Pope Francis approves decrees for new Italian Saint and two Blesseds from Spain

Pope Francis approves the canonization of the foundress of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit and the beatfication of a priest and a layman murdered in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

Apr 15, 2024

New martyrs of Spanish Civil War to be declared Blessed

By Alessandro De Carolis
Pope Francis met on Saturday morning with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, and approved Decrees highlighting the extraordinary witness to faith show by four individuals. They include an Italian religious who strived to live out her vocation while overcoming immense challenges, two stories of great courage in the lives of two martyred Spaniards during the nation's civil war, and a consecrated woman who chose to remain behind the scenes in working to serve others and settle disputes.

Elena Guerra, soon to be declared a Saint
The first story is that of Elena Guerra, soon to be declared a Saint, who lived between 1835 and 1914. A Tuscan from Lucca, Italy, she was born into a noble family who gave her an education based on Christian values. By her early twenties she showed an interest in community-based experiences. She offered her help to the associations "Little Garden of Mary" and then to "Spiritual Friendships," two lay women's groups offering spiritual guidance to young women. During a visit to Rome with her father, she drew inspiration after seeing Pope Pius IX and decided to enter religious life. Her family was not in favour of her choice, but she did not give up, embarking on form of religious life that became the foundation of the Congregation of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit. Later known as the “Sisters of Saint Zita” and founded by her in 1882, the sisters focused on the cultural and religious education of youth. The final years of the Blessed's life were marked by misunderstandings with some sisters, who accused her of mismanagement, so much so that, Elena, elderly and ill, decided to leave her duties as superior. Pope John XXIII proclaimed her Blessed in 1959.

The martyrs of Spain
The Decrees approved on Saturday morning also concern the stories of two future blesseds, who like so many during the Spanish Civil War like openly and consistently challenged the anti-Christian hatred and the ferocious persecution by the republican faction militias. They martyrs included a diocesan priest, Gaetano Clausellas Ballvé, born in 1863, originally from Sabadell, Spain, and a layman with a family, Antonio Tort Reixachs, born in 1895 near Barcelona. Both were killed in 1936. The former, chaplain of a facility for the elderly, was taken by militiamen on 14 August 1936 and shot in the back at dawn the next day. The layman, a father of 11 children, was very devoted to the Eucharist and Blessed Mother, and sheltered religious people in his home. After armed gunmen ransacked his home and defaced sacred images during a raid, he was tortured in a convent turned into a prison and then shot on the night of 3-4 December near the Montcada cemetery.

From Puglia to Rome
The Decrees approved by the Pope also recognize the heroic virtues of Servant of God, Teresa Lanfranco (born Annunziata Addolorata), a contemporary Apulian from Gallipoli, who died at the age of 69 in Rome in 1989. Hers was a modest family interwoven with Christian values that prepared her for a life-changing encounter in 1937 when she met Blessed Elisa Martinez who had recently founded an institute of religious life dedicated to the parish apostolate and the formation of young women. Teresa joined the community in Botrugno, in the Lecce area, becoming a faithful collaborator of the foundress. After World War II, she moved with her novitiate to the General House in Rome, and within the community she steadfastly carried out peacemaking and mediation work, especially in the 1960s as the Institute experienced a serious internal crisis due to the rebellion of some sisters. In 1987 Blessed Elisa Martinez left the post of superior general for health reasons. Teresa, chosen in her place, did not accept, preferring to remain vicar of the newly elected superior general. In addition to the Blessed Virgin, she was bound by a special devotion to St. Joseph, whom she considered the Saint of Providence and to whom she constantly entrusted herself.--Vatican News

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