A Life Offered Up for Abandoned Children
Saturnino López Santidrián*
Father of orphans and poor youth, example of charity, teacher of the marginalized and the infirm. On 15 January 1937, Fr Valentín Palencia Marquina (1871-1937), a diocesan priest, was martyred along with four of his lay collaborators on Mount Tramalón in Ruiloba, Spain. On Saturday morning, 23 April, in the Cathedral of Burgos, his birthplace, the priest and his four companions were beatified by Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, as Pope Francis’ representative.
Fr Palencia Marquina arrived in Cantabria on 13 July 1936. He brought with him children of the St Joseph patronage in order to allow them to spend their days in the fresh air on the beaches of Suances. For some time, the priest had been taking care of orphaned, marginalized and sick children. The Archbishop of Burgos appointed him director, chaplain and professor of the patronage for the education of poor children. The centre accommodated 100 children, 30 or 40 of whom lived in the centre. Civil war broke out within just five days of his arrival in Cantabria. In mid-August he was forbidden to celebrate Mass and to wear a cassock. The chapel of Our Lady of Carmen was closed and he was thus compelled to celebrate in his home. The parish Church was designated as a garage. He spent his days visiting the sick and bringing communion to the nuns.
In early February, a wayward young man — whom Fr Palencia Marquina had welcomed in the patronage — failed to receive a tip (a silver peseta) on account of his selfish behaviour toward his companions. As a result, the young man betrayed the priest to the Popular Front of Suances. When this did not pay off, the youth brought charges against him to the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) of Torrelavega. This time the boy managed to obtain the sought-after result, and a search was carried out in the house where the priest and the children were living. Fr Palencia Marquina asked only that they leave him the Book of Hours, but one of his persecutors contemptuously replied: “This old man has already said all the prayers he needs to say.... Take him away!”.
Fr Valentín, foreseeing that they would return to take him away, told the children: “Always be good and work hard, as I taught you”, and to devote ample time to prayer.
In the silence of his last vigil, as several women recounted, he celebrated the Eucharist and hid a consecrated host in a purificator in order to receive communion when they put him to death. The following day, he and six young men were taken by force to the ‘Casa del Pueblo’. Four of the young men wanted to share in the fate of their teacher, whose ‘crime’ had been celebrating daily Mass, confessing and distributing communion. In their aversion to the faith, the anarchists were not concerned by the fact that the priest was the teacher and protector of orphans. By eliminating him they could earn merits for the revolutionary cause. The priest and his four companions died together, each by a gunshot to the head. They gave their lives for Christ on the evening of 15 January 1937. The other 10 minors who were left abandoned and without food were taken away by a battalion. They were to be sent to Russia, but Luis Labín Besuita, the socialist deputy of Burgos, took an interest in them. He managed to have them sent to France. The municipality of Burgos, upon receiving the news of Fr Valentín’s death in early September, documented in the public record the people’s sentiments regarding the death “of the virtuous priest and apostle of Christian charity”, and in 1941 dedicated a road to him.
Four young men also gave their lives for Christ. Donato Rodríguez García, 25, from Santa Olalla de Valdivielso: this highly intelligent youth afflicted with polio had earned a diploma in piano from the national conservatory. He was an organist, a band leader and maestro. Germán García García, 24, from Villanueva de Argaño, spoke various languages and played the clarinet. Zacarías Cuesta Campo, 20, from Villasidro: proactive and service-oriented, lame in one leg, he too was a musician as was the last of the four, Emilio Huidobro Corrales, 19, from Villaescusa del Butrón.
* Vice-Postulator of the cause
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29 April 2016, page 8
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