Blessed Anselm Polanco

The evocation of the life and martyrdom of Blessed Anselm Polanco, as the supreme act of love, still speaks to people today, reminding them that the Christian must be ready to confess Christ before all, and to follow Christ on the way of the cross.

Anselm Polanco was born in Buenavista de Valdavia, Palencia Spain, on 16 April 1881. After his entry into the Order of Saint Augustine in the Province of the Philipppines (Spain), he professed vows in the monastery of Valladolid in 1897. Here he pursued his philosophical studies and then studied theology at Santa Maria de la Vid Monastery where he was ordained a priest in December 1904. Afterward he studied in Germany, and then returned to Spain to teach in Valladolid and La Vid. He was engaged in formation for some time and, from 1923 to 1929 was prior of the community at Valladolid. In 1929 he went to the Philippines as provincial councilor. Three years later, in 1932, he was named Prior Provincial of the Province of the Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines (Spain).

As prior provincial he was assiduous in carrying out the visitation of his brothers, giving careful attention to the different countries where his province was represented. This meant traveling to China, the Philippines, the United States, Columbia, and Peru, bringing to every one a word of encouragement in their work of evangelization, and a fraternal exhortation to live a genuine Augustinian religious life.

In 1935 Father Anselm Polanco was appointed bishop of Teruel, Spain, at a extraordinarily difficult time. Civil war broke out in Spain and the city of Teruel, where he resided, immediately became one of the points of cruel and bloody conflict. The city was on the very battle line and was besieged. In this dramatic situation the bishop, followed by his vicar, resolved to remain at his post and to share the fate of the rest of the population, despite the fact that they could have gone to safety as many advised them to do.

Inspired by the logic of the faith and a profound pastoral sense, Bishop Polanco put into practice the advice of Augustine to Bishop Honoratus: “When all are threatened by the same danger, that is, bishops, clergy, and laity, those who need the others must not be abandoned by those of whom they have need” (Possidius, Life of Augustine 30,11).

When the city fell into the hands of the besieging troops, the bishop was arrested, and in this state he suffered great pressure, especially that he should withdraw his signature from a joint pastoral letter of the Spanish bishops, in which the religious persecution suffered by the Church was denounced before the world public opinion. Bishop Polanco refused to withdraw his signature, in spite of threats, as well a promises, from the politicians. According to some witnesses, they even offered to support him for the office of archbishop of Barcelona. He knew very well that resistance put his life at risk. However, he endured the danger out of fidelity to ecclesial communion with his brother bishops and out of obedience to the pope, the only one from whom he could accept another appointment in the Church.

He quietly endured the prison, where he was confined for over a year, accepting it as God’s will. In this time of trial he was able to organize with the other detainees an intense life of prayer, based on the practices of piety and meditation. Only rarely was he permitted to celebrate the Eucharist.

Bishop Polanco and father Felipe Ripoll, the vicar general of the diocese of Teruel, were assassinated on 7 February 1939, shortly before the war ended, and so they are counted among the last victims of this Spanish civil strife.

Bishop Polanco was man of deep faith, sincere piety, and constant prayer, to the point of being considered a saint even before his martyrdom. His dedication to God and to his sisters and brothers was exactly the best spiritual preparation for his martyrdom.

Accordingly, he is regarded as a model, through the different stages of his life, for his wholehearted commitment, his availability, his uncompromising dedication, and his service first of all to his religious brothers, and then to the faithful of his diocese.

Pope John Paul II beatified Bishop Polanco at St. Peter’s in Rome on 1 October 1995.

The Augustinian family celebrates his feast on 7 February.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Blessed Anselm Polanco by Dante Ricci

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