|The persecutions in Mexico of the 1920s produced
numerous saints. Six of them were member
were members of the Knights of Columbus.
They share the reliquary above. It
was financed by the Knights of Columbus of Mexico and donated to the Supreme
Council. It can be seen in the Knights
of Columbus National Museum in its national headquarters in New Haven,
Viva Cristo Rey! Hail Christ the King! This Sunday is the Feast
of Christ the King. Pope Pius XI proclaimed the feast in 1925 in his
encyclical, “Quas Primas” (see http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas.html)
as a response to growing nationalism and secularism…….the promotion
of human development through material means with no role for faith,
religion, or belief in God. In secular states, there may be freedom of
worship within the home or church building, but freedom of religion
outside of the church building to practice the faith, follow basic beliefs,
and have an influence in the public square through its own publications, schools, hospitals, etc. is restricted if not eliminated.
In the United States secularism is growing at an alarming rate and indeed threatens religious freedom. Catholic institutions are being forced to provide health insurance that includes coverage for sterilization, abortifacients, and in some cases abortion. In the future the government’s version of political correctness could be imposed upon pastors even in homilies. Western Europe is very secular; the European Union in its constitution refused to recognize the historical contribution of the Church to their civilization, institutions, and culture.
However, there is hope……Poland, Peru, and the Ukraine for a start, and Church in Russia is beginning to bloom. Historically, Poland has been a staunchly Catholic country, strong even under Communism. However, as a member of the very secular European Union, it had been slipping. But yesterday, the eve of the great Feast of Christ the King, during a solemn ceremony at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, the Catholic bishops of Poland officially recognized Christ as King of Poland. The consecration was carried out in the presence of Polish President Andrzej Duda, implying presidential approval. The consecration Mass was officiated by St. Pope John Paul’s former secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. Today, on the actual feast, the Polish people followed that up by consecrating Poland and themselves to Christ the King in every parish in the country after a novena of preparation. See http://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/christ-recognized-as-king-of-poland.
A month before the President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, officially consecrated Peru at the National Prayer Breakfast on October 21, 2016 in Lima to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The action echoes that Ecuadorian president Gabriel Garcia Moreno, who consecrated Ecuador to the Sacred Heart on March 25, 1874. Two days later on October 23, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, at a ceremony held at Fatima consecrated the Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. See http://www.sspx.org/en/news-events/news/polish-recognition-christ-king.
In Russia of all places the faith is growing as never before since the consecration of Russia by St. Pope John Paul II in union with the bishops of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1984……..the number of churches has increased from 400 to 30,000; monasteries from 22 to 800, and schools of theology from 0 to 100.
The Knights of Columbus was founded in the United States in 1882 and in Mexico in 1905. By 1923 the latter had 43 councils and 6,000 members. The Knights provide great fellowship while serving the parish
and the community. Its life insurance with a top financial rating at lower than commercial rates provides for the security of the families of its knights. Any surplus is used for Knights of Columbus charities and rebates for its policy holders. At the same time the Knights of Columbus promotes religious freedom, the traditional family and marriage, the right to life,
and the spiritual formation of its members.
In Mexico during the Cristero War (1926-1929), hundreds of knights gave their lives in the battle for religious freedom against intense persecution and six of them are saints. Can that happen here? Indifferent and lax Christians may not recognize the threat to religious freedom until they have lost it completely. We must be vigilant and fight to maintain our religious liberty.
In Mexico the Knights of Columbus helped to organize the main Catholic institutions into the League for the Defense of Religious Liberty. The League raised the nation’s consciousness and demanded respect for human rights. In the United States the Knights of Columbus provided aid for the exiled and the migrants. They lobbied the Coolidge Administration and rallied public opinion in an education campaign, issuing 5 million pamphlets with eye witness accounts, to pressure the Mexican government to cease its intense persecution of the Catholic Church and thousands of executions of its members, especially priests who were forbidden from even saying Mass. As a result, President Plutarco Calles outlawed the Knights of Columbus and its members were singled out for persecution. Pius XI publicly gave the Knights of Columbus special praise.
