North American Sanctity: The Mexican Martyrs

“I desire to love your Heart, my Jesus, with total participation, I desire to love it with passion, I desire to love it to the point of martyrdom. With my soul I bless you, my Sacred Heart.”

Welcome to "North American Sanctity," a series on holy men and women, boys and girls, saints and those on the road to sainthood, from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Some will be familiar, others less so; but all are inspiring!

By Kimberly Bruce

Jesus told St. Faustina, “Pure love gives the soul strength at the very moment of dying. When I was dying on the cross, I was not thinking about Myself, but about poor sinners, and I prayed for them to My Father. I want your last moments to be completely similar to Mine on the cross. There is but one price at which souls are bought, and that is suffering united to My suffering on the cross. Pure love understands these words; carnal love will never understand them" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 324.)

Such were the last moments of the six Mexican Martyrs (feast day, May 21), canonized by Pope St. John Paul II on May 21, 2000. All were priests and members of the Knights of Columbus. They were killed during the government’s persecution of the faithful during the Mexican Cristero War in the 1920’s.

Their story is depicted in the 2012 movie For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada. Though the war took place from 1926-1929, persecution of Catholics remained into the next few decades.

The Sanctuary of the Martyrs of Christ the King in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara is dedicated to these six martyrs along with 19 others canonized by St. John Paul II. It is the largest worship space in Mexico and one of the largest in Latin America.

The Mexican Martyrs, clockwise from top: St. Miguel de la Mora de la Mora, St. José María Robles Hurtado, St. Mateo Correa Magallanes, St. Luis Batis Sáinz, St. Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán, and St. Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero. (courtesy Knights of Columbus).

Stories of heroism
So, who were these six martyrs and what are their stories?

Saint Luis Batis Sáinz, born Sept. 13, 1870, in San Miguel Mezquital, Zacatecas became a priest at the age of 23. He served as spiritual director of the conciliar seminary. At his canonization, St. John Paul II said of Fr. Sáinz,“[He] knew how to instill in youth the spirit of Christian heroism to profess the faith.”

Before Fr. Sáinz was taken prisoner by the Mexican authorities for obeying his Bishop instead of the government, he declared, "May God’s will be done. If He wishes it, I will be one of the martyrs of the Church!” 

He was shot with one of his companions, Manuel Morales, on the Feast of the Assumption, 1926. Father tried to save Morales’ life by interceding that Morales had a wife and children, but it was to no avail. Father absolved Morales from his sins just before their deaths.

Saint Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán was born on Mar. 13, 1875, in Sayula, Jalisco. Ordained in 1903 at the age of 27, he consecrated his priesthood to the Most Holy Virgin of Guadalupe. “With all his heart,” said St. John Paul, “he implored: ‘O Lord, give us the grace to suffer in your name, to confirm our faith with our blood and crown our priesthood with martyrdom….’” When federal troops arrived to arrest him, continued the Holy Father, “his face was shining with peace and joy, and he said goodbye, saying,: ‘See you in heaven.’”

He was hanged Oct. 28, 1927, but not before being asked three times by the soldiers in an attempt to get him to deny his faith:“Who are you hailing?” they asked. Each time, he responded confidently, “Christ the King and Saint Mary of Guadalupe!” He is buried in the Unión de Tula Parish in Jalisco.

Saint Miguel de la Mora de la Mora was born June 19, 1878, in Tecalitlán, Jalisco. He was ordained in 1906 and was chaplain of the cathedral in Colima. He loved serving the poor. When ordered by the government to open the cathedral against his bishop’s orders, he refused and was arrested.

On Aug. 7, 1927, “He walked in silence to the place indicated to him,” recalled St. John Paul II, “and as a proclamation of his faith and love for the Holy Mary, he took out his rosary, began to pray and with it in his hand, he fell killed by bullets.” He is buried in the cathedral in Tomatlán.

Saint Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero was born June 15, 1892, and ordained in El Paso, Texas. He returned to Mexico to serve as a parish priest in Chihuahua. He loved adoring Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and inspired the faithful to this devotion.

On Ash Wednesday, 1937, he was approached by armed men who came to arrest him. He took some consecrated hosts with him in a case. The men began to beat him. One shot him in the back of the head, dislocating one of his eyes. When he had fallen, the men opened his case and told him to eat the hosts. “Therefore, through the hands of his executioner, his desire to receive this Sacrament before dying was fulfilled,” said St. John Paul II. Transported to a hospital, he died on Feb. 11, 1937, "a glorious sacrifice as a martyr priest on the anniversary of his priestly ordination.”

Saint José María Robles Hurtado was born May 3, 1888, ordained in 1913, and established the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at age 25. On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 25, 1927, he was arrested. Early the following morning, he knelt to pray, blessed his executioners, kissed the rope of his demise, and put it around his neck so no one would be considered his prime executioner.

At his canonization, St. John Paul II read words from a poem St. José wrote before his death: “I desire to love your Heart, my Jesus, with total participation, I desire to love it with passion, I desire to love it to the point of martyrdom. With my soul I bless you, my Sacred Heart.”

Saint Mateo Correa Magallanes was born July 23, 1866, in Tepechitlán, Zacatecas, and ordained in 1893. He was vice-rector of the conciliar seminary and helped expand the Catholic Association of Mexican Youth.

He was arrested on Jan. 30, 1927, ordered to hear the confessions of rebels sentenced to die, then told to reveal them to a Mexican general. Father Magallanes responded, “I will never do that … know that a priest must know how to preserve the secrecy of confession. I am willing to die.” With that, he died in a hail of bullets Feb. 6, 1927. His relics are kept in the cathedral in Durango.

Heroic faith
These six holy martyrs show us heroic faith. They preferred to die rather than renounce their faith or the Church. How would we respond given the same circumstances?

Raised to the status of the altar as canonized saints, they are shining examples and powerful intercessors for us in prayer.

Next in the series: Saint Rafael Guízar y Valencia, June 6.
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