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OXFORD, England (CNS) -- A 23-year-old illiterate basket-maker who died in prison after giving birth to a child will be the first Gypsy woman beatified by the Catholic Church.
She will be among 115 martyrs from the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War beatified at a March 25 Mass in Spain's Almeria Diocese.
In July 1938, despite being pregnant, Emilia Fernandez Rodriguez was given a six-year jail sentence for trying to shield her husband, Juan Cortes, from recruitment by Republican paramilitaries after they occupied Tijola and closed its church.
An illiterate Roma, she was taught prayers by a fellow-inmate and sent to an isolation cell in Almeria's Gachas Coloras prison without proper food after refusing to betray her catechist during interrogation.
She was left to die, alone and unattended, after giving birth to a daughter, who was taken away by the prison directors after being secretly baptized by other prisoners.
The martyrs include 95 priests and 20 laity, all of whom died between July 1936 and January 1939.
Bishop Aldolfo Gonzalez Montes of Almeria said in a pastoral letter that "those who killed the martyrs did so because they formed part of a group the persecutors sought to exclude from society and professed a faith they intended to eradicate."