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A. Climate in Spain.

Fernando Urbina [6] defines ecclesiastic life in the period between 1939 and 1950 as a time the main characteristic of which was an attempt towards total religious restoration. He describes dominant religious forms and pastoral forms as we summarize below.

Within the dominant religious forms he distinguishes between what he describes as "forms of popular religious practices" and "practices of personal religiousness".

As for the forms of popular religious practices he embraces A A ORENSANZ's thesis[7] according to which the popular missions are the most appropriate model for interpreting the religiousness of this period.

Other forms of mass popular religious practices would be: the restoration of images and traditional celebrations, the repeated personal offerings to the hearts of Jesus and Mary by dioceses and cities and finally, the popular religious effect produced by the solemn parade of the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  

These elements of popular religious practices are interrelated and converge in a search for an "orthodox" religious restoration following the archetype that the 16th and 17th centuries may offer. Processions, pilgrimage excursions, sanctuaries, brotherhoods and popular missions are set up around the images, with religious visions being excessively centred on the four last things.

On the other hand, the presence of figures of authority and high-ranking persons consolidates the political and religious significance of these events and implies the unity of an integral restoration project that would embrace the social structure as a whole and convey a sacred significance.

Within all this is a clear repetition of the pastoral approach during the Counter-Reformation period, with its emotional and triumphant integration of popular religious practices within the pastoral moulds of the missions, public devotion, and parochial worship, and its somewhat magnificent project to recover - even by force - the totalitarian myth of "Christianity", as a complete and sacred area of social life. Only that this attempt to repeat the pastoral models of the Counter-Reformation period, and its "classical" spiritualism, will fail because of the clear anachronism of the historic context. One cannot repeat now the forms that were valid in the Counter-Reformation period, within an agrarian and incipient trading capitalist context, that the modern world and its forces were developing fast, in this case, the industrial and technical capitalism which came about since the 1950's[8].

In his conclusion to the section in which he analyses the forms of popular religiousness, Urbina clarifies and also emphasises the positive aspect of this type of religiousness, affirming that particularly the most traditional one contains human, cultural and religious values which must not be despised. The negative aspects of the historic moment that we are studying are not so much the "content" of many of these popular traditions but the "way" in which they were then reactivated in a triumphant context, supported by a confusion in the period at an ecclesiastic and state level, added to a more serious and profound approach towards of evangelization and faith education, and being more realistic and respectful of the condition of a people just emerging from a terrible civil war[9].

As regards the forms of personal religiousness, we distinguish, according to Urbina two which may provide a full summary of the period we discuss: Catholic Action and Spiritual Exercises.

Catholic Action is one of the religious forms that define the structure of Church life during this period. In times before the Civil War it appeared as strongly linked to various social action movements, with the catholic unions and the Propagandists' National Catholic Action. Manuel Aparici, national chairman of the young people's Catholic Action during the war and post-war years until he was admitted into the Seminary in 1941, comes from this association. Aparici gave the young people's Catholic Action movement in the early post-war period a heroic and ascetic identity, which also matches the heroic and triumphal context of the period, and which showed up in the two pilgrimages, to Zaragoza in 1940 and to Santiago de Compostela in 1948, and in a more profound way in the great number of religious and priesthood vocations that emerged from Catholic Action[10].

As from 1936, a phenomenon arises from the Spanish Catholic Action, parallel to that arising in its Italian equivalent, which consisted in assuming a more exclusively spiritual nature[11]. This occurs clearly in contrast to its pre-war development. According to some authors[12], this similarity of forms between both realities of Catholic Action responds to a fascist social and political context coinciding in both countries.

Catholic Action's structure during this period, which follows Monsignor Zacarías de Vizcarra's ideological model[13], presents a unitarian model with a pyramidal hierarchy, presenting the image of a united and disciplined army. This arrangement is homologous to the Church's vision upheld in the period led by Pius XI and Pius XII, as well as to the dictatorial and pro-fascist political model, typical of the period.

A great connoisseur of the Catholic Action of this period as is Miguel Benzo even affirms that as from 1939 Catholic Action followed a "pastoral of authority". The dream of religious unanimity conquered for good made him join the triumphal climate. Because of this, because in the optimism of the moment it was thought that the Christian orientation of the whole of Spanish society was assured, rather than trying to act as witnesses in different surroundings, rather than attracting non-believers to the faith, rather than the Christian inspiration of social structures, Catholic Action is the laity's public proclamation of its belonging to and loyalty towards "victorious Christianity". This is the meaning that badges, standards and spectacular parades then acquire. Catholic Action seeks, rather than the thorough training of its members, a presence in all of Spain's parishes in all religious and even civil ceremonies[14].

