It has been reported in the British Church Newspaper that…… The biggest beatification in the history of the Roman Catholic Church took place on 28 October.
Beatification is the first step to sainthood. The beatified were 498 people whom left wing forces killed during the Spanish Civil War, and whom Rome regards as martyrs.
Shortly before Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the newly beatified Spanish martyrs, a brawl broke out in another part of Rome in front of a church attended by members of Opus Dei, a strongly conservative group. Opus Dei supported Franco's fascists during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s'.
Protesters carrying a reproduction of Picasso's Guernica met worshippers as they left the church. The painting depicts civil war bombing by German aircraft in support of General Franco. It was held aloft outside the basilica of St Eugene, alongside a banner stating, "Those who killed, tortured and exploited cannot be beatified". About 30 worshippers emerging from the church traded insults with the protesters and tore up the reproduction, before police intervened.
In his 28 October prayers Pope Benedict referred to the "heroic witnesses of the faith who, moved exclusively by love for Christ, paid with their blood for their fidelity to him and his church".
Those beatified were killed during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War by supporters of the Spanish republican movement that was opposed by the fascist nationalists led by General Franco. The republicans were strongly anti clerical, and most Spanish church leaders were believed to have supported Franco.
More than 40,000 pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square for the ceremony led by Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, the prefect of the congregation for the causes of the saints.
Some newspapers in Spain and Italy described the latest beatifications as political, because violence and atrocities took place on both sides during the civil war. But, Cardinal Martins said that the beatification of the 498 Spanish martyrs was not "against anybody" but to remember their "witness to Christ".
Some newspaper editorials said that the "beatifications" were an indirect attack on senior Spanish bishops and the present Spanish government of Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero, whose grandfather was executed by General Franco's troops. Zapatero's administration has legalised same sex marriage, supported stem cell research and streamlined divorce proceedings - moves that enjoy considerable support in the traditionally Catholic country.
Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, normally presided at beatification ceremonies but the current Pope, although present at this weekend's event, has apparently decided to preside only when people are canonised. The martyrs were men and women, priests, nuns and laypersons, young and old.
The Spanish civil war broke out in 1936, when General Franco denied the legitimacy of the Republican government which was supported by anarchists, socialists and communists. The war ended in 1939 with victory for Franco, who installed a military dictatorship.
A total of one million people on both sides were killed during the civil war. Republicans killed many Roman Catholics, and blamed the Roman Catholic Church for supporting Franco, while the general's supporters killed many communists and socialists.[ENI]