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La Cristiada

Posted by Dr. D , 14 October 2012 · 397 views

On a crisp early morning in March of 1927, they were placed before the adobe wall: Antonio Muñiz, Dolores Rodriguez, Juan Silva Garcia, Placido Archiniega, Padre Jose Rodriguez Gonzalez, Francisco Guzman, Jose Fuantos Silva and Isidro Perez Vazquez.  Two kilometers away, in the large plaza known as the Alameda, the same was happening to Antonio Verastegui.  As the soldiers lifted their rifles and followed the order to aim, the men shouted out, “Jesus is king!”  The rifles resounded and limp bodies slumped to the earth.  Today, the wall surrounding the Cemetery of San Jose bears the pattern of holes of the bullets that passed through their bodies and it is reserved as a historic marker.

What offense had these men and hundreds more like them committed?  Why were firing squads slaying common citizens?  It was simply because they had persisted in following the Catholic faith and attended masses in violation of national law.  A little-known and ugly period in the history of Mexico.

In Spanish it is known as La Cristiada, a movement by the Government of Mexico to eliminate the Catholic Church from the nation.  It was led by President Plutarco Elias Calles, a self-described atheist who felt the church had too much power and influence over the common man.  Churches were ordered closed as well as monasteries and convents.  Catholic masses were illegal and a death penalty instituted for any priest violating the law.  The mandates forced citizens to clandestine celebrations of their faith and priests to live in hiding.  Between 1926 and 1927 thousands had died.

At last, the people decided that someone had to defend their rights and the government was their enemy.  They raised private armies and violently opposed federal troops on all fronts.  Out gunned and out-numbered the spiritual protest was doomed from its inception.  Priests were pulled forcibly from sanctuary homes and shot to death in front of the village they served.  Pope John Paul II would later declare them to be saints.

The persecution continued for ten years and the death toll was appalling.  Only international intervention caused the Calles Administration to relent and for the right to worship to be restored to the people.

On that morning in March, 1927, Francisco Peralta Sanchez awoke.  He was surrounded by the bodies of his compatriots.  The bullet aimed for his heart had struck against the bronze crucifix that hung from his neck and he had been rendered unconscious.  He walked home to find his family in mourning.  He lived as a recluse in his home for years thereafter, hidden from the wrath of his government.

Our world would be a finer place if our passions were driven by knowledge instead of belief.  The power of government reacting to the power of faith wrote the profane page of national history in the blood of countless innocents.  The Constitution of Mexico prohibits presidents from serving more than one term so Calles found a series of puppet presidents to do his bidding.  With the election of Lazaro Cardenas, however, his reign of terror came to an end.  On April 9, 1936, Calles was in his bedroom reading Mein Kampf when federal officers entered and took him to the airport.  He was exiled from Mexico for life and died in San Antonio, Texas.