The Mexican Martyrs of the 20th Century
Go after the Bishops, Priests, Religious and the Church
Two years earlier in February, 1927, the president of Mexico, Plutarco Elias Calles issued an order for all Priests throughout Mexico to leave their parishes and report to Mexico City. As this would place them under the supervision of the State, robbing them of their allegiance to Rome and the Pope, they refused. They stood on their Constitutional rights which insured clear separation of Church and State. All the Priests, Bishops and Religious were in communion, rejecting the State's authority over the Church. They knew the outcome. They chose to become fugitives rather than deny the Faith. As the early Church Martyrs before them, they would not swear allegiance to Caesar (the head of state); for to do so would be to declare him God. They became hunted, and when caught, arrested, mercilessly tortured, and very often executed. And while this was going on, the United States was giving credit to Mexico in the sums of tens of millions!
Close down the Church completely! The Constitution, instituted in 1917, declared the Church illegal. They made Priests and Religious bloody examples of what happens to those who defy the government. Instead of the faithful being intimidated, their fervor for their Church grew stronger. The people would not give up.
The Church was no longer allowed to have private schools. The government closed them down. There would be no place where children could go to hear God's Word taught. The government then reopened the schools with a total philosophy of Atheism. If the future citizens were to be educated at all, it would be with this Marxist ideology that had been brought back from the Soviet Union. That's what the government thought! The instructors, who had taught in the Catholic schools, refused to teach the new curriculum. They would not lead innocent children against the Church and God. They went underground! The Church became a catacomb Church, and the Catholic schools along with her!
The Church was no longer allowed to own property. Therefore, the government plundered all the magnificent tributes of praise and homage to their God, the faithful had built and paid for. With one fell swoop, the new despots, who had promised the people of Mexico a new, fairer world, tried to rob them of a dream they had cherished for close to 400 years. The government took the beautiful churches, schools, convents and etc. and used them as office buildings, museums, and often stables. But this was the brick and mortar that was the Church. The faithful met in homes, in back of stores, in squares. The Church would not lie down and die! The Church was alive!
They closed down the seminaries. No seminaries, no seminarians, no Priests, no Mass, no Church. That would be the end of vocations to the Priesthood in Mexico. As if this was not enough, the government used the constitution to deport all foreign missionaries, and forbid any from entering Mexico. The idea was to rob the people of all Catholic instruction. Without the Priests to pass on the Faith, it would surely die. If only godliness was taught, without any teaching of Christ and His Church, these modern day Pilates would kill Christ once and for all. So, they thought!
Each state was given the power to determine how many Priests would be permitted to serve the needs of the citizens of their locale. The constitution made the Priesthood a profession not unlike those requiring licenses from the government to practice; such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and etc. By this act, the government was declaring the Church a part of the State. This would mean that the State would determine how, when and what the Church would teach. In other words the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, under obedience to the Vatican and the Holy See, would no longer exist. It would become the Mexican State Church.
The men of Mexico went to the hills, and their wives and sisters stayed behind to defend their homes and children from the enemy, their own countrymen. Many women saw their children sacrificed because they would not tell the whereabouts of a Priest or Religious who some Judas had reported to the government. These people of Mexico whom the world does not know, believed that the Catholic Faith was more precious than life on earth.
Many young men and women gave their lives crying out Viva Cristo Rey, but this was not only a fight for freedom of religion. When one freedom is taken away, you can be assured, others will follow. They lost freedom of the press, the right to assemble in public, the right to associate with whom they wished. A government, which underwent a revolution for supposed equality for all, was now denying freedom to all. All that is, but the favored few who were in charge of the government. It is said that Abraham, Moses and the other prophets never saw the dream. Those who died never saw their country free, but did they die in vain? The Martyrs never saw the Promised Land in this world but they all did in the Next.
The government hunted down Priests, accusing them of leading the rebellion. That was totally untrue. Their crime was that they stuck to their God-appointed vocations of tending the souls of the faithful. With the exception of three, no Priest took up arms or incited the people to revolt. Nevertheless, it was reported to an American newsman that over 100 Priests had been executed for treason against the State.
One incident, we would like to share with you is typical of what went on. When the order had been given for all Priests to leave their parishes, Father Elias Nieves chose to stay behind with his people. Warned that soldiers were looking for him, he fled to another village. It would appear, he was safe. Then someone sold his soul for a promise that would probably never be kept. When the soldiers arrived, a traitor told them the Priest's whereabouts. They looked all over the village where the Priest was hiding. Everyone was silent; but when they frightened a poor old lady with descriptions of the horrible tortures she would undergo, she pointed out the house. They dragged out Father Nieves. Two men who were trying to defend him, were taken and placed in prison, as well.
Some people offered money for the release of the three captives. The sum was high and this usually worked. Not this time! The captain wanted blood, not money; but not of the two men; he offered them their freedom. It was the Priest, he wanted. They insisted they would go with their Priest, to their death. The captain shrugged his shoulders: Oh well, what's two more lives, he thought.
