Spanish Civil War 'martyrs' beatified

A total of 522 people were beatified, as David Willey reports

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The Roman Catholic Church in Spain has beatified 522 people, most of them priests and nuns killed by Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.

Thousands of people attended the outdoor event in Tarragona, presided over by a senior Vatican cardinal.

Left-wing groups had objected, saying the ceremony amounted to a glorification of the Franco dictatorship.

But the Church said those honoured were martyrs killed because of their faith.

Beatification is the final step before sainthood.

The Spanish Church played an important political role in the 1936-1939 civil war, supporting the nationalists led by General Francisco Franco who eventually defeated the strongly anti-clerical republicans.

Sunday's ceremony was conducted by Cardinal Angelo Amato and a recorded video message from Pope Francis was played to the large congregation.

"I join all the participants in the celebration with all my heart", the Pope said to long applause.

Those present included some 4,000 relatives and descendants of those being beatified.

The youngest of the "martyrs" was only 18 years old when he was shot by militiamen in Madrid in 1936.

The oldest, an 86-year-old nun, was executed in the same year.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the Vatican has gone out of its way to stress that Sunday's beatifications were in no way a political endorsement of events during the civil war.

The conflict cost more than half a million lives and remains a divisive subject in Spanish society.

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