Josep Maria VIÑAS i COLOMER, Aquell temps de punys alçats. Memòries d’un jove vigatà sobre l’esclat revolucionari de 1936 a la seva ciutat i la posterior fugida pels Pirineus, edición cuidada por Xavier Cateura i Valls, Trencada Ed., Vic 2019, pp. 186.
Josep Maria Viñas (Vic 1920 – Victoriaville, Canada, 2016) has been one of the Claretian missionaries who has most influenced in recent decades in favour of the knowledge of the life and spirituality of Saint Anthony Maria Claret. At the 1967 General Chapter he was elected General Consultor and Vicar General of the Congregation. He stood out for his deep spirituality, artistic sense and brotherly character. A true expert in everything that referred to Claretian matters, he wrote the historical and charismatic part of the three volumes of the commentary on the new 1986 constitutions, as well as numerous books and articles; Among them we must highlight: San Antonio María Claret. Escritos autobiográficos y espirituales, BAC 188, Madrid 1959, pp. XVI-961; second edition with J. Bermejo, in 1981, pp. XXIV-740; San Antonio María Claret. Autobiografía y escritos complementarios, Ed. Claretiana, Buenos Aires 2008, pp. XLII-1026, again together with J. Bermejo, where we can find its bibliography on pp. 92-94. There is an English edition of this last volume, published by Claretian Publications, Bangalore (India) 2011, pp. XLIV-1218 (Viñas writings, pp. 134-136). As Fr. Viñas himself confessed to Cateura: “… it was better for me to stimulate than to command. In the Congregation, more than superior, I have become an animator and formator” (p. 19).
In the volume that we are reviewing, we find the notes and memories of a hard experience when, at the beginning of the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939, José María, being a novice at seventeen years old, had to go into hiding; then cross the French border on foot, and from there to the area controlled by the rebellious military force in order to continue their Claretian formation and studies. Tragic experience because both his novice master, Fr. José Arner, and his curate, Fr. Casto Navarro, died as martyrs, victims of that religious persecution.
Xavier Cateura (1949-) is a layman, father of a family, who for years has lived with his wife in a former parish house, in a place called “La Castanya”, on the slopes of the Montseny mountain range. He has published numerous studies on that civil war, publishing memoirs, diaries, notes and recollections of various people in the Vic area. A list of these works can be seen on one of the flaps of the book. On the occasion of the bicentennial of the birth of Fr. José Xifré (1827-2017), he gave a lecture in the “Column Room” of the City Hall of Vic, on February 17, 2017; this lecture was later published in Studia Claretiana 32 (2017) pp. 17-66, with the title: “Josep Xifré, illustrious son of Vic, entrepreneur of a great work”.
History is generally written and interpreted by the victors long after the events have taken place. Cateura has the great merit of making it possible for us to know it according to ordinary citizens, and while they are living the events they narrate, or at the most, shortly after.
Cateura begins by offering a broad synthesis of Viñas’ life (pp. 7-29), contextualizing it and highlighting the importance of personal diaries written by those who lived and interpreted them, without the inevitable filter of those who write years or decades later and on something that is, in fact, alien to him. In addition, as we said, these are diaries written by people without particular social importance at the time and without literary pretensions or wanting to go down in history, or the intention of publishing them later, but at most, to be able to reread them later and recall facts.
The Viñas were nine siblings: José María, claretian, three religious sisters, two died shortly after birth and three married. The father was long dead (1888-1928). When the war broke out, there were 68 members in the Vic community (22 priests, 6 theology students, 9 brothers, 18 novice students, 9 postulant students, 2 novice brothers and 2 postulant brothers (cf. pp. 113-115). On July 20, 1936, some thirty people with the novice master fled to the woods of the Puig-l’Agulla sanctuary, from where the next morning they were able to witness with horror how the novitiate house, the church, the cathedral and other temples were burning. After escaping through the mountains called the “Guillerias”, helped by the inhabitants of several farmhouses, they decided to return to Vic, under the guarantee of the revolutionary committee. Later, as we will say, some were sent home, others stayed in the House of Charity, while the priests were arrested and a few days later murdered. José María was at his mother’s house, located in the main square of Vic, from July 1936 to January 1937, when he was able to escape to France and from there return to the so-called “national” Spain.