But if we want to be equitable, we must also emphasize the positive aspects and which we could summarize in the numerous secular vocations of priesthood which arose with an enhancement of the figure of the diocesan priest, in the significant impulse that it meant for lay persons' social conscience, and in the area of social and human expansion that it provided many youths of the urban middle class in dark and difficult times brought about by general social and fundamental problems of the period[15].

The second major form of personal religiousness is the Spiritual Exercises. It is a mostly minority-orientated and personal form of religiousness and pastoral action, especially if we talk about the carrying out of Exercises following the Ignatian model referred to by those held in post-war years. However, in this point there is a tendency there is also to quote high figures, hinting at that "conquest of the whole", a phrase generally used to define the religious, pastoral and social forms of the period[16].

How were exercises administered? The "golden age" of  the mass practice of the Spiritual Exercises, inspired in the Ignatian method, ended around 1952. The social and religious context was starting to change rapidly: new forms of pastoral practice such as the Cursillo in Christianity Movement, the Working Out of a Better World, C.A.'s "impact weeks", the HOAC  Cursillo Weekends, etc came on the scene, but above all one could say that this mass form of administering  Exercises fell into a crisis also due to internal reasons. They were also put into question by an attempt towards authenticity and a return to Ignatian origins. [...][17]

On assessing them together, Urbina's criticism is not centered on the Ignatian Exercises themselves, a profoundly spiritual method, based on a respect for personal liberty so that one may face, as clearly as possible, the Gospel and the Spirit, but in the way in which they were carried out in that period which also implied that carrying out the Exercises was valued in excess. [...] Today we can see better the faults of a practice from the period of religious Restoration, with its so questionable will to "conquer" and "universalize"[18].

There was also a disproportionate assessment of the Exercises, as if they were something infallible, effective by themselves and capable of converting whoever went within a few days. The excessive valuation of the time dedicated to Exercises led to the logical detriment of the time dedicated to "normal" life.

The influence of the Exercises in those years is not only calculated from the number of persons who attended. They also influenced the religious world of the people indirectly through the popular missions and books on meditation, as either often depended on Ignatian meditations both in structure and content[19].

In any case, the Spiritual Exercises of those times had very important values. It would be wrong to judge them lightly from our vision of the 1990's. Most Exercise preachers were men of strong virtue and solid training. Logically, they depended on the exercisers' disposition, but they were of help in rather difficult times. Then and now, some Exercises carried out properly constitute a profound and constructive religious experience. The limitations were due to its form rather than its basis, and came mainly from the generalized isolation experienced in Spain at the time and which created a narrowing of perspectives in every sense.

Having reviewed the dominant religious forms at a popular and personal level, following Urbina's model as a whole[20], we shall now deal with the pastoral forms in three aspects: the training of the clergy, priesthood spiritualism and pastoral practice.

With regards to the training of the clergy, to help understand many of the attitudes which arose later on, one must remember the situation of many dioceses in the year 1939, where the contingents of priests required for the development of pastoral activities had been greatly crippled as a consequence of the cruel persecutions which occurred during the civil war[21]. We reach this situation due to certain wartime events that can only be classified as religious persecution. Thus the generation of priests that lived the war became greatly branded by those events; it is a question of sensitivity. In any case, and with no intention of justifying anything, to have this in mind will help us understand certain attitudes and expressions of this period which at first glance could sound surprising but which within that context turn out to be more "logical".

As regards to priesthood spiritualism, the physical and spiritual background in which these children and adolescents found themselves when entering the Seminary and Homes for religious training in those years (1939-1950) was very unique[22]. Urbina quotes[23] an analysis carried out by F. Sopeña[24] which summarizes the physical, intellectual and spiritual conditions of the Vitoria Seminary, one of the most important of the period:

"At a physical level, a very inadequate nutrition which, in addition, was not compensated by a healthy lifestyle or a certain possibility of openness. A strict discipline and a somewhat sombre asceticism was added to the hunger.

"At an intellectual level there was an similar emptiness. Training was almost exclusively based on the neo-scholastic handbooks. Frequently there was a ban on current literature and even newspapers.

"At a spiritual level there was a more positive picture. There is a revitalization of spiritual life, which for many young people is the only area for expansion in such altogether barren surroundings.

It is a spirituality of a highly heroic and ascetic tone, with a mystic edge and lack of horizons at a social level and in a practical and pastoral dimension and in what later on, in the 1950's, was known as "human values". In this period, students to the  priesthood and religious people of apostolic life [...] seem to be trained to be monks rather than apostles or pastors[25].

