Modern Day Saints

Blessed José Luis Sanchez

After 1917, Mexico was led by anti-Catholic Freemasons who tried to evoke the anticlerical spirit of popular indigenous President Benito Juarez in the 1880s. The military dictators of the 1920s were an even more savage lot than Juarez. Plutarco Elías Calles, a fanatic determined to extirpate every trace of Catholicism from Mexico was elected president of Mexico in 1924.

On June 14, 1926, he signed a decree known unofficially as the "Calles Law." It laid out in specific terms the penalties for violations -- 500 pesos for wearing clerical garb, five years imprisonment for criticizing the laws or inducing a minor to join a monastic order, etc. Calles was awarded a medal of merit from the head of Mexico's Scottish rite of Freemasonry for his actions against the Catholics.

The trouble came when Calles attempted to enforce the laws in strongly Catholic west-central Mexico, particularly the states of Jalisco and Michoacán and even more the Los Altos ranch country of northeast Jalisco, focal point of what would become the terrible 1926-29 Cristero War. Shouting their battle cry of “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long Live Christ the King!), a motley assortment of ranchers, Catholic students and workers from Guadalajara and Indians from Jalisco's northern Sierra held off the cream of the federal army for three years.

Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Rio was born in Sahuayo, Mexico, on March 28, 1913. He was thirteen when the Cristero war broke out. Catholic rebellion against the anti-Catholic Masonic government escalated, and the resistance took up arms.

José Luis’ two older brothers joined the rebels. Wanting to defend the Faith and rights of Catholics, he followed in their footsteps and asked his mother for permission to join the Cristeros. She objected, saying he was too young. He told her, "Mama, do not let me lose the opportunity to gain Heaven so easily and so soon!"

Finally his mother relented, and the boy went to the rebel general, Prudencio Mendoza, and begged for an opportunity to give his life for Christ. The general agreed to let him be flag bearer, and off the youngster went to war. The Cristeros nicknamed him Tarcisius, after the early Christian saint, martyred for protecting the Eucharist from desecration.

During a battle on February 5, 1928, the general’s horse was killed, so José Luis gave him his horse, then headed for cover where he fired on the enemy until he ran out of ammunition. He was eventually captured by the government forces and imprisoned in the church sacristy. In order to terrorize him, soldiers made him watch the hanging of one of the other captured Cristeros. But José Luis encouraged the man, saying, "You will be in Heaven before me. Prepare a place for me. Tell Christ the King I shall be with him soon!"

In prison he prayed the Rosary and sang songs of faith. He wrote a beautiful letter to his mother telling her he was resigned to do God's will. José's father attempted to ransom his son, but was unable to raise the money in time.

Unable to break his resolve, the government ordered José Luis’ execution, and on February 10 the teenager was brutally tortured. The skin on the soles of his feet was sheered off; he was then forced to walk on salt, then made to walk through the town to the cemetery while the soldiers mocked and tempted him with promises of freedom if he would deny Christ. Crying and moaning in pain, he refused and continued to walk.

They asked him to renounce his faith in Christ, on pain of death. Jose did not accept apostasy. His mother was torn with grief and anguish, but encouraged her son. Occasionally, they stopped and said, "If you shout 'Death to Christ the King' we will spare your life. Say 'Death to Christ the King'." But he replied: "Viva Cristo Rey."

When they reached the place of execution, they stabbed him numerous times with bayonets as they did not want the gun shots to be heard by the Cristeros. He only shouted louder, "Viva Cristo Rey!" This so enraged the commander that he pulled out his pistol and shot Jose Luis Sanchez in the head. After being shot he drew a cross on the ground with his blood and kissed it as he died. He was only fourteen years old.

Juan Luis Sanchez was only one of many martyrs in the Cristero War. Most famous was Father Miguel Pro who was photographed by the govenrment at the time of his execution. Calles believed that a picture of a priest begging for mercy and publihed in the newspapers would demoralize the Cristeros. Instead the photo was of a priest with his arms outstretched, his body forming a cross as he shouted "Viva Cristo Rey." The photo energized the Cristeros.

The Mexican government's soldiers were a demoralized lot. A high percentage deserted. The government committed many atrocities and hung Cristeros from telegraph poles to demoralize the citizens; however, that did not deter them.

One of the Cristeros' main problems was lack of ammunition. A group of women called the Feminine Brigades of Saint Joan of Arc manufactured ammunition and smuggled supplies and battle plans for the Cristeros.

The United States, with a heavy interest in drilling for oil in Mexico, sided against the Cristeros in an effort to end the war - at one time using a warplane. This, along with the Masonic support from the United States was a black mark against our country. Pope Pius XI condemned the persecution of the Church in Mexico and issued three encyclicals, but his actions were largely ineffectual.

After several years of the Cristero War at a huge cost to the Mexican government, a truce was negotiated with the assistance of a U.S. Ambassador. However, Calles did not abide by the terms of the truce -- in violation of its terms, he had approximately 500 Cristero leaders and 5,000 other Cristeros shot, frequently in their homes in front of their spouses and children.

The effects of the war on the Church were profound. Between 1926 and 1934 at least forty priests were killed. Where there were 4,500 priests serving the people before the rebellion, in 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people, the rest having been eliminated by emigration, expulsion and assassination. By 1935, seventeen states had no priest at all.

Calles' insisted on a complete state monopoly on education, suppressing all Catholic education and introducing "socialist" education in its place. He stated, "We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth." The persecution continued as Calles maintained control under his Maximato and did not relent until 1940, when President Manuel Ávila Camacho, a believing Catholic, took office.

The remains of Jose Luis rest in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in his hometown. He was beatified on November 20, 2005, in the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. People have given him the title of ‘The Martyr of Sahuayo’ and “The Martyr of Christ the King.” He has been a great inspiration to boys everywhere.

Jim Fritz

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