Bishop and Martyr
We are celebrating today the memory of an Augustinian friar of Spain who was called to become a bishop, and in the exercise of that ministry became a martyr of the Church, during a bloody civil war which saw hundreds upon hundreds of priests, religious and committed laymen and women give their lives in fidelity to their faith. Bishop Polanco and his fellow martyrs are not historical figures of the ancient Church, but men and women of the 20th Century whose generosity and perseverance in the face of great trials speaks loudly to us today.
Anselm was born in Buenavista de Valdavia (Palencia), Spain, on April 16, 1881. He joined the Augustinians at Valladolid, professing vows in 1897. He was ordained priest in 1904 and served as a teacher of theology and formator of young religious. In 1922 he was named Prior at Valladolid and in 1932 was elected Provincial of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines. While Provincial he was named bishop of Teruel, Spain, in 1935. The following year civil war broke out in the country and the small city of Teruel became one of the sites of greatest struggle. Bishop Anselm was determined not to abandon his people, but rather to remain with them to offer comfort and guidance. On January 8, 1938, clothed in his Augustinian habit and accompanied by a group of priests of his diocese, he was taken prisoner by the occupying forces. He resisted firmly all attempts to have him retract his signature from a letter of the bishops of Spain denouncing before the world, the persecution being inflicted upon the Church in Spain. Together with his Vicar General, Fr. Felipe Ripoll, Bishop Anselm was imprisoned for 13 months. Several days before the end of the war, on February 7, 1939, he was shot at Pont de Molins (Gerona), near the French border. He was beatified by John Paul II on October 1, 1995.
In his life as an Augustinian, Anselm was known as a man of kindly spirit, and a great promoter of unity and harmony - characteristics that served him well also in his brief ministry as bishop. On assuming responsibility for the diocese of Teruel he said, "I have come to give my life for my sheep", and on his episcopal coat of arms placed the words, "I will sacrifice and offer myself for your souls."