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.
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 Philippines (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 he 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, Colombia, and Peru, bringing to everyone 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 an 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 world public opinion. Bishop Polanco refused to withdraw his signature,
in spite of threats, as well as promises, from the politicians. According
to some witnesses, they even offered to support him for the position 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
Bishop Polanco was a 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.
Bishop Polanco was beatified at Saint Peter’s in Rome on 1 October
1995 by Pope John Paul II.
The Augustinian Family celebrates his feast on 7 February.