This description is not precisely flattering overall, but in that period some spiritual movements containing unquestionable values were established. The most important of these, both because of its profoundness and its significance in the rest of Spain, originated in the Vitoria Seminary and was principally inspired by Rufino Aldabalde. A union was achieved between the Ignatian and Sulpician spirits, bringing together the apostolic tone and the more liturgical dimension. He also united action and contemplation, opening it up to even social problems, within the possibilities of the period[26].

Comillas became the second centre from which priesthood spiritualism irradiated. Comillas was a Pontifical University, an intellectual training centre par excellence.

But a very unique personality stood out from within, setting a concrete style, Fr Nieto. A man of fire, strong and profound, full of ardour and kindness at the same time. Beside the strongly contemplative identity that Fr Nieto gave it, the apostolic dimension is assembled and matured. Comillas was the cradle of many future spiritual directors throughout Spain in the different apostolic movements[27].

Thirdly, we must mention Avila as a source of spiritual renovation. Fr Baldomero Jiménez Duque was the chief promoter of this renovation and boost of Carmelite spirituality, and to him, together with Fr Alonso Querejazu, we also owe the Gredos Discussions, various interesting meetings between intellectuals who worked in the quest for a union between spiritual religiousness and modern philosophical thought[28].

Finally, we have to identify Malaga as an interesting focus of priesthood renewal. As a principal catalyst we have Fr Soto. He tried to build up a spirituality of priesthood around the figure of Saint John of Avila. This was a spiritualism of strong asceticism and demand[29]. This movement still maintains a certain structure.

When it comes to assessing the movements of priesthood spiritualism, one must highlight as a positive note an attempt towards and the achievement of an intense spiritualism of an ascetic identity, with heroic tones, and above all with reference to the great masters of the Spanish Golden Age. In addition, one must also highlight the authentic religious experience of many people who knew how to integrate faith and life with realism and sense[30]. Many of the priests being ordained in those years were fortified with a solid piety incarnated from reality, and have given splendid pastoral fruits as time went by.

On the negative side we must identify as limitations the obsession for sin, above all in the matter of sex, a sombre asceticism, the dissociation between life and spirit due to there being very little contact with the outside world, and also the fact that spiritualism was a repetition lacking a creation or synthesis valid for the period[31].

Finally, pastoral practice has a dialectic connection with dominant religious forms and is also linked to the kind of training received by pastors. The activity of the Church in this period is centered on the parochial pastoral that maintains its traditional forms of an agrarian origin[32]. That is to say, in practice it is limited to administering the sacraments and preaching the word at the level of children's ordinary catechism and great sermons in extraordinary occasions.

The fundamental catechumenal preaching for adults (popular missions and Lenten preaching) in those years is very restricted to the ideology of the "First Exercise Week", as preparation for a "good death", it leads to "confession and communion", kept totally apart from a sense of "Christian transformation of life" as a lifelong social undertaking[33].

Catholic Action's official magazine, "Ecclesia", exudes a certain triumphalism in those years' issues when dealing with the matters analyzed above. A triumphalism which was not shared by many rural and urban priests who lived from day to day with a more prosaic reality[34] amongst a people with its recent wounds still open and a superficial religious practice.

B. The Majorcan environment

We find Dr José Miralles Sbert as diocesan pastor of Majorca in the 1940's. He arrives from Barcelona on the 13th March 1930. In issue 96 of "Proa" magazine, of  November 1946, there is an article - its editorial on its 32nd episcopal anniversary bearing a significant paragraph:

And his preferences and choices were for us - the Young People of Catholic Action - if any there were. We know of his words of consolation and inspiration; we know of his condescension and hopes. He was never short of a minute for us; because he has always taken care of even the minutes of his long existence as sower of seeds[35]. At the bottom of the page appears a photo in which he is seen as venerable and patriarchal, surrounded by young people

Dr Miralles entrusted the Spiritual Direction of the Young People of Catholic Action to Fr José Dameto, a constant, dedicated and faithful man, who carried out his duties from 1941 to 1947. In November 1947 he is promoted by the Hierarchy into become Vice-Spiritual Director of the Diocesan Board for Catholic Action of Majorca. In his place as spiritual director for young people the Archbishop appointed Sebastián Gayà, who already contributed as advisor of the school for leaders, as Bishop[36]. Fr Sebastián is a priest, young by age and mature in priesthood, who has a rapport with young people and who is distinguished above all by his dynamism and creativity.

