(OSV News) — Spain’s Madrid Archdiocese is pressing for the beatification of a bank employee and skateboard enthusiast who was killed attempting to save passers-by during an islamist terror attack in London. He would have turned 45 May 25.
“In our societies, where individualism and consumerism prevail, our primary concern is usually with our own needs and whims, and we routinely forget about others,” said Juan Carlos Mollejo, the cause’s postulator.
“The gesture he made in jeopardizing his own life for others forces us to ask questions. How important are the people closest to us, and those we come across on a daily basis? Can we do something for them, even if this means forgetting about ourselves?” he remarked.
The lay Catholic spoke as Spain’s Catholic Association of Propagandists, a group of 23 organizations, launched a nationwide poster campaign to publicize the story of Ignacio Echeverría Miralles de Imperial (1978-2017), whose beatification process was backed in January by Cardinal Carlos Osoro of Madrid.
In an OSV News interview, Mollejo said he had heard about Echeverría when Spanish media reported his disappearance and death and is collecting testimonies from people who knew him and felt his intercession.
Echeverría, then 39, had worked as a lawyer for HSBC bank in the English capital’s financial district, City of London, for a year, adapting European directives against corruption and money laundering, when he witnessed the attack at south London’s Borough Market while cycling home with friends on June 3, 2017. He immediately intervened, using his skateboard as a weapon.
Although he drew the attackers away from a random French victim, enabling her to escape, Echeverría was stabbed in the back when he pressed on and attempted to save a policeman.
“From the way they attacked people, it was clear their intention was to kill everyone,” a friend, Guillermo Sanchez-Montisi, recounted to Spain’s Catholic Alfa y Omega weekly.
“He reacted immediately, as if he didn’t even think about it. One of the attackers covered his head while Ignacio struck him with the skateboard. I could hear the noise of hitting until suddenly Ignacio was on the ground,” the friend said.
Meanwhile, the rector of Echeverría’s former London parish said he had been well known as a regular Mass attender and helper, and confirmed that local Catholics also were ready to testify in his cause.
“His faith was obviously very important to him — while he didn’t draw attention to himself, he was a strong presence here,” Father Keith Stoakes, from the Church of Sts. Mary and Joseph in Poplar, told OSV News.
“When so many young people are drifting away from the church, his inspirational example will certainly be a source of encouragement. If he’s declared blessed, this will be a great honor for our parish,” the priest said.
Spanish newspapers said Echeverría, who was born the third of five children at Ferrol in Spain’s northern Galicia region, held law degrees from Madrid’s Complutense University and the Sorbonne in Paris, had been a member of Spain’s Acción Católica (Catholic Action) lay movement, founded in the 1920s, and had taught the catechism to Spanish-speaking children in London’s Tower Hamlets district.
They reported that Auxiliary Bishop Juan Antonio Martínez Camino of Madrid had proposed his beatification process in light of a July 2017 papal motu proprio, “Maiorem Hac Dilectionem,” which decreed that the “heroic offering of life, inspired and sustained by charity,” should be viewed as grounds for sainthood as “a true, complete and exemplary imitation of Christ.”
The Madrid Archdiocese’s episcopal delegate for saints’ causes, Msgr. Albert Fernández, told OSV News that jurisdiction in the beatification process currently rested, under canon law, with London’s Southwark Archdiocese as the place where Echeverría died, but said the Vatican had been asked to transfer this to Madrid so the process could formally begin.
Meanwhile, in his OSV News interview, Mollejo said he had been asked to act as postulator by an association formed to promote Echeverría’s beatification, which included friends, colleagues and family members.
“‘No one has greater love than this,’ Jesus told us in John 15:13, then ‘to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ — this is a message the church tries to draw our attention to,” Mollejo told OSV News.
“Ignacio is a thoroughly contemporary person for modern times — who had trouble with his studies and with finding a job, and also liked sport and helped his friends. Many people are already testifying they feel an affinity with him as someone who experienced the same life difficulties,” he said.
Eight people were killed and 48 injured when three terrorists wearing fake explosive vests drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then ran amok in nearby Borough High Street, randomly stabbing members of the public with 12-inch knives until they were shot dead by police. Islamic State terrorists claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Echeverría, whose body was only identified four days later because of the loss of his wallet and telephone, was posthumously awarded the George Cross for bravery in July 2018 by the late Queen Elizabeth II.
He also was given Spain’s Order of Civil Merit for “exemplary conduct” by King Felipe VI and has skate parks named after him in Alicante, Madrid and Malaga.
A prayer for his intercession, describing him as a “skateboard hero” and “example of generosity, especially for young people,” was approved by Cardinal Osoro in 2022, while his former school and a street in Madrid’s Las Rozas suburb also have been renamed after him.
In a website message for the new poster campaign on Echeverría — captioned “Would you die for someone who doesn’t know you?” — his father, Joaquín, said his son had risked his life previously to save a drowning couple on Spain’s northern Oyambre Beach, and had also been badly assaulted in another incident while defending fellow skaters.
He added that he had resisted casual relationships with women and “operations of dubious morality” in his banking work.
“It was as if he was preparing all his life for the day of his death,” said Joaquín Echeverría, who published a book about his son in November 2019.
“Jesus died for us on the Cross and Ignacio followed up his words — which sound very beautiful but are harsh to live by — by dying for people he didn’t even know.”
Jonathan Luxmoore writes for OSV News from Oxford, England.