by Dom Antoine-Marie, OSB
On January 16, 1996, Pope John Paul II declared “venerable” (a person who lived in a heroic way the virtues of faith, hope, and charity) Maria del Carmen Gonzales-Valerio, who died at the age of 9 years and 4 months.
Maria Carmen was born in Madrid, Spain, on March 14, 1930, the second of five children. She became seriously ill immediately after her birth, so she is baptized right away. The good Lord did not want to wait to erase from her soul the original sin, and gift her with His grace and make her His child. Following unexpected circumstances, she is confirmed at the age of two, on April 16, 1932, thanks to an initiative of Most Rev. Tedeschini, the apostolic nuncio in Spain and a friend of the family. The Holy Spirit was anxious to give her the courage she would need later.
At the age of six, she makes her First Communion. The date was advanced upon her mother's request, who will say later: “I was convinced then that Spain, and especially our family, would go through difficult times. One could see religious persecution brewing, and I wanted Maria Carmen to make her First Communion before.”
In his Letter to children, dated Dec. 13, 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote: “How many children in the history of the Church has the Eucharist been a source of spiritual strength, sometimes even heroic strength!”
This is why Pope Pius X allowed and encouraged receiving Holy Communion as early as the age of reason. Maria Carmen enjoyed this favor, as her mother testified: “She really began to grow on the way to holiness after her First Communion.” Moreover, it is on the occasion of a Holy Communion that she will make her complete offering to God.
On August 15, 1936, Communist militiamen arrested her father, who said to his wife: “Our children are too young, they don't understand. Tell them later that their father gave up his life for God and for Spain, so that our children may be raised in a Catholic Spain, where the crucifix reigns over in schools.” He is assassinated not long after that.
After the death of her husband, Mrs. Gonzales-Valerio is in great danger, because of her Christian Faith. She takes refuge at the Belgian embassy, whereas her children are taken care of by one of their aunts. One day, they learn that the children are to be sent to Russia, like so many others, to be raised in Marxism. The ambassador then accepts to take them at the embassy, despite the lack of space. It is February 11, 1937.
Maria Carmen distinguishes herself by her sense of modesty, practiced even in details. Her mother relates: “One day, Maria Carmen was to go to a birthday party with other children. I had put on her a little sleeveless low-necked dress, and told her not to crease it. But I realized that she had put a jacket over it. I became angry and scolded her. She said to me, crying, that she would not go out with this dress. My mother, who witnessed the scene, took me aside and told me that I had not the right to suppress her God-given sense of modesty, and that I would be accountable to God for the education that I gave to her. So Maria Carmen went to the party with her jacket on.”
The grandmother was right: the sense of modesty comes from God. On December 8, 1995, the Pontifical Council for the Family wrote, in an instruction against certain shameless trends spread in today's society:
“Even if they are socially accepted, there are ways of talking and dressing that are morally wrong... Parents must therefore teach their children the value of Christian modesty, to dress in a sober way, to learn not to feel obliged to follow fashions – all of that being the characteristics of a mature personality.”
Maria Carmen also excels in charity for the poor. When one of them rings at their door, and she opens, she gives him all of her little savings, then says to the poor man: “Now, ring again so that mommy will give you something.” Maria Carmen's piety showed at an early age. At the age of four or five, she likes to lead the recitation of the family Rosary, and recites by heart the litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Like Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, she made a “bead of practices”, on which she counts her acts of virtue. This way, she practices the “particular examination” of virtues and faults proposed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. In the same spirit, she keeps a book of “acts”, to know the virtues and obligations of each day: obedience, mortification, class, study, Rosary, Communion, Mass, prayers, etc.
Maria Carmen likes to offer up her little sacrifices to the Heart of Jesus. Her religion teacher relates: “When I prepared the children for confession, I could see on her face her horror of sin, and her efforts to make a good act of contrition.” All of her acts, despite her young age, come from a deep source: her intimacy with God.
Maria Carmen has her own secrets. In her book of “acts”, she wrote three times: “personal”. She often asks for her schoolbag that contains the diary in which she wrote these words that can be understood by her alone: “I gave myself to God in the parish of the Good Shepherd on April 6, 1939.” She also wrote: “They killed my poor father.” And, on one of the last pages: “Long live Spain! Long live Christ the King!”, the same cry shouted by the martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. And also: “For daddy, May 7, 1939, personal.” She will say to her nurse: “My father died as a martyr. Poor mommy! And I am dying as a victim.”
Her Uncle Xavier explains: “Maria Carmen wanted the conversion of sinners, as shown by the fact that she offered up the sufferings of her illness and death for Azaña, the President of the Republic, who personified the religious persecution of which the assassins of her father were the instruments.” She asked her mother: “Will Azaña go to Heaven?” “If you make sacrifices and pray for him, yes, he will be saved.” Maria Carmen got the message. Sometimes, she said to her aunt: “Aunt Fifa, let us pray for daddy and for all those who killed him.”
On November 3, 1940, Azaña dies at Montauban. According to the testimony of Bishop Théas who assisted him at his death, Azaña, despite his circle, received with lucidity the sacrament of Penance, as well as Extreme Unction and the Plenary Indulgence, quietly expiring in God's love and in the hope of seeing Him one day. He ignored the fact that his path had crossed that of a nine-year-old girl who had prayed and suffered for him.
Not long after her offering of April 6, 1939, the agony of Maria Carmen began: she is confined to her bed. First, an ear infection appears, which then degenerates into blood poisoning. On May 27, she is transported by car to Madrid, where she has an operation. As it is realized that her illness is going to be long, she is brought back home. Some days, she has more than twenty injections.
One ear is attacked by the disease, and she loses her second ear because she stayed too long sleeping on her side. Her illness is then aggravated by a double phlebitis. Gangrenous wounds appear. She faints from pain when her sheets are changed. Only the name of Jesus helps her to endure everything, for nobody thinks about giving her painkillers. Her mother said to her: “Maria Carmen, ask the Child Jesus to heal you from your wounds.” “No, mommy, I will not ask that; I want His Will to be done.” She often asks for people to read for her the prayer for the agonizing, and in thought, she is already more in Heaven than on earth.
Maria Carmen had foretold many times that she would die on July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, her patron saint. But, when she learnt that her Aunt Sophia would get married on that day, she announced that she would die the next day. This is exactly what happened. On the 17th, around 1 p.m., she starts to pray, and hear the angels sing. “I die as a martyr. Please, doctor, let me go now. Don't you see that the Blessed Virgin has come with the angels to get me?” To the amazement of all, she then says, with her hands joined together: “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul with you.” Those are her last words.
Then, slightly lifting herself up, as though to get something, she falls back on her pillow, and breathes her last, without agony, without her features tense with suffering. Having been disfigured by her illness, she recovers in death all of her beauty, and her body exhales a sweet perfume. The medical examiner certifies death, but notices with amazement that the corpse of the child does not look like a dead body.
Maria Carmen's example puts before us a fruit of the grace of God, made fruitful by a good education. Let us ask Venerable Maria Carmen to intercede for families.
Dom Antoine-Marie, OSB
St. Joseph de Clairval Abbey