“LA MUERTE ES CHICA”
And the Beatification of the Cristero Martyr José Luis Sánchez del Río
By Fr. Juan Pablo Ledesma L.C.
Translated by permission of the author: Padre Juan Pablo Ledesma L.C. Friday, 11 May 2018 Original Title: “La muerte es chica” En la Beatificación del mártir cristero José Luis Sánchez del Río; for Silentium Magazine – NB: missed in translation: By this title the Author signifies that death is a small thing, little, tiny, or petite. It is not always possible to translate word for word.
It seems that Mexico’s history has always been written in blood. In 1913 the Mexican Revolution had broken out. Since 1911 he was brewing when Francisco Madero succeeded the legendary Porfirio Diaz who had remained in her government for 30 years and tested an attempt to democracy. Madero would die soon after, assassinated in 1913. That’s when the turbulent Mexican Revolution begins with legendary figures who have filled novels, songs and movie screens: Pancho Villa in Chihuahua; Obregon in Sonora and Emiliano Zapata in the state of Morelos.
Mexico became, then, an exploding volcano, a bloody scenario. Difficult years for the Church and for the people. It was lived in continuous insecurity and in the middle of crossfire. General Carranza, then in power, promulgated in 1917 a constitution with fiery anti-Catholic accents. A constitution that ignored and went against the feelings of the people. Although Pancho Villa and Zapata had already been removed from the scene, the atmosphere was prevailing insecurity.
Then the Twenties began. We enter fully into revolutionary period of Mexico. The stage is now set for the Cristeros: parents, young people who left their homes and land to defend the freedom of the Catholic Church and die shouting ¡Viva Cristo Rey. The bloody battle-cry of the Cristero martyrs. The Government responds by the closing all the churches. Many of the priests are prosecuted. In some states, the governor threatened to shoot anyone who present their children for baptise, seeks a religious marriage or simply by listening to a sermon. Bishops insist on a path of dialogue, but the people, meanwhile, are running out of patience and take up arms. Cristeros, as they are called by the Federales, who will hear them die at the cry of ¡Viva Cristo Rey. The war will last for three years.
José or Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio was from Sahuayo, Michoacan. (Jose was his baptismal name, José Luis as he was called by his friends, and how he is known by his comrades at arms in the Cristero troops). As a child and wanting to imitate his two older brothers, he also wanted to be a cristero: “Accept me with the Cristeros, I am thirteen years old, I cannot handle a rifle, but I can remove the spurs from the soldiers, I can remove the horses’ saddles, I can fry beans and I want to be there “.
José was eager to defend their faith, to earn heaven, to demonstrate Jesus Christ and love the Church. He knew that his life was at stake, that he was heading for martyrdom. Freely, for love. Why? Where did this ideal come from? Perhaps by the memory and the testimony of Anacleto González Flores (1888-1927), who will now be beatified along with him – then leader of the so-called “Popular Union” who had spilled his blood to defend his Catholic faith. José was strongly struck by this example. I wanted, I dreamed to be like him. That is why he made a pilgrimage to the tomb of the martyr Anacleto. Before his remains, he prayed and dared to ask him for the grace of being a cristero and a martyr, of dying for Christ like him.
Back in Sahuayo, José wanted to converse with his mother, afraid of losing him, and he repeated: “It has never been so easy to win heaven as now.” Finally and by insistence they allowed him to leave.
He enrolled with the Cristero troops in the summer of 1927. Until one day … near Quitupan (Michoacán), on the mountain, a battle had been waged between the federal army and the Cristeros. There were many casualties. Shouts of joy and the touch of retreat were heard. A bullet wounded General Cristero’s mount. Joseph, seeing him, ran to offer him his own horse. He insisted: “My general, here is my horse. Save yourself, even if they kill me. I do not need you and you do. ” The general, trusting that they would respect the boy’s life, rode and thus managed to escape. The teenager was taken prisoner. In a letter to his family, he wrote that day:
Heading towards Martyrdom… He knew that his life was at stake, that he was heading for martyrdom. Freely, for love. Why?
Cotija, Monday, February 6, 1928.
My dear Mamá:
I was taken prisoner in combat today. I believe that I am going to die very shortly, but it does not matter, mamá. Resign yourself to the will of God. I die happy, because I die in the ranks of Our Lord..
Do not be distressed about my death, which is my only worry. Tell my brothers to follow the example of their younger brother and do the will of God. Have courage and send me your blessing and my father’s.
Give my greetings to all for the last time and receive the heart of your son who loves you and wanted to see you before dying.
José Sánchez del Río.
The next day, Tuesday, February 7, the two prisoners were taken from Cotija to Sahuayo. They were put at the disposal of the federal deputy Rafael Picazo Sánchez, former friend and neighbour of the Sánchez del Río family and also José’s godfather. Now, however, other airs ran. Next to Joseph, a young fellow prisoner feared death. José consoled him, encouraged him: “Do not back down; Our sorrows last while we close our eyes”. And in those days his voice was heard singing from the place of his confinement, the Baptistery of the main Church of Sahuayo: “To heaven, to heaven, to heaven I want to go …”.
