Relations between Church and State have always been wary and sometimes strained, throughout history, from Roman times to the present. Heads of state have often sought to dictate to the Church and even select our Bishops. The latest, most famous example occurred when the President of Argentina sought to name the Archbishop replacement for Cardinal Bergolio in Buenos Aires, when he came our Pope Francis. Pope Francis side-stepped that threat by quickly naming one of his closest colleagues from their work in the slums of Buenos Aires as his replacement.
Five articles of the 1917 Constitution of Mexico, just one hundred years ago, were particularly aimed at suppression of the Catholic Church. Article 3 mandated secular education in schools, prohibiting the Church from participating in primary and secondary education. Article 5 outlawed monastic religious orders. Article 24 forbade public worship outside of church buildings, while Article 27 restricted religious organizations’ rights to own property. Finally, Article 130 revoked basic civil rights of clergy members: priests and religious workers were prevented from wearing their habits, or priest collars were denied the right to vote, and were forbidden from commenting on public affairs to the press. Most of the anti-clerical provisions of the constitution were removed in 1998.
Often there was violence, like we have seen even with the persecution and murder of Christians in the Middle East and other regions. In Mexico, one hundred years ago there was the case of San Miguel Pro, a young Jesuit priest who refused to stop taking sacraments to Catholics in Mexico City. He had been warned not to continue working as priest. Eventually he was arrested and condemned to death by firing squad without a trial. We have photographs moments before his execution, when he held his rosary and shouted, “Viva Cristo Rey”!
Then, there was José Luis Sánchez del Río (Or, “Joselito”). Pope Francis proclaimed him to be a saint on 16 October 2016.
When the Cristero War broke out in 1926, his brothers joined the rebel forces, but his mother would not allow him to take part because he was just 14. The rebel general, Prudencio Mendoza, also refused his enlistment. The boy insisted that he wanted the chance to give his life for Jesus Christ and so come to Heaven easily.
The Cristero general finally relented and allowed José to become the flagbearer of the troop. The Cristeros nicknamed him “Tarcisius”, after the early Christian saint, martyred for protecting the Eucharist from desecration. When General Mendoza’s horse was shot out from under him, Jose gave him his own horse. José was captured by government forces, who ordered him to “renounce his faith in Christ, under threat of death. He refused to accept apostasy”.
To break his resolve, he was made to watch the hanging of another Cristero soldier that they had in custody, but instead José encouraged the man, saying that they would soon meet again in Heaven after death.
The government soldiers failed to break José’s resolve. On the evening of 10 February 1928: “… they cut the bottom of his feet and obliged him to walk around the town toward the cemetery. They also at times cut him with a machete until he was bleeding from several wounds. He cried and moaned with pain, but he did not give in. At times they stopped him and said, ‘If you shout, “Death to Christ the King” we will spare your life’. José would only shout, ‘I will never give in. Viva Cristo Rey!'” When they reached the place of execution, his captors stabbed him numerous times with bayonets. The commander was so furious that he pulled out his pistol and shot José in the head.
Moments before his death, the boy drew a cross in the dirt and kissed it.
Jose was a soldier for Christ. Like San Miguel Pro, San Joselito died for his strong devotion to Christ the King. Both of them asked Jesus,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And they believed Jesus’ words to the good thief,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This past few days has been difficult for many after the recent Election. Some are very emotional regarding threats of mass deportation of all people here illegally. (That is not going to happen. It is physically and legally impossible.) Moreover, the Church and the Bishops have always been on the side of immigrants.
Some are greatly relieved after the election because of the end of threats to the Church and Christians for government threats to Christian organizations. Many priests were fearful of being forced to perform homosexual marriages.
Church organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor have ended up in court to avoid being forced to pay for abortion and birth control. Our own sisters would potentially have been subject to this demand, as well. Our bishops were united against these laws. We recall one of the Presidential candidates referring to this, saying, “Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper,” Clinton said, referring to the pro-abortion laws in Obamacare. “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.” She and her colleagues were well-known for arguing for stronger government laws against the Church, including taxation. That fear now seems to be diminished.
As Catholics we must remember our Church history, and that our Sacramental system makes us citizens of Heaven. The saints and martyrs understood this. Our home is in Heaven. Our Kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven. Our King is our Lord Jesus Christ. Viva, Cristo Rey!