I daresay like many of my readers, yesterday I was enthralled by news coverage of the events taking place in Libya; to the point that, I must confess, I did not follow up on World Youth Day news until this morning. Despite what news outlets describe as a combination of temperatures around 104F/40C and some terrible wind, rain, and lighting storms (which in fact pretty well describes Washington’s weather this weekend), the final mass of the celebration still managed to attract somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million people. Now that people are returning home, or getting back to normal, I am looking forward to hearing tell of what my family and friends saw and experienced, and their reflections.
I am particularly looking forward to hearing about what sort of verbal oil of vitriol was thrown in their faces while they were in Madrid. I have already complained in these pages about the exaggerated amount of press coverage given to the anti-Catholic protestors who gathered in the Plaza del Sol and elsewhere in the Spanish capital. And Thom Peters over at American Papist has also reflected on some of the photographs of the viciousness which leftists turned on the pilgrims last week, one of which I reproduce below. It is as dramatic an image as an altarpiece showing the early martyrs about to be condemned by the pagans.
What has been most impressive however, as is always the case with the World Youth Day events, is how it is the young who continue to surprise us, with their willingness to provide public testament to their belief in Christ and His Church, even in the face of a horrible, spitting viciousness. Let not the reader be convinced, however, that more than merely shouting at Christians is impossible in the modern world. To that end I draw your attention to the life of Barcelona native Mercè Diéguez i Foguet, who was the subject of a very interesting blog post I stumbled across today. As a teacher of young people, I am certain that those who learned of their teacher’s fate must have been deeply affected by what happened to her.
Mercè was the eldest of three, living with and caring for her brother and sister in her apartment near the monastic church of Sant Pere de les Puel.les; she was well-known in the neighborhood for teaching what today we would call CCD. In July 1936, when the left began actively persecuting the Church in Barcelona, the vicar of the famous Sagrada Familia had to flee, was taken in by the family, and kept hidden. About a month later, in August 1936, the family witnessed seven Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, who had been hiding in the apartment of one of their neighbors down the street, being dragged away by the leftists; the monks were subsequently executed. Then in September 1936, it was Mercè’s turn.
The leftists arrived at the apartment to find Mercè, her sister, and the priest from the Sagrada Familia. They waited for Mercè’s brother to return home, arrested Mercè, her brother, and the priest, and took them off to jail, leaving their other sister behind. All three prisoners were executed about 2-3 days later. The priest was executed for being a priest; the brother, as the one who agreed to take in the priest and hide him; and Mercè for being a CCD teacher. Indeed, when their sister who was ultimately left behind offered herself in Mercè’s place, the leftists responded that they did not want her, they wanted the catechism teacher.
It is interesting to note that a middle-aged, parochial religion teacher was considered to be so dangerous by the leftist powers ruling Spain at the time as to warrant her death. Perhaps it was because, as an instructor of young people, she was seen as someone who was a threat to the future of their regime. Kill the teacher, and the flock of students who are as yet not fully-formed adults will no longer know what to do, and will therefore be more easily controlled.
One wonders what such forces as brought about Mercè’s death would have done to people like Catholic bloggers and podcasters. Fortunately, at the present time shouting is about all those opposed to the Church can do. Though with the passage of laws that chip away at the Church’s moral teachings and the freedom of Christians to practice their religion, it is not unreasonable to fear that more than mere discord will be confronted by the young people in this photograph when they themselves reach middle age.
How very easy it is to fall into a kind of atrophied Christianity in the modern world, where we do not have to worship in catacombs, or make secret symbols to one another in order to recognize our fellow Christians. When we do not have to suffer a bit for something, we tend to want and appreciate it less. And many Christians themselves have not been doing such a spectacular job in the past several decades to actually find themselves taking a stand for Christ’s teachings, in part because I fear there have not been enough good teachers of catechetics like Mercè.
This is one of the reasons why World Youth Day comes as such a shock not only to the news media, but also to many Christians themselves, whose spark of faith has either burned down very low, or even died out a long time ago. There are people out there – young people – who are quite literally willing to drop to their knees and witness publicly to their Faith, in the face of those who despise them. Let us hope that a little bit of their faith and courage will rub off on all of us, particularly for those who have adopted a lazy, fat, and conflict-free sort of Christianity.