Blessed Anselm Polanco
Anselm Polanco, Bishop of Teruel, died, shot by Republican forces, in the closing days of the bitter Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.
Born the son of simple but deeply religious farm labourers in Buenavista de Baldavia, Palenecia on 16th April 1881 Anselm professed as an Augustinian in Valladolid in 1897 and was ordained priest in 1904. He later taught theology in the Order’s seminary, becoming Prior in 1922 and Provincial in 1932. He travelled extensively, especially in mission territories, visiting the Philippines, China, Colombia, Peru and the United States. He was noted for his personal austerity and deep prayer life.
While Provincial Anselm Polanco was named Bishop of Teruel in north-eastern Spain in 1935 and took possession of his diocese in October of that year as the clouds of unrest, hatred and atrocity darkened over Spain in the lead-up to the Civil War. Despite many warnings and opportunities to escape Bishop Polanco saw his duty to remain among his people to the end, providing what encouragement and comfort he could. Even when the Republican Army overran Ternuel in 1938 the Bishop stayed with his flock and refused to cooperate with anything he saw to be against the interests of the Church.
Carted away and imprisioned, first in Valencia, then in Barcelona, Bishop Polanco was to spend over a year in very harsh and humiliating captivity as the defeated Republican side became more and more desperate and ill-disciplined in the final months of the war. At one stage he and his fellow-prisoners were in effect used as human shields by the retreating soldiers. He came under particular pressure to withdraw his signature from the collective letter of the Spanish Hierarchy detailing and condemning the bloody persecution of the Church in Republican Spain.
In early 1939, with the Catalan area gradually coming under Nationalist control and Republican forces retreating towards the French border, ill discipline, vengeance and atrocity were more and more the order of the day. Bishop Polanco and his fellow-prisoners were moved from place to place in trucks, trains and on foot in extremely cold and wet winter weather.
Eventually a detachment of soldiers armed with machineguns arrived by lorry and took control of the prisoners. They were tied two by two by the wrist and loaded onto the lorry which made three trips up a mountain road. The prisoners were then forced to climb along a ravine before being riddled with machinegun volleys from behind. The bodies were dragged to the bottom of the ravine, doused in petrol and burned. With Bishop Polanco on that 7th February 1939, near Figueras, Gerona 41 other prisoners, including his Vicar-General in the diocese of Teruel, Felipe Ripoll, died in this barbaric fashion. Such was the climate of hate and revenge, especially against the Church, in that terrible Civil War. Such was the faith, courage and fidelity of these 20th century martyrs. Anselm Polanco, Augustinian Bishop of Teruel, was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 1st October 1995. His remains lie in his cathedral in Teruel. The Augustinian family celebrate his memorial on 7th February.
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