Saint Pedro Poveda, by Cardinal Pironio
"I am a priest of Christ." These are the words with which Pedro Poveda defines himself at the moment he is brought to martyrdom. We can say that we touch the deep soul of Poveda, his true identity, the rich source of his life and his work. The Teresian Association is the best fruit of his priesthood. Poveda was a great educator, a true apostle of youth, a wonderful promoter of lay apostolate, a promoter of the participation of women in the life of the Church and in civil society. An admirable evangelizer of culture. But, first and foremost, he was a priest. A priest who, soon after ordination, made a true evangelical option for the poor and began to work with the cave-dwellers of Guadix.
On July 27, 1936, with the same devotion as usual but with a special flavor of shed blood he celebrated his last Mass. It was at the end, when he was still giving thanks - which he would complete in heaven, in the face of the beatific vision - when militiamen came to arrest him. The one you seek is me, he tells them. I am a priest of Christ. He was shot in the morning of July 28th. That was the bloody culmination of his life and sacrificial ministry. It was the seal of God, in martyrdom, on a priestly life lived in contemplation, on the cross, in generous self-offering for the glory of God and the redemption of others. In Poveda the Church presents to us not only a martyr, but a model of a holy priest. The Homo Dei and servus Ecclesiae. Poveda dreams, from a young age, with his priesthood; but his priesthood has nothing of childish dreams: it is born of the spirit and is deeply marked by the cross. Give blood and you will receive spirit, was one of his precious teachings. Is it not true that priesthood is born of the paschal cross of Jesus, mysteriously advanced on the sacred night of the Last Supper? "This is My body which is given for you... This is my Blood that is shed" (Lk 22: 19-20). Poveda lived this dramatically and serenely at the moment of his martyrdom; but he lived it daily in the joy of his priestly dedication, made of contemplative silence, prayer and service. He was, first and foremost, a priest.
He had been ordained on April 17, 1897. That was the most important date for him, the only one he celebrated. On March 15, 1933, he writes in his diary: "Lord, may I always be a priest in thoughts, words, and deeds." And, a few days later, on April 17, he wrote: "36 years ago I received ordination as a priest. How much longer will I live? God only knows. I ask Him for the grace of not ceasing to celebrate with fervor, not even a single day, the Holy Mass." Poveda was transfigured in the celebration of the Eucharist. "I will never forget Father Poveda’s Masses," says a witness. “I want to point out expressly that there was absolutely no show of fervor. Quite the opposite. What impressed me, to the point that I could not forget, was the serenity, the peace and the intense silence of experience he felt throughout the whole celebration. His gestures showed that the celebrant priest lived the mystery intensely." What a beautiful lesson for us priests!
Poveda was a man of God and a teacher of prayer. This is the beginning of the person and the work of a priest: being a man who reveals God and communicates Him; a man who speaks of God and hears Him: "I believed; therefore, I spoke." "The men of God and the women of God are unmistakable. They do not stand out because they are brilliant, nor because they dazzle, nor because of their human strength, but because of their fruits." Paul VI liked to emphasize the reality of a priest as a man of God, endorsing the expression of St. Paul to Timothy: "As for you, a man of God ... pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness"(1 Tim 6:11). “…so that the one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17). "Each of you," Paul VI said to the newly ordained priests on the feast of the Epiphany of 1966, "is a man of God, homo Dei."
A man of God, Poveda is a man of prayer; even more so, a teacher of prayer. This is what is essential in a priest. Young people today are hungry and thirsty for prayer; they turn to a priest with this concern and say: “Master, where do you live?” (John 1:38) "We want to see Jesus" (John 12:21), "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk 11: 1). Poveda was a master of prayer in his exhortations, in his writings, in his gestures, in his silence, in his serene and deep contemplation. There was no need for him to speak; it was enough for him to be there. When Jesus was asked by his disciples to teach them to pray " Jesus was praying there" (Lk 11:1). Therefore, Poveda would say: Pray like Him and with Him. It is because in the center of Poveda’s life - priest, man of God, teacher of prayer - is Christ. "For me, life is Christ" (Phil 1:21). I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2: 19-20).
The paschal cross is a requirement of baptism: " We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life." (Rom 6: 4). Additionally, for Poveda, the cross, is a sign and transparency. A sign of authenticity of the disciple and fecundity of the work: "humiliations, destruction, difficulties, persecutions, sufferings, martyrdom, all come as a legitimate consequence, as it happened to the Master" (1920, Jesus teacher of prayer). Visibility of Jesus crucified: "I wish devotion to the crucifix to be the fundamental devotion of the Association ... This is what I want and continually pray to heaven that each of you will be: a living crucifix” (January 31, 1926).
In Poveda, the cross - always with Easter flavor and serenely welcomed - was essentially priestly. He suffered greatly as a priest: misunderstandings, calumny, loneliness. I believe that the most crucifying moment of Pedro Poveda, priest, was the months in which he could not celebrate Mass, a year and a half of desolation, problems, and difficulties. It is not until he arrives at Covadonga that Mary fires a light in his heart and engenders the Passover again. "Here, in Covadonga," Pope John Paul II would say later, "an illustrious chaplain of La Santina, Fr. Pedro Poveda and Castroverde, founder of the Teresian Association ... a prophetic intuition, inspired by Mary, for the advancement of women, through women of genuine Marian transparency and a typically Teresian apostolic zeal. Here this Work was born, at the feet of La Santina!" (Blessed John Paul, August 21, 1989).
I want to finish with these beautiful words of the Pope that emphasize the presence of Mary in the life and work of the priest Pedro Poveda. He loved Christ and Mary. He modeled his priesthood in his identification with Christ crucified and in loving contemplation of Our Lady of Sorrows. He thus lived his paschal priesthood, made of the cross and hope, of contemplative interiority and daring apostolic presence in the difficult society of his time (which is almost like ours) and left to the priests of today a triple message: to be men of God and teachers of prayer, to live in the world identified with Christ on the Cross, to be missionaries and evangelizers of cultures with a poor and contemplative heart.
Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, in "Testigos ante el Tercer Milenio”, pp. 99-102 (1996)
This was published in Religion Digital with a profile of Cardinal Eduardo Pironio on July 6, 2011