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Religion: Protestant in Spain

3 minute read

His white satin suit was ready, and his playmates were all talking about their own first communions in the Roman Catholic Church, the next day; but six-year-old Benito Corvillon persuaded his mother that he simply couldn’t go through with it. That, 29-year-old Benito now believes, began a career that has since shocked a number of his fellow Spaniards.

Benito’s father, who was manager of a big coffee house on Madrid’s Gran Via and concessionaire of the bar in the Spanish Parliament building, could afford to send his son to the best high school in the city. Benito also liked to spend his evenings talking history, philosophy and sometimes religion with tough-minded old Juan Fliedner, one of Spain’s rare Protestant ministers. Eventually Benito joined Pastor Fliedner’s Evangelical Church.

The Thing to Fear. Spain’s Civil War was hard on the Corvillon family. Because they stayed at their jobs in Loyalist Madrid they were in the Franco government’s Dad books when the war ended. Benito’s father was fired, and Benito himself was thrown into jail without trial or specific charges. For nine months he was awakened each morning by the firing of execution squads, wondering if he would be next.

“The one thing I feared most,” he says, “was that my entire life might be contaminated by hate, bitterness and yearning for revenge. . . I prayed and God answered me. It was then I decided to dedicate my life to preaching good, forgiveness and brotherhood to my people.”

When he got out of jail, Benito managed to find a job as waiter at the Parliament bar which his father had once run. Protestant activities were strictly limited under Franco, and the Evangelical community was all but dispersed. Benito asked his old friend Pastor Fliedner to help him get ready for the ministry.

While studying theology he continued to work in the bar, where his good will and cheerfulness made him a favorite with the deputies. When work was slack, he boned up on his theology among the bottles, disguising the books with the dust jackets of cheap novels.

A Little Misguided. Soon after he became a minister, a call came to Barcelona—to the largest Protestant church (300 members) in Catalonia. Benito went to his boss at the bar and explained why he wanted to leave. When he discovered that he had been harboring a fledgling Protestant pastor, the proprietor was horror-struck. “I am a ruined man!” he groaned.* When word got around, the president of the Parliament thundered: “Where is this man? I want to slap his face. Shame on you for having sheltered him.”

Last week Pastor Benito, whose red brick church is filled each Sunday, was preparing to interrupt his 18-hour days of preaching, teaching and prayer to visit Majorca. “I have to go there,” he said. “There are brothers out there who have not seen a pastor in years. I must go. But not on a mission, for we are not missionaries. The Spanish people do not need missionaries . . . they are . . . only a little misguided and confused. They need the Gospel. I will bring it to them.”

* For many Spaniards, the term Protestant has been made to stand for something shameful and dangerous. A pamphlet recently published by a Catholic organization, with the Church’s imprimatur, denned Protestantism as a “means invented by a monk named Luther to marry a nun” and as a “diabolical sect invented by the devil.”

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