The Feast of Saint José Sánchez del RíoIn the early 20th century, Mexican Catholics were faced with a terrible persecution, similar in many ways to the days of Ancient Rome. The president, Plutarco Elías Calles, was an authoritarian tyrant who opposed the Church and all that it stood for. The restrictions and persecutions grew so great that the local Catholics were forced to take up arms to defend themselves and their Church.
One of these young Cristeros, too you to fight but volunteering to serve in a supportive role, was 14 year old José Sánchez del Río.
During a battle with government forces on Jan 25th 1928, he was captured and imprisoned. The soldiers beat him severely, but offered him clemency and release if he would only denounce Christ. Every time the asked, José would refuse. They even made him watch as the hanged one of his Cristero compatriots, but rather than breaking his resolve, José encouraged the man to die for his faith and that they would soon be together in heaven.
On Feb 10th he was taken from his cell and several beaten by soldiers, the then sliced open the soles of his feet and hacked at him several times with a machete. Every so often the beating would stop, and again they’d attempt to elicit a denial of Christ, but every time he refused.
José was marched, with his feet bleeding profusely, to the town cemetery. Standing at the edge of his empty grave, the soldiers gave him one last chance to save his own life. “If you shout ‘Death to Christ the King‘ we will spare you” they told him, but José responded by yelling out, for the last time on this earth, “¡Viva Cristo Rey! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” (Long Live Christ The King. Long Live The Virgin of Guadalupe)
The soldiers were so enraged that they stabbed him with their bayonet over and over, until the commanding officer had seen enough and shot José in the head.
Before he died, José wrote to his mother from prison. These are his words:
“My dear Mother: On this day, I was taken prisoner in combat. I think that I am going to die at the present time, but I do not care, Mother. Surrender yourself to the will of God; I die happy, because I will bravely die next to our God. Do not worry about my death, which is what mortifies me. Tell my two brothers to follow the example of their youngest sibling, and to do the will of God. Have courage and give me your blessing along with my father’s. Say hello to everyone for the last time and receive the heart of your son who loves you so much and longed to see you before he died.“
-José Sánchez del Río
José Sánchez del Río, pray for us.