Each attempt seemed worse than the one before. They were
at the point of giving up. Then one evening, one of the
men who had been working to develop the program received
an unexpected call from the chaplain of the local prison
asking for a couple of volunteers to come to the prison
and help with a difficult problem. Two young men were to
be executed the next day, but they would have nothing to
do with the chaplain. The chaplain thought perhaps a
layman could reach them.
The man who received the call was frightened at the
prospect of entering a prison, but after considerable
prayer, he called a friend to join him in responding to
the chaplain's call. Neither man had ever been to a prison,
but they agreed to come. As the two men entered the cell,
they encountered the condemned pair playing cards and
gambling with the guards. Prison rules declared that two
guards must stay in the cell with the condemned men on the
last night before execution. Their cell was littered with
pornographic magazines and pin-ups. The condemned men
seemed bent only on swapping dirty stories and gambling
the night away.
One of the two men the chaplain had called was Eduardo
Bonnin. He asked for permission to let them take the place
of the guards. When this had been granted, they began
talking to the prisoners, listening to their stories.
Gradually, they won the prisoners' confidence and
eventually, Eduardo said to them: "We came here to ask a
favour of you."
At this point, the two men laughed loud and long. "A
favour? Don't you realize that later this morning we..."
and he made a gesture of being executed. "But there is
something you can do," said Bonnin. "We only wanted you to
recommend something to the Lord for us. You are the only
people we have met who know when they will meet the Lord
face to face. Neither the Pope nor rulers nor rich nor
poor know when they will meet God, yet you do. We want you
to say something to Him. We feel it is so urgent. We have
this wonderful project from which we expected great
fruits, but so far we have failed miserably to get it
going. We want you to ask the Lord to help us." And Bonnin
proceeded to explain their hopes and anxieties concerning
As the night worn on, they spoke of Christ and His love
and mercy. They spoke of how the good thief had "stolen"
heaven, and they talked about forgiveness. In the early
hours of the morning, the chaplain heard the confessions
of the inmates and held a private mass. The two inmates,
Bonnin and his friend all received the Eucharist.
One of those men wrote to his family that night, and this
is a translation from the Spanish:
Dearest family, so close to my heart,When invited to have breakfast with the condemned men, Bonnin could not eat. He was too nervous. A short while later, they were led to the execution. One of them cried out for Eduardo Bonnin, and Eduardo told of how that man died, holding Eduardo's crucifix in one hand as Eduardo knelt beside him, praying for him.
These lines I am writing are the last you will receive from your son and brother. I am writing them more with my heart than my pen. I am in the condemned cell and have only a few hours remaining before I leave this life.
After my life of ill luck, God has granted me the extraordinary grace of enabling me to recognize my past faults and making peace with Him. He has given me this opportunity for sincere confession, which has opened, little by little, the gates of heaven.
It only remains for me to ask your pardon for all the heartaches I gave you during my life, with my straying, to recommend to my brothers whom I love with all my heart never to stray from the path of duty that you, my parents, taught us to follow. I never remembered you with such affection as at this moment. The end of my career has arrived. Praise be to God, who gave me these moments to ransom my life and to die as do those men who have faith.
My last thoughts on Earth are with you. Adios, until eternity.
These two inmates were executed in January 1949. The
project that Eduardo Bonnin and his companions had in
hand, and that they were unsuccessful in launching despite
all their trials and efforts, was referred to as
"Cursillos de Christiandad".
Surely we can conclude that Jesus said to them as He said
to the thief who was crucified with Him "Today you will be
with me in Paradise." Bonnin still wears the cross the
young condemned man held at his execution.
Extracted from the Kairos korner, LVCCM newsletter, October 1996.