The sun rose. The villagers were held at gunpoint, as their Priest and two villagers were led out to be executed. The two men knelt down before Father Nieves, confessed their sins. After he gave them absolution they stepped forward. Together they said: "We are ready!". Then, with the Signal Grace of the Martyrs before them they stood there, without blindfolds, never flinching, as the explosion of bullets struck them down one by one. Men and women cried, their hands clamping their mouths to stifle their screams.
It was time for the Priest. He walked toward the bullet-riddled corpses of the two brave men who had preceded him. He told the firing squad he was ready; but then asked for a moment to pray. Then he turned to the soldiers: "Kneel down. So that I may bless you." They obeyed and knelt. Was this an instinctive response dating back to the time they were Catholics and not soldiers? Were they remembering their childhood and the love and respect they'd had for their Priests? Did they remember the many times the Priests had come to their home to be with members of their families, as they lay dying? In imitation of the Savior Who asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him, Father Nieves laid his hands on their heads and pardoned the soldiers for what they were about to do. He blessed them all with the Sign of the Cross, the one He chose to die for.
As he turned to bless the Captain, his forgiveness was met with a bullet. The Captain raised his gun and shot the Priest, without a moment's hesitation. To make sure, his dirty work was done, the Captain coldly aimed his revolver at Father Nieve's head and blew his brains out. I wonder if, some day, he will be pleading for Father Nieve's intercession, as he faces his death and final judgment?
All the villagers were no longer frightened of the soldiers. The next day, they processed with the three bodies and lay them to rest. It was a day of rejoicing, of resurrection. It was a day of hope. It was plain, these three had conquered death. By their Martyrdom, they were with the Father in the Kingdom. For every villager who betrayed his Church and Priest, whether it was because of fear or greed, there was hundreds who chose death rather than betrayal.
One of the greatest hurts, and unbearable pains suffered by the people, was they could no longer have Mass said for them. But this was not for all the people. Those who could bribe the soldiers and police were able to hide a Priest and celebrate Mass in their home. Poor women, shawls hugging their heads were followed, as they went to Mass. They were killed, along with the other worshipers and the Priest, while the privileged few had the benefits of the Sacraments. If those few were aware of the plight of their less fortunate brothers and sisters, I wonder what all the earthly consolations will mean when they beg of their Lazarus', in Heaven, some water for their fevered and parched lips?
The murdering of Priests knew no boundaries. There was no longer sanctuary in the Church, or on the Altar for that matter. One day Father Francisco Vera was celebrating Mass in Jalisco. The soldiers stormed into the Church. The Captain took a picture of the Priest in his vestments, before and after he shot him. He proudly sent it to President Calles who was so pleased, he sent it to the papers for all to see and be forewarned. There are hundreds of stories like this and worse. They did not stop at Priests celebrating Mass. An American correspondent was shocked, as local authorities bragged that forty old men and women, caught attending Mass, were brought to the cemetery and shot. Their crime against the State was worshiping God.
They were not satisfied with robbing property from Mother Church. They then began to confiscate homes and lands belonging to Catholics. For rewards, for envy, for spite, Judases began reporting that people were praying in their homes. This warranted the eviction of the rightful owners of the haciendas and the turning over of the property to an official of the government or another dishonest despot. Then, it became a crime to have anything of a religious nature in your home. Some of the haciendas had objets des arts which had a religious motif, like for example a Michelangelo or a Da Vinci. The art and the home were seized; and if they were lucky the owners were allowed to escape with their lives and the clothes on their backs. Sometimes, that was not the case.
As with the Irish Martyrs, the Mexican Martyrs held their starving children in their arms, as they stood helplessly by and saw food being carted out of their villages. A correspondent from the United States, Mr. Beals, seeing the atrocities and the suffering of the people cried out that he did not understand "how Christ the King, the Prince of Peace was served by the slaughter of innocent men, women and children." Yet he did concede that it was not the Catholics who were responsible, but the military and unprincipled bandits. What did Mr. Beals want? Did he know their Lord Jesus? Did he not understand they could not deny this Lord and His Church, for that would be true slavery? They would rather live forever in His Arms than a poor lifetime in man's. But, how do you explain the love one has for Jesus and His Church? You have to live it, to know it. As you walk with Him, and talk with Him, you find yourself filled with an ecstasy so sublime, life is pale by comparison.
A young father, Anacleto González Flores, was tortured because he would not reveal the whereabouts of the Archbishop of Guadalajara. "I die, but God does not die!" He cried out these words, as they lined him and the men with him who had refused to save their lives by exposing the Archbishop. Anacleto's young widow brought their young son to the spot where his father lay. She took his picture standing beside his father's lifeless body. She wanted to insure he would never forget his father and the price he paid for the right to be Catholic.
As we get to know Guadalajarans, and see them set their jaws stubbornly when someone tells them there is no God, when they turn off some intellectual who tells them they have been taught a lot of superstition that the Church has drummed up to control them, then we know that they too have not forgotten. Is this what makes up the God's people who would not allow Him to die or fade away as a Memory? What do you think? So, you see. Mr. Beals, wherever you are, and the others who think like you, we believe the message is that the ecstasy is worth the agony.