HomeDocumentationHistorical NotesWhat was Father Josemaria Escriva’s attitude towards the Second Spanish Republic?
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Historical Notes

What was Father Josemaria Escriva’s attitude towards the Second Spanish Republic?

Tags: Spanish Civil War, History, Freedom, Politics
Like many other people in Spain at the time, Father Josemaria initially had high hopes of the Second Spanish Republic, because it seemed to offer a remedy for the serious social problems of the day. However, also like many others, he was soon disillusioned as the new government passed a succession of vigorous anti-religious laws.

After many churches were torched by mobs on May 11, 1931, Father Josemaria wrote in his personal notes, “The persecution has begun. On Monday the 11th, accompanied by Don Manuel Romeo, after dressing up as a layman in one of Colo’s suits, I consumed the large host for the monstrance, and then, with a ciborium filled with consecrated hosts and wrapped in a cassock and paper, we left the Foundation, through a back door, like thieves. (…) That night and the nights of the 12th and 16th (the 16th because of a false alarm on the part of the religious sisters), I kept our Lord in Pepito’s house” (Personal note no. 202, May 20, 1931, partly quoted in Vazquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei vol. 1 chapter 6, p. 270).

On May 13, because the Foundation for the Sick was being threatened, he moved with his mother, sister and brother to a nearby apartment at 22 Viriato Street. “On the 13th we heard that they were planning to burn down the Foundation. So at four o’clock that afternoon we went, with our belongings, to 22 Viriato Street, to a run-down apartment – one with no windows facing the street – that by God’s providence I found” (ibid.).

His approach is shown in a letter he wrote to Isidoro Zorzano, then living in Malaga, on May 5, 1931: “As well as insisting that he should not abandon his mental prayer or Holy Communion, and that he should go to confession regularly to the same priest, he referred to the new situation in the country. Opus Dei, [Father Josemaria] said, had no political preferences, and each member, as long as they lived up to their Christian vocation, formed their personal opinions in all freedom. ‘Don’t get worked up over political changes; all that should matter to you is that they do not offend God. Make reparation’.” (A. Vazquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. 1, p. 268.)

At a time when every current of thought and political opinion was quickly taken to extremes, Father Josemaria maintained his serenity and acted as a priest one hundred per cent. He saw how the normal daily give-and-take was degenerating into hatred, resentment and desire for revenge, and he gave this advice to his followers as a rule for the way they should treat everybody: “Pray, forgive, understand, excuse.” It was something he practised and taught throughout his life.

One of the people who learned from him was Vicente Hernando Bocos, who later put his testimony on record: “That was a period of several years of harsh, violent political conflict. Father Josemaria used to tell us, ‘We have to be tenacious and constant in what we stand by, but without wounding anyone.’ And I would tell him, ‘I’m not convinced by what you say. What I want is for people to make a stand and fight their corner.’ Father Josemaria never discriminated against anyone because of their political or social opinions. He respected everyone’s personal freedom in everything.”

Father Josemaria was not in favour of violence, and often said, “I don’t think violence is the right way to win anything or to convince anyone.” And he always tried to teach those whom he accompanied in their spiritual lives to sow peace and harmony around them. Not all of them followed his advice.

Two instances stand out. In August 1932 three university students he knew, Adolfo Gomez Ruiz, Jose Antonio Palacios Lopez and Jose Manuel Domenich de Ibarra, were imprisoned in Madrid’s “Model Prison” for having taken part in an attempted Monarchist military coup. Jose Manuel had often gone with Father Josemaria to help him visit and look after the sick who were lying uncared-for in the General Hospital. In spite of the hostility to priests which was evident in the prison, Father Josemaria went to visit them there and offer them spiritual assistance. Even in their situation he continued urging them to treat their fellow-prisoners well, understand them and forgive everyone. As usual, he refrained from making any judgmental comments about current events, politics or factions, conscious that his mission as a priest was to have his arms open to everyone to bring them to God. A number of anarchists were imprisoned together with his three student friends, and Father Josemaria asked them to treat the anarchists (their political opponents) with respect and understanding. They told him they sometimes played football in the prison exercise-yard – in their respective teams, obviously. When he heard this, Father Josemaria explained how charity made something different “obvious”: he advised them to play in mixed teams to foster respect, forgiveness and mutual understanding. They took his advice and, to their surprise, they found it worked.

Another significant example was that of Alberto Ortega Arranz. He was one of the many students who came to Father Josemaria for spiritual guidance, without belonging to Opus Dei. In their conversations, Father Josemaria spoke to him, as he did to everyone who asked his advice, about the need to sow peace and harmony, regardless of their political loyalties. Ortega lived in the Ferraz Street hall of residence, which was run by people of Opus Dei. He was a Falange activist, and on March 13, 1936, he took part in a failed attack on a leading member of the Socialist party, Luis Jimenez de Asua. One of Asua’s guards was killed in the attack. When the police came to the students’ residence to arrest Ortega, he asked for and was given permission to go to confession to Father Josemaria first. Ortega was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment and sent to El Dueso prison in Cantabria. He remained in prison until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War four months later, when he was thrown into the sea with a rock tied to him.