Controversy surrounds beatification of 'martyrs'
29 October 2007, Vatican City - (dpa) - The Vatican in a move which has provoked controversy in Spain, on Sunday beatified 498 Catholics killed by anti-clerical leftists during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.
29 October 2007
Vatican City - (dpa) - The Vatican in a move which has provoked controversy in Spain, on Sunday beatified 498 Catholics killed by anti-clerical leftists during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.
The ceremony in St Peter's Square marked the largest mass beatification - the first step towards sainthood - in church history and was presided over by Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Pope Benedict XVI who appeared for his weekly Angelus blessing shortly after the ceremony ended, greeted the tens of thousands of Spanish pilgrims who were present in the square and praised as "martyrs" the 498.
"They were in fact men and women, different in age, vocation and social condition, who paid with their lives their loyalty to Christ and his Church," Benedict XVI said of the group which included two bishops, many priests and nuns, as well as lay men and women.
His words prompted cheers while many also waved red-and-yellow Spanish flags.
Earlier during the beatification ceremony a huge tapestry banner decorated with a red flaming cross and a backdrop consisting of portraits of the 498 was unveiled from St Peter's Basilica's main balcony.
Sunday's sombre proceedings were in marked contrast to some of the heated debate surrounding the event.
Leftist media in Spain claim that the beatification ceremony was timed to take place just days ahead of a parliamentary vote on a bill condemning the repressive policies of General Francisco Franco, whose right-wing uprising against the secular, elected republic sparked the Spanish Civil War.
Franco then ruled for 36 years as dictator, largely with the backing of Spain's Catholic Church.
Spain's Catholic hierarchy has never heeded calls to apologize for supporting Franco, whose rise was supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, and who ruled the country with an iron fist until his death in 1975.
The so-called Law of Historic Memory proposed by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government is the first major attempt to rectify injustices committed by Franco.
The law aims at rehabilitating the memory of tens of thousands of Franco's forgotten victims through measures such as declaring their summary executions illegitimate, or exhuming their remains from mass graves.
It also proposes the removal of all the remaining symbols paying tribute to the Franco regime in Spain where numerous churches display slabs honouring "those killed by the Marxist revolution" or "those who fell for Spain and God."
If the bill is passed, Spanish churches will have to eliminate all symbols praising Franco or condemning his secular republican foes, otherwise they risk losing millions of euros in state subsidies.
Church officials have denied any link between the bill, which they oppose, and Sunday's beatification of the 498 who represent some of the thousands of Catholics killed by anti-clerical, pro-republic leftists, who also ransacked and burned monastries and churches.
The church officials say Sunday's ceremony follows Benedict's approval of a decree for the beatification which was only signed two months ago. dpa pwm wjh
Subject: Spanish news