It is the first night of prison in the parish of Santiago, José saw fighting cocks on the altar. They had profaned the parochial temple. He comes up with an idea: kill those roosters. Thinking about the consequences of such boldness, saying: Who cares? Death is small.
Neither prayers nor gold, nor the friends managed to convince Don Rafael Picazo. Only if José apostatises and denies his faith in Christ, will his life be spared. But José did not hesitate. He had time to write some last lines:
Sahuayo, February 10, 1928.
Mrs. María Sanchéz de Olmedo
I am sentenced to die. At half past eight tonight the moment I have so greatly desired will come. I thank you and (Aunt) Magdalena for all your kindnesses to me. I am unable to write mamá: I ask you the favour to write to her.
Tell Aunt Magdalena that I managed to arrange that they permit me to see her for the last time and I believe that she will not refuse to come (to bring Holy Communion) before the martyrdom.
Give my greetings to all. Receive as always and for the last time the heart of your nephew who loves you dearly …
Cristo vive, Cristo reina, Cristo impera y Santa María de Guadalupe.
José Sánchez del Río,
who dies in defence of the Faith.
A picket of soldiers led him out of prison. They cut the soles of his feet with a knife and, with the plants bleeding, took him walking to the cemetery. The death procession left Constitucion Street and they entered the municipal cemetery. It was very night. On the outskirts of the cemetery, outside the gate there were several people following the execution at a distance. At the time, the head executioner gave the order to stab José, to prevent the gunfire being heard in Sahuayo. They dug their daggers in the chest, back, neck … Each stab, José shouted louder Long live Christ the King!
Then the head of the escort shouted: “Enough! He approached José and asked him cruelly, “Do you want us to say something to your dad?” Joseph replied: -What we will see each other in heaven! Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Santa Maria de Guadalupe! At that moment “El Zamorano”, enraged and mad, beside himself,
pulled out his pistol and shot him point-blank behind the right ear. José fell bathed in blood saying his last profession of faith. It was eleven thirty on the night of Friday, February 10, 1928. In 1954 they exhumed him and deposited him in the crypt of the Sacred Hearts. In 1996 the mortal remains of José Sánchez del Río were again transferred to the Parroquia de Santiago Apóstol. Currently there is, next to the baptistery, in a wooden urn supported by two wooden columns. There are many flowers on his grave. A young boy who knew him as a child, Fr. Marcial Maciel, can not forget the trace left in his heart so great testimony of faith and love: “Of course this is not explained by the fact that the child was brave ; It is because God gave him the grace of martyrdom, gave him the strength. A boy of 14 years before the bayonets, before the rifles, he starts to tremble and says what you want before he gets shot. But this one does not Live Christ the King! It was his last cry and he was shot down. I said to our Lord: Why did you choose him to be a martyr and you left me? I was very envious of this friend because he had been able to give his life for Christ. That is one of my memories that I sometimes think about, because it is a testimony of what true love of Christ is, to give his life for Him … to see Him die for Him, is something that can not really be erased”.
Now the Church will beatify him as a martyr. It is true that martyrdom is a grace, a gift. But we must also recognise that every baptised person is also called the virtues of martyrdom: “Martyrdom is esteemed by the Church as an exceptional gift and supreme test of love. And, if it is a gift granted to a few, however, all must be ready to confess Christ before men and to follow him on the path of the cross, in the midst of persecutions that never fail the Church ».
Martyrdom is passion. And in our lives as Christians it means passion of love for Christ; radical and total detachment from ourselves. Passion of love for others, in total and permanent donation to others, living the heroic charity, following the example of Christ and the early Christians. Passion of love for the Church, in the daily struggle to extend his kingdom with the bold and heroic witness of our faith.
Thus José Luis died, shedding his blood for Christ, for defending his faith, for being faithful to his Friend. He preferred to die rather than betray his best Friend, Jesus Christ. He died for the faith and others live today for that faith. In Rome, on June 22, 2004, his Holiness John Paul II approved and ordered the signing of the decree by which José Sánchez del Río, Anacleto González and 12 other martyred companions would be recognised as “venerable”. And so, at the wish of Pope Benedict XVI, on November 20, 2005, in Guadalajara, the Church will elevate him to the glory of the altars in a solemn ceremony of beatification.
- Ferreira, Cornelia R. Saint José Luis Sánchez del Rio: Cristero Boy Martyr, 2d. ed., biography (2017 Canisius Books).
- McKenzie, Fr. Kevin William “Blessed José“, biography (2019)
For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada
What price would you pay for freedom? In the exhilarating action epic FOR GREATER GLORY, an impassioned group of men and women make the decision to risk it all for family, faith and country. This film unfolds the (hidden) true story of 1920’s Cristeros War. Written by Dos Corazones Films.
The film opens with screen titles describing the anti-Catholic provisions of the 1917 Constitution of Mexico. Civil war erupts when newly elected Mexican president Plutarco Elías Calles (Rubén Blades) begins a violent crackdown against the country’s Catholic faithful. The film depicts the carnage by showing churches being set on fire, Catholic priests murdered and countless faithful peasants killed, then having their bodies publicly hanged on telegraph poles as a warning to others.
(Caution Advised – scenes of brutality, torture and martyrdom)