There follows a prologue written expressly for this book by Fr. Viñas himself (pp. 31-38) in which he explains the ecclesial and political situation of Vic on the vigil of the war and the history of his diary, written while in Alagón, by order of his superior (Fr. Alberto Goñi). Only seven months had passed after what was narrated, but the civil war was still on. It should be said that these notes had already been published previously; However, it was then a simple internal edition of the Congregation, in view of the possible cause of beatification of those who had been martyrs. The title then was: “I was able to escape to bring you the news” (Job 1,220.127.116.11). Personal narrations of Claretian brothers and companions of martyrs, General Postulation Notebook, Rome 1994, pp. 105; and more specifically: Novitiate of Vic during the revolution, Fr. José María Viñas Colomer, C.M.F. Personal memories of novice Mr. José Mª Viñas, with notes from the Claretians Jaime Sidera i Plana and Rafael Mª Serra Bover. The original text that we are reviewing is written in Spanish and continually enriched with explanatory footnotes added by Cateura.
The diary runs from Monday, July 20, 1936 to February 1, 1937 (pp. 39-154). In the afternoon of that Monday, a mysterious walk with a snack was organized in the direction of the Puig-l’Agulla sanctuary; a walk that nobody said but that many considered suspicious. In fact, they could no longer return to Vic. During the following days the anguished wandering began, hiding in the woods, a little relieved thanks to the generous and risky hospitality of the peasants of the farmhouses. They were still dressed in a cassock and a tricorne, and faithfully having the “usual” prayers and community meetings…; going hungry and cold, and experiencing continuous scares. On July 28 at sunset, they agreed to return to Vic in a rented bus. There they were distributed in various houses, and the next day those who were not from the city travelled to their villages; Those, on the other hand, whose families were in the “national” zone, were admitted to the “House of Charity.” On January 11, 1937, the young Viñas, together with a group, began the journey to France crossing the Pyrenees on foot, where they arrived on the 18th. After countless adventures, he was able to reach the Claretian community of Marseille on the 23rd; there he was able to speak with his provincial superior, Fr. A. Goñi. On the 26th he entered Spain again (“national” zone) through Fuenterrabía. On February 1 he arrived in Alagón (not far from Zaragoza), where he continued his novitiate. On July 16 of that same year, he made his religious vows. The diary ends here.
Six annexes follow (pp. 155-175): 1) A letter from Father A. Goñi, addressed to the Superior General of the Claretians (Fr. Felipe Maroto), resident in Rome, written in Marseille on January 25, 1937; There he informs him about the novice Viñas and gives him news about many martyrs. 2) Document from the Vic anti-fascist committee to the two women who went to pick up the Claretian students hidden in the mountains of the area called “Guillerías”. 3) About the Perpinyà house in Pardines (near Ripoll), which helped many fugitives in their escape to France. 4) List of some names of priests residing in Vic (88), and indicates those who were murdered in those days (25). 5) Religious buildings attacked (17), destroyed or badly damaged (26), among them the Claretian ones. 6) Notes from a certain Luis Jiménez about what happened in Vic on Tuesday, July 21, 1936; It consists of 17 handwritten sheets from August 19, 1936 to March 30, 1937. A thank you list and a bibliography close the book (pp. 177-183).
As can be seen, despite not being very voluminous, the book contains a number of unique documents, extremely interesting for the narrated history and all that unfortunate period. Reading them one relives the anguished throb of those dates. It goes without saying that its reading is exciting. In addition, 68 pictures, between photographs and various illustrations, make the narrative even more alive. We are grateful for this effort and testimony given by Fr. J. M. Viñas and Mr. X. Cateura, and to the Claretians of Catalonia and Mr. Mariano Viñas, José María’s brother, for having made it possible for this volume to be edited.