Madrid, Spain, Oct 7, 2021 / 06:40 am (CNA).
Emilia Fernandez, a pregnant woman who found her faith in a Spanish prison during the Civil War (1936-1939) refused to give up the name of her catechist to her persecutors, and became a modern promoter of he Rosary.
“Emilia is a martyr of suffering, because she died some 10 days after giving birth for lack of medical attention, clutching her rosary. She had a chance to apostatize, to betray the one who taught her the faith, but she did not. She’s an example,” Spanish historian Martin Ibarra told CNA.
Emilia became the first Romani – or Gypsy – woman to be beatified by the Catholic Church.
“Emilia’s life until she turned 24 was normal for an Andalusian Gypsy woman,” Ibarra said. “She devoted herself to her family and to her work as a basket maker. She was and honest, hard working Gypsy woman.”
Emilia was imprisoned with her husband Juan Cortes, after they tried to scape from Juan being forced to join the Socialist army.
Emilia was pregnant when she was sent to prison, but did not receive any additional care. Officials assigned her the same insufficient food ration as the rest of the female prisoners.
Emilia “carried her pregnancy in the prison under terrible conditions, and suffered a lot from hunger,” Ibarra said.
But it was in prison where she discovered her faith.
“Even though she had been baptized, she never set foot in a church. It was especially through the rosary that her catechist Dolores del Olmo taught her,” Ibarra recounted.
Even if it was officially forbidden, female prisoners prayed every afternoon. Emilia wanted to know more about her faith and she asked Dolores del Olmo to explain it to her. That’s when she realized that she belonged to the Church, and she learned the ‘Our Father,’ the ‘Hail Mary’ and the ‘Glory Be’.
According to Ibarra, the warden for the women’s prison, Dolores Salmerón, knew that Emilia and the other prisoners were praying. She offered the woman more food and offered to release her and her husband on one condition: to reveal the name of whoever taught her to pray.
Knowing that the catechist would end up in jail, Emilia refused to betray her; so was punished with solitary confinement.
A few months later, Emilia gave birth. “Between the cries and sobs, her catechist was saying prayers which Emilia repeated, although she could not continue because of the pain,” Ibarra added.
Dolores del Olmo, her catechist, baptized Emilia’s newborn daughter with the name Angeles (“Angels,” a common name for female Spaniards.) The new mother died 10 days later.
Ibarra is the author of the book “Emilia, the Basket Maker, Martyr of the Rosary,” which tells of her life and death. He said that Emilia’s devotion to the rosary led her to love Jesus Christ more.
According to the historian, Emilia “died from her sufferings, for being faithful to her faith, for bringing a life into the world and did not give in to her jailer’s desire that she apostatize.”
For Ibarra, Emilia “teaches us with her life that God is at our side, especially in the midst of difficulties. Emilia went to prison hardly knowing the faith and when she died, she did so as a friend of God and a martyr of the rosary. That is beautiful.”
She was beatified in a group of martyrs from Almeria, Spain on March 25th 2017. The group included cathedral dean Father Jose Alvarez-Benavides y de la Torre and 114 companion martyrs: 95 priests, 20 laymen and two women, including Emilia.
Emilia is the first Romani woman to be beatified. The first male Gypsy blessed, Ceferino Giménez Malla, known as El Pelé, was beatified by Saint John Paul II in 1997. He died in the religious persecution of the Spanish Civil War for protecting a priest. Before his persecutors shot him, he held a rosary in his hand and cried out “Long live Christ the King!”
Ibarra characterized both Emilia and Ceferino as “martyrs of the rosary” because both of them refused to stop praying it.
“This demonstrates that the Virgin leads us to God. For those two martyrs, she was the Gate of Heaven,” he said.
Originally published on March 30, 2017
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