Ten Martyrs of Quiché, Guatemala

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These ten martyrs, beatified on April 23, 2021, included three Spanish priests, missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and seven laymen, mostly catechists and members of Catholic Action, all judged to have died in “hatred of the faith” in the early 1980s. They were among 200,000 Guatemalans killed during a protracted civil war, marked by genocidal violence by the military and its allies directed at the rural indigenous population. Among the victims were many Christians, including priests, sisters, and lay pastoral leaders whose commitment to the poor was enough to target them as subversives. 

The beatification of these ten Catholics represented an application of Pope Francis’s intention to extend the traditional designation of martyr to those who died because of their practice of the evangelical virtues of justice and charity—regardless of whether their killers liked to call themselves Christians. 

The ten martyrs, all tortured and murdered by security forces and death squads, were the priests José Maria Gran Cirera, Juan Alonso Fernandez, and Faustino Villanueva; and the seven laymen: Rosalío Benito, Reyes Us, Domingo del Barrio, Nicolás Castro, Tomás Ramírez, Miguel Tiú, and 12-year-old Juan Barrera Méndez. They were recognized as representatives of the whole suffering Church—the People of God—in Guatemala. 

“They shed their blood . . . because they were convinced that there is no greater love than giving one’s life for others and, as Catholics, insisted on upholding the Kingdom of Heaven values proclaimed by the Lord Jesus: defense of human dignity, respect for life, social justice and protection of the weakest and most vulnerable.”  

—Statement by the Guatemalan Bishops 

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.