On 9th October the Passionist Congregation honours one of its Martyr Saints, Manuel Canoura-Arnau, who in religion was known as Inocencio de la Inmaculada (1887-1934). This religious is known as the priest protomartyr of the Spanish Civil War (1934-1938). He entered the Passionists in 1904 and was ordained a priest in 1913. Because of a speech impediment he rarely gave missions and retreats. He was, however, an exceptional teacher. He was original, organized and clear in his presentations. Besides lecturing in Spanish Literature, he also taught Logic, Cosmology and metaphysical philosophy. He always found great joy in interacting with the Passionist seminarians.
Ironically, this propensity for the classroom coupled him with the nine De La Salle Brothers and their ministry of education at Turon in Northern Spain. He was fond of offering himself to his rector to undertake assignments in parishes and convents for Masses and confessions. On October 4, 1934 he was sent to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with the students at the religious academy run by the Brothers. The following day he was to celebrate the First Friday Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It was actually known then that a regional revolution was brewing in this northern province of Spain, but no one expected that it would come to the doors of monasteries and convents. Unbeknown to him, after he had departed from his own monastery at Mieres for Turon, terrorist threats and actions were leveled there. Perplexed, the rector could not send after Father Inocencio and finally decided he would be safe with the De La Salle Brothers. He encouraged the rest of the Community to disguise themselves and flee. Two of the scholastics fled into the mountains, but not together. Each was stalked by brigands, hunted down and shot to death. All of the others found safety.
Once he arrived at the convent of the Brothers, Inocencio heard the confessions of all. Brother Cyril, the Superior reported outbursts of violence and urged the Passionist to stay overnight. As tension was mounting, darkness quickly fell upon the little company of ten. It was decided that Father Inocencio would celebrate Mass soon after Midnight. These decisions became their death sentence. They were arrested by the provisional government while Mass was still being celebrated. The Brothers had been deprived of their habits a year before by the regional educational authority. They were therefore marched out in civilian clothes. Once taken to the sheriff’s office Inocencio was stripped of his habit and left only in his monastic underwear. He covered himself for both modesty and warmth with a large blue bandana.
Also arrested that night were the executives of the large mining company which provided employment in the territory as well as all the Diocesan priests who served the parishes in and around Turon. After a day or so, the parish priests were let go through the popular intervention of the laity.
The Chief Executive of the mining company, Don Rafael del Riego was detained and eventually shot. It then became clear that the hatred was actually aimed at the religious. They were all earmarked for death and executed on October 9, 1934. One by one, they were shot and fell into a common grave. Their crime was the teaching of catechism and the furthering of Catholic culture and subculture.
It is to Saint Inocencio’s glory that he would risk any danger to hear confessions and to celebrate the sacraments. Inocencio was personally embarrassed by two characteristics, his inability to clearly enunciate his own Spanish language and his obvious baldness. In fact, he is always photographed with a hat on his head. He thought of himself as one of the “little ones.” However, he became the epitome of the goals of the Passionist Congregation and one of its glories. The group of De La Salle Brothers and Father Inocencio are known as “The Martyrs of Turon.”
– Fr. Jerome Vereb, C.P.