A local gypsy woman who died during the Civil War is to become the first female Romany gitano to be beatified by the Catholic Church.
Emilia Fernández Rodríguez was born in Tijola in 1913 and died in the ‘Gachas Colorás’ prison in 1939 after giving birth. Sra Fernández was born to a cave dwelling family and earnt her living weaving baskets, helping to support her family in this manner.
In 1938 at the age of 24 she married her sweetheart Juan Cortés Cortés in the gypsy fashion. In order to escape military service in the civil war her husband temporarily blinded himself with a solution that would wear off, and she aided in the deception by declaring to military doctors that he had always been blind.
But the Guardia Civil discovered the deception and arrested the couple. The fact that she was two months pregnant did not stop her being sent to the provincial female prison, and she was later condemned to six years in jail.
In prison she fell in love with the Catholic faith and fellow inmates taught her prayers. But when the prison governess discovered her practising the faith, she was put into solitary confinement for refusing to disclose who her Catechist was. Still refusing to disclose the identity of her teacher in the Catholic faith, and by now heavily pregnant, she appealed to the civil governor for clemency but was ignored.
Early on January 13, 1939, and denied medical attention by the fact of being in solitary confinement, she gave birth alone on a straw mattress. She lost so much blood during the birth that she was eventually taken, two days later, to a local hospital. Her baby girl was baptised in the Catholic faith with the name Ángeles. But Emilia was returned to prison, where she would die days later from birth complications, still in solitary confinement and refusing to disclose the identity of her Cathechist.
She was buried in a common grave in Almería’s cemetery. Her story was later told by the woman she had been protecting, a local Catholic non gypsy called Dolores del Olmo. Her story has been passed down and now the local diocese has deemed her worthy of the honour of being beatified.
The news was confirmed by Bishop José Álvarez-Benavides who said that Pope Francis had approved her as part of a list of 115 local people to be beatified. No date has been set for the ceremony but it is likely to happen later this year.
Beatification is a recognition awarded by the Catholic Church that a person has entered into Heaven and has the ear of God, so to speak, so it’s worth praying to them for intercession.