Archbishop Antonio Cañizares of Toledo, Spain, has opened the cause for canonization for 800 martyrs of the ecclesiastical province of Toledo, all of whom were victims of religious persecution during the Spanish Civil War.

During a ceremony in the Cathedral of Toledo, the Archbishop declared that between 1936 and 1939, there occurred “an authentic religious persecution, in which there were true martyrs,” emphasizing at the same time that the Church does not pretend to judge those responsible for the martyrdom, “because [the Church’s] philosophy is that of faith and love, not hatred and revenge.”

The ceremony also included the creation of a tribunal for the cause of canonization and declaration of martyrdom, whose members took an oath over the Gospels that the process will be carried out in accord with Church laws.

Archbishop Cañizares emphasized that the motive for promoting the canonization of the more than 800 candidates was the statement by Pope John Paul II that the twentieth century had seen a multiplication of martyrs and that in order that their memory should not be forgotten, “the necessary documentation should be collected.”

According to the Archbishop, this cause for canonization—which could last up to a year—“is a sign of the vitality of our local churches,” which acknowledge the role of these servants of God,” who by their martyrdom, offered their lives in fulfillment of the will of the Lord, in whose hands they placed themselves, as Jesus placed himself in the hands of God during the crucifixion.”

After mentioning that during the religious persecution some who died were true martyrs while others were not, Archbishop Cañizares said that “a careful selection of those called to receive this recognition” was carried out.  In this sense, the postulator of the cause, Father Jorge López, explained that during the religious persecution around 10,000 people were killed, although some deaths were because of other reasons.

The investigation into the cause for canonization will include statements by a series of witness, whose testimony will be evaluated by the tribunal. 

Among the 800 servants of God whose cases will be studied are those of Bishop Eustaquio Nieto Martín of Sigüenza-Guadalajara and Fathers Agustín Rodríguez, Antonio Martínez, Joaquín María Ayala, Joaquín López and Basilio Sánchez, of the dioceses of Cuenca, Albacete, Ciudad Real, Avila and Toledo.