In the year 2000 St. Pope John Paul II canonized 25 Mexican martyrs, mostly priests (see
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saints_of_the_Cristero_War). Six of them were members of the Knights of Columbus. Their photos are above with a reliquary they share. It was financed by the Knights of Columbus of Mexico and donated to the Supreme Council. Their stories tell what the priesthood is all about. As Fr. Juan Diego Brunetta said, their stories affirm the priesthood and the role of priest as servant to spread the good news.
St. Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical, “Ecclesia in America” (see https://www.ewtn.com/jp99/ecclesia.htm), “They stir us up to take up fearlessly and fervently today’s task of the new evangelization.” They continue to evangelize by inspiring us to be faithful Catholics. Let’s review their heroic stories.
San José María Robles Hurtado inspired enthusiasm and devotion to the Sacred Heart in Tocolotlán. While preparing for Mass he was arrested by government soldiers and led to his execution. He knelt down in front of the firing squad, blessed his parish and his murderers, and forgave them.
San Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán delayed his escape from the Colegio de San Ignacio in Ejutla to destroy the seminary’s student enrollment records. When asked to identify himself, he replied: “I am a priest”. He blessed the noose of the rope and loudly forgave his executioners. The officer in charge asked the priest, hanging from a mango tree in the town square: “Who lives?” “Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe” was the reply. They lowered him three times and asked him the same question and got the same answer each time.
San Luis Batis Sainz dedicated himself to youth as pastor in Zacatecas. In 1926 he was arrested with one of his aides, Manuel Morales. He pleaded for the life of this layman for the sake of his family. However, Morales said: “I am dying for God, and God will care for my children.” Smiling, Father Bátis absolved his aide and said, “I’ll see you in heaven.”. What faith! Would we be up to that?
San Mateo Correa Magallanes was seized while bringing the Eucharist to a sick woman and sent to prison. The commandante ordered him to hear confessions of the other prisoners. Then he was ordered with a death threat to reveal what he heard from the penitants. “I’ll never do that”, repied the priest. “I am willing to die”. Absolutely nothing can justify a priest to break the sacred seal of confession.
San Miguel de la Mora would say Mass in secret. He took part with other priests in a Holy Hour led by his Bishop after signing a rejection of the anti-Catholic laws. After being taken to army headquarters, the Captain in charge shot the priest dead while praying the rosary in Tecalitlan, Jalisco.
San Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero promoted perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to Mary. After being exiled to Texas in 1937, he returned to administer the sacraments. While distributing ashes on the first day of Lent, he was seized by a gang who beat him to a pulp with rifle butts and left him in a pool of blood. His tombstone reads: “You are a priest”.
In 2005 Pope Benedict beatified 13 other martyrs, three of whom were members of the Knights of Columbus. They include José Trinidad Rangel Montaño, a diocesan priest from León in San Felipe, Guanajuato; Andrés Sola Molist, a Spanish Claretian priest in León, Guanajuato; and Leonardo Pérez Larios, a layman. The three were executed together in 1927.
Clearly, persecution and adversity breed heroism, holiness, and sanctity. This era of persecution was probably the darkest chapter of Mexican history, yet perhaps the most glorious. The number of cannonized saints Mexico produced is incredible. According to one story, a mystic asked Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico: “Where were you during all this time?” Mary replied” “I was there all the time”. The title of the movie underwritten by the Knights of Columbus is so appropriate: “For Greater Glory” (available at ignatius.com). They sacrificed all for greater glory. Can we have that same priority amidst all of the distractions of ambition for prestige, promotion, and money?
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson affirmed: “The Order’s history is forever linked to the history of this great nation. ....... Loving God above all things and our neighbor as we love ourselves is the only response that we can give to Christ the King”. Seehttps://www.kofc.org/un/en/resources/communications/martyrs_booklet.pdf.
Links to My Articles on Mexico and the Cristero War