people said he was a bad man. I am a sinner. Certainly they announced to him that they were going to kill him, he never mentioned the name of the person who threatened him and said ; "God knows better, that he stays like this". That afternoon he went to see the cornfield where three of his children were keeping it. When he left his house, he was shot in the back. It was 6:30 p.m. on October 31, 1991. He was 50 years old.

Why were they killed? Years later, the UN Commission for Historical Clarification summarized the reason for the savage persecution of the Catholic Church in Guatemala, as follows: "The Catholic Church moved, in a very short time in the recent history of Guatemala, from a conservative position to positions and practices that, based on the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the Medellín Episcopal Conference (1968), prioritized work with the excluded, the poor and the marginalized, promoting the construction of a more just and equitable society. These doctrinal and pastoral changes clashed with the counter-insurgency strategy, which considered Catholics as allies of the guerrillas and, therefore, part of the internal enemy, subject to persecution, death or expulsion". (1999)

Joaquim Herrera, MSC (Province of Central America and Mexico)