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Gypsies rejoice in their first “Blessed”

2017-03-29 10:28

When the Church declares someone “Blessed”, it is always a landmark occasion. Today, when beatification ceremonies take place in the country, and, where possible, the very area in which the new “Blessed” lived and died, there is special cause for celebration.

The beatification of 115 martyrs of the Spanish Civil War on Saturday 25 March in Almería, Spain, was inevitably a joyful occasion – but especially so as the congregation of more than five thousand people included more than three hundred and fifty gypsies.

The martyrs who were beatified on Saturday included ninety-three priests, twenty laymen and two women, killed by because of their religious beliefs by Republicans during the 1936-39 conflict.

One of the two women was Emilia Fernandez, also known as "La Canastera", the first gypsy to be beatified.

Emilia was a young gypsy woman who tried to protect her husband, Juan Cortés, from being forced to fight on behalf of the Republicans. However their plan of making him temporarily blind did not work and both were sent to separate prisons. There, in spite of her pregnancy, Emilia was fed on near starvation rations.

A young woman called Lola secretly taught Emilia to pray the rosary. When the prison governor discovered this, he tried to persuade her to reveal the name of her teacher, sending Emilia into solitary confinement for refusing to speak.

Within the unheated cell in the depths of winter, Emilia gave birth to a baby girl whom she baptised and called Angela. Unfortunately the new mother kept bleeding, apparently due to some infection. She was taken to hospital but both she and the baby were returned to the old cell. Emilia’s health continued to deteriorate. She died, apparently of bronchopneumonia and the post-partum infection, in January 1939 and was buried in a mass grave.

Angela was adopted but no record seems exist of her new name. She would be seventy-seven years old if she is still alive today.

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