Dr Hervàs arrived in Majorca on the 1st May 1947 as assistant bishop to alleviate the workload of the elderly patriarch Millares and to succeed him after his death. This succession did not take long to happen as on the 22nd December of the same year he died after a long and exemplary life. Monsignor Juan Hervàs arrives with the fame of being a young bishop. In fact, when he is consecrated in January 1944 he is the youngest bishop in Spain and, once appointed auxiliary bishop of Valencia, he promotes the legend "The bishop of the young people". The young people of Catholic Action of Majorca, knowing his post and before he arrived in the island already proclaim that if Monsignor Hervàs is the Bishop of the young people, we shall be the young people of the Bishop[37] (37). On the other hand, he is quite a specialist in matters regarding the Secular Apostolate and Catholic Action, both due to his studies and his active experience[38] (38). Monsignor Hervàs surprised everyone with his direct style, his ability to communicate with young people, his enthusiasm for regarding every project. He knew how to win the hearts of those young people who awaited him with eagerness, and had Fr Sebastián Gayà as his main collaborator.

"Proa" magazine is a supplement of the Official Bulletin of the Bishopric of Majorca, which was edited and composed by the young people of that diocese. Reviewing the issues corresponding to the 1940's it is necessary to conclude that if there well are points of contact with the environment, style, problems, limitations… in the rest of Spain, there is also a life full of high spirits, with some characteristic and to a large extent differential notes.

In the field of the Young People of Catholic Action, there is a particular climate of non-conformism, dissatisfaction, quest and it all points towards the pilgrimage to Santiago. We can conclude with Fr Cesáreo Gil that in the years 1946-1950 the young people of Majorca were a model for young people all over Spain. In the YPCAM there stood out a large group of very well trained youths. It stands out due to their clear dissatisfaction with the past and their undisguised non-conformism with the present[39].

As a precedent one must note that the Majorcan Young People of Catholic Action started to operate in 1932 as an association. In the difficult pre-war years the number of centres in the island grows to almost one hundred. Following the wartime break they quickly re-organized themselves thanks to the Cursillo Weekends organized by the Young People of Spanish Catholic Action[40].


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[6] Cf. F. Urbina, Formas de vida de la Iglesia en España (Forms of Life in the Spanish Church): 1939-1975, in Iglesia y sociedad en España (Church and Society in Spain): 1939-1975, Madrid 1975, pp. 12-26.

[7] Cf. A. A. Orensanz, Religiosidad popular española (Spanish Popular Religiousness) 1940-1965, Madrid 1974.

[8] F. Urbina, l. c., p.17. cf. J. Vilaró, Notes a les veus episcopals en la Catalunya de la postguerra, i la seva circumstància (Notes to the Episcopal Voices in Catalonia in the Post-war Period, and their Circumstances), in "Qüestions de vida cristiana", n. 75-76, (1975), pp. 9-33.

[9] Ibid. p.18.

[10] Ibid. p.19.

[11] Cf. Ibid., p.19, the highlighting is ours.

[12] Cf. Ibid. , p.19; taken from J. M. de Córdoba, Notas para una posible historia de la Acción Católica española, "Pastoral Misionera” (Notes for a Possible History of the Spanish Catholic Action, "Missionary Pastoral" 6 (1969), pp. 681-688.

[13] Monsignor Zacarías de Vizcarra was the first General Spiritual Director of the Technical Board; Cf. Ibid. , p.20.

[14] M. Benzo, Pastoral and Laity, in "Ecclesia ", 8-II-1964, no. 1178, p. 185.

[15] Cf. F. Urbina, op. cit., p.21.

[16] Ibid. pp. 21-22.

[17] Ibid. p. 24.

[18] Ibid. p. 25.

[19] Cf. Ibid. p. 26.

[20] Cf. Ibid. pp. 26-40.

[21] Ibid. pp. 26-27.

[22] Ibid. p. 30.

[23] Cf. Ibid. pp. 30-31.

[24] Cf. F. Sopeña, En defensa de una generación (In Defence of a Generation), Madrid 1969.

[25] F. Urbina, op. cit., p. 30.

[26] Cf. Ibid. p. 31.

[27] Cf. Ibid. p. 32.

[28] Cf. Ibid. p. 32.

[29] Cf. Ibid. p. 32.

[30] Cf. Ibid. p. 33.

[31] Cf. Ibid. pp. 33-34.

[32] Ibid. p. 36.

[33] Ibid. p. 39.

[34] Cf. Ibid. p. 40.

[35] "Proa", no. 96, November of 1946, p. 2.

[36] Cf. "Proa", no. 108, November of 1947, p. 1.

[37] "Proa", no. 96, November of 1946, p. 3.

[38] Cf. CCIRC, pp. 35-37.

[39] C. Gil, El Movimiento de Cursillos de Cristiandad (MCC), en Historia de la Iglesia (The Cursillo Movement (CM), in The History of the Church), Fliche - Martin, vol. XXXI, 1 complement, Valencia 1981, p. 550.

[40] Cf. Ibid. p. 550.

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