The Prison Story

(Reprinted with permission from Ike Griffin, Kairos International Newsletter)

This story takes place in Palma, Majorca in 1949.

A group of young men, of the Spanish Action Movement, were attempting to launch, what they believed would be a wonderful apostolic work, to counter the un-Christian world they were living in.

They had worked long and hard, but all their efforts had been futile. Each day seemed worse than the last. They had become desperate and were on the point of giving the whole idea up when one of the laymen received an unexpected call. It was the Chaplain of the local prison, asking for a couple of volunteers to come to the prison and help him with a difficult problem.

Two young men in the condemned cell would have nothing to do with him, and his only hope was to try and approach them through laymen.

The young man hastily called a friend and after prayer to overcome their fear of entering the prison, the two men went inside to join the Chaplain. He took them to the condemned cell where the prisoners sat playing cards with their guards, who, as prison rules laid down, must stay in the cell with the condemned men on the last night before execution.

One of the two laymen, Eduardo Bonnin, told how they first asked the Governor’s permission to take the place of the guards – and when this had been granted, they started talking to the two prisoners, gradually winning them around until eventually, Eduardo said to them, “We came here to ask a favor of you.” At this the two men laughed loud and long. “A favor!? Don’t you realize that later this morning we…,” and he made a gesture of garroting the other.

“But this is something you can do” said Bonnin, “We only want you to recommend something to the Lord for us. You are the only people we have met who know when they will be going to meet the Lord, face-to-face. We want you to say something to Him. We feel it is so urgent. Neither the Pope, or Kings, nor rich or poor men, know when they will have to meet the Lord, yet you do. In the morning you know exactly when you will be appearing before the Throne of God. We have this wonderful apostolic project, from which we expect great fruits – but we have failed miserably, so far, to get it going. We want you to ask the Lord to help us.” – and Bonnin proceeded to explain their apostolic hopes and anxieties. As the night wore on they spoke of Christ, of His love and mercy. They spoke of how the Good Thief had “stolen heaven” and of forgiveness.

In the early hours of the morning, the Chaplain heard their confessions, and held a private mass for the two inmates, Bonnin and his friend, all receiving Eucharist.

A short while later they were led to the garroting post. One of them cried out for Eduardo Bonnin, and Eduardo told of how that man died, holding Eduardo’s crucifix in one hand, and clasping Eduardo’s hand with the other, as he knelt beside him, praying for him. The executioners placed the hood over the man’s head and affixed the chain which would break his neck with a sudden jerk.

These two lads were executed on the morning of January 28, 1949. The Apostolic work which Eduardo Bonnin and his companions had in hand, and which they had been unsuccessful in launching, despite all their trials and efforts, was the ‘Cursillo in Christianity”.

After the death of those two poor men, the Cursillo movement took off to virtually cover the earth.

Eduardo Bonnin Aguilo

Born May 4, 1917, in Palma de Mallorca. Attended Padres Agustinos Hermanos de Las Salle School. After school I went into the family business of exporting fruits. I served nine years in the military.

I didn’t belong to the Catholic Action but a friend of mine invited me to be a part of a cursillo movement called Jefes de Pergrino – about the time the Spanish Civil was ending. This was just one step of many for me to admission to the Catholic Action.

In 1948, I was a part of a group from my diocese that gathered in the City of Santiago de Compostela to prepare for a celebration – “the pilgrimage.” I was commissioned to go to this celebration as a representative of Mallorca. Afterwards, I was named President of the Young Men Catholic Action of our Diocese. That inspired me to consider that something concret needed to be done to motivate the youth of Spain. Together with some friends, and after much praying, studying and thinking, the Cursillos in Christianity was born. Today the Cursillos are on all five continents. I have authored many books about the Cursillos. Among these I wrote “The How and the Way” with Reverend Father Don Miguel Fernandez.