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Spain – sun-drenched beaches, bullfighting, flamenco dancers, orange groves, olive trees, great works of art – the associations are many and varied whenever the country is mentioned. But earlier this year the world saw Spain in a new and horrific light after train bombings in Madrid killed around 190 people and injured almost 1,500.
The Salvation Army in Spain is small and has limited resources but its officers and soldiers are dedicated and eager to serve the present age in the love of Christ. When the news of the bombings broke they went into immediate action as Major Ambrosio Aycón, the Spain Command’s Public Relations and Youth Secretary, recalls:
‘Only a few minutes had passed since the explosions when we were arriving at command headquarters for another day’s work. The first news had just come on radio and television mentioning explosions on three commuter trains on their way in to Atocha Station. Nobody was yet aware of the seriousness of the tragedy.
‘Captain Luis Romera, Commanding Officer of the newly-opened Valdemoro Corps, 30 kilometres south of Madrid, called me on the telephone to ask if we were going to do anything. Being completely unaware of the magnitude of the tragedy I said that we would follow the news and decide once we had a better idea of what had happened. But Luis was not satisfied with this so he went and filled the corps van with all the blankets he could get hold of and set off to the station. When he arrived there it turned out that they were in great need of blankets to cover the dead and the wounded.
‘Motivated by this officer’s actions and having now discovered more of the scale of the disaster, we decided to fill another van with blankets, water and juice and, with officers and staff from command headquarters and Madrid Central Corps, we made our way to the location of one of the other explosions – El Pozo. It was, however, impossible to get anywhere near the place. Instead we installed ourselves in one of the big hospitals, Gregorio Marañon, where many of the wounded were being brought and where family members of the train passengers came looking for information.’
An information centre had quickly been set up in the auditorium of the university hospital’s conference centre. The auditorium was soon filled with desperate and often-hysterical family members. Salvationists and friends served water, tea and sandwiches and did their best to help the family members overcome by sorrow, many having lost relatives in the tragedy.
Major Aycón says, ‘Every minute we were there was tremendously painful as we saw people break down and often weep hysterically on learning that one of their loved ones had been killed. We could not hold back the tears as we again and again witnessed these painful scenes.’
When the group that had been distributing blankets at Atocha Station could do no more there, it went on to IFEMA (a large international exhibition centre) where the dead were being taken for identification. The centre was soon packed with relatives and friends waiting day and night for the moment they would be called on to identify a dead loved-one.
There, together with other voluntary organisations and in cooperation with the local authorities, The Salvation Army set up a stand to give out food and drink to the relatives who had to wait for hours at a time. Team members also distributed blankets and gave as much spiritual help and support as they could.
As the days passed, more and more volunteers turned up. Officers and soldiers from corps in Barcelona, Coruña and Alicante arrived to give support. There was even a group of officers and soldiers who travelled all the way from Switzerland to help.
When all but a few bodies in the IFEMA centre had been identified, and the relatives were almost all gone, The Salvation Army was asked if it could continue giving support to relatives of the victims, this time in the morgue in the south of Madrid, the place where the funeral wakes for a great number of the victims were being held.
The Spanish tradition is for families and friends of the deceased to pass the whole night in a wake before the funeral the following day. Hundreds of people were gathered there and the Army team was once again able to serve food and drink to many despairing and sorrowing people.
Major Aycón says: ‘It was a tremendous help to have blankets to give to many of these people but most important was the spiritual help and personal attention we could give to so many of them. We remained until the last of the victims brought in there had been buried.’
The major knows that everything The Salvation Army did was made possible through the prayers and support they received from all around the world. He says, ‘The soldiers and officers of Spain would like to thank all those who gave both financial and prayer support during this trying time. We did not feel alone, but were all the time strengthened by the prayers of so many. We were constantly aware of the wonderful presence of God. We are proud to have been able to serve God through The Salvation Army.’
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All the World
Tell a Friend
© 2013 The Salvation Army