Postulator Recalls St. Jose Sanchez del Rio Saying ‘My Faith Is Not for Sale’
As the world faces rampant religious persecution, interview reflects on young Mexican martyr’s exemplary model of sanctity and courage.
BY DEBORAH CASTELLANO LUBOV 10/17/2016 Comment
Pope Francis canonized seven new saints Oct. 16, including José Sánchez del Río.
– Martha Calderon/CNA
Mexican child-saint José Sánchez del Río “is not only a martyr of the Christian faith, but is a martyr of the fundamental rights of the person.”
In an interview with the Register at the Vatican on Saturday, the newly proclaimed saint’s postulator, Father Fidel Gonzáles, stressed this as he spoke about St. José Sánchez del Río.
Born in 1913, José Sánchez del Río was a Mexican Cristero who was put to death by government officials because he refused to renounce his Catholic faith. During the Cristero War, the Mexican government was determined to eliminate the Christian roots of the country, in the process killing some 50,000 people.
In 2004, Pope John Paul II declared the young Mexican a martyr; in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI beatified him; and, yesterday, Oct. 16, Pope Francis proclaimed him a canonized saint.
Speaking to the Register, Father Gonzalez stressed how young José’s faith was not for sale and no one, no “offer” — not even his parents’ intervention — would convince him to negate his faith, even if it cost him his life.
The Vatican official also addressed how there are many Christian martyr saints that exist, even if they have not been formally recognized by the Church, and reflected on how important it is, in the midst of today’s world, full of ambiguities, relativism and religious persecution, to not abandon our faith, as St. José teaches us.
It’s always a little surprising to hear about saints as young as José Sánchez del Río, only 14 years old. But can a child, someone so young, really be a saint as much as an adult or an elderly person?
Of course. There is a theological sanctity that belongs to every baptized person, even if baptized even a few hours after birth, because it is a grace of the Holy Spirit. Instead, the moral holiness grows like a tree, which comes and develops from a small seed and then spreads throughout the course of a lifetime. In the specific case of St. José Sánchez del Río, we are facing a martyr of nearly age 15, but he had a clear awareness of the ideas that led him to proclaim his faith with martyrdom. I can say that he really is an exceptional figure.
First, because he showed a psychological maturity much higher than that of his own age. We could say that, psychologically, he had the maturity of someone at least 18 or 20 years old, especially as he demonstrated his firm decision to reject the many proposals that they made to free him from prison in exchange for the apostasy of his faith in Christ. But he replied with a phrase, instead, of accepting, one that the witnesses then reported, a phrase that he used speaking to his parents when they tried to free him from captivity: “My faith is not for sale,” which means: “My faith in Christ cannot be sold, even though I know that this involves torture and death.” He wrote back and said that while they tortured him, they had offered to send him to study in the United States, to admit him in the Military Academy, which at that time was a very aristocratic environment.
The martyr, for his love of the Church, was killed in odium fidei (in hatred of the faith). His death was particularly cruel.
José was tortured in inhumane ways. They even skinned the soles of his feet, repeatedly hitting him with knives to continue causing him pain. They made him walk with flayed feet — which left traces of blood everywhere — to the cemetery, the site of the shooting, where he died. In spite of all this, he remained firm in the faith, shouting, “Long live Christ the King.”
“Long live Christ the King” was the cry with which the Mexican Cristeros went down in history. What did those words mean to them?
It’s a theological expression; maybe neither St. José nor the others fully realized its meaning, its significance. For them, it was a way of proclaiming the centrality of Christ in history. We must point out that St. José did not ever stop proclaiming Christ. They said, “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King,’ we will spare your life.” But instead he continued: “Long live Christ the King. … Long live the Lady of Guadalupe.”
This invocation of Our Lady of Guadalupe was significant, too, as it was the first concrete manifestation of God in the history of Mexico and Latin America. José stayed faithful to the very, very end, even as they continued stabbing him and eventually shot him with the pistol.
As a specialist on the concept of sanctity, are you familiar with other martyrs like St. José?
I have been a consultant for 31 years of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and I have seen hundreds of cases of martyrdom, but never of a martyr so young. It’s a unique case, where you really see the power of divine grace. But José Sánchez del Río — this is my thesis — is not only a martyr of the Christian faith, but is a martyr of the fundamental rights of the person: the right to freedom of opinion, freedom of religion, the right to practice their religion. ... In short, he is a martyr of all the rights that were denied the totalitarian era. The 20th century is the century of totalitarian regimes, each very different from the others, but yet they all agree on setting aside God, getting rid of the foundation of human rights.
In addition to St. José, many Mexicans have paid the ultimate resistance to anti-Catholic persecution unleashed by the regime at the time of the Cristeros War. Can we can consider them all martyrs, even if they have not been proclaimed as such by the Church?
Well, we know of the many humble people who rebelled against those who wanted to eradicate the Catholic faith from Mexico and remove their right to religious freedom. I’d say that, among the some 50,000 victims of the period between 1926 and 1929, that perhaps some 300 or 400 merit being beatified for their martyrdom.
What does the martyrdom of St. José, so many years after those events, teach Catholics today?
St. José simply teaches us that the Catholic faith is not for sale, as he said himself [while] dying. This is especially true in a world like today, full of ambiguities, of relativism, of dominant cultural nihilism. The Christian faith, instead, has a solid foundation, i.e., the principle that God is the creator of all reality, and if we put it aside, then all the rights of the person lose consistency and end up at the mercy of a political power. It’s interesting, I repeat, that all ideological totalitarianisms of the 20th century have desecrated the human person, profaning God.
Register correspondent Deborah Castellano Lubov writes from Rome.
Filed under deborah lubov, faith, persecuted christians, religious persecution in mexico, saints, st. josé sánchez del río.
HERMITS AND MARTYRS
A CONFERENCE OF PAUL, ABBOT OF BELMONT
Earlier this afternoon I had the pleasure and the privilege, granted me by Archbishop George, of receiving the vows as a hermit of our friend and neighbour Rowena Simon. She has taken the name of Sister Mary Rita of the Blessed Sacrament. Although it was a quiet celebration in St Benedict’s Chapel, nevertheless the fact that our Archdiocese now has a professed hermit, and one who lives at Belmont and is supported spiritually by our monastic community, is of great importance and relevance to the local Church. Fr Antony, of course, is her spiritual director. It is a sign of God’s grace and mercy that he has gifted Belmont and the Archdiocese with a sister committed to the eremitical vocation, which lends richness and depth to the spiritual and religious life of the Catholic Church. Sr Mary Rita walks the path taken by many of the most illustrious saints in the history of Christendom and we give thanks to God for her prayerful and gentle presence among us. May he bless her abundantly and may her prayers for our community bring us many blessings, especially the blessing of new vocations.
It was interesting to note that the Rite of Profession of a Hermit also speaks of that way of life as a means of preferring nothing to Christ. This coincides with my experience the weekend before last, when I was in Oviedo, Asturias, for the Beatification of the great uncle of my friend, Jenaro Fueyo. On 8th October, four martyrs of the Civil War were beatified in the cathedral in a very moving celebration presided over by Cardinal Angelo Amato. They shed their blood for Christ on 21st October 1936. Bl Jenaro Fueyo Castañón was the Parish Priest of Nembra, a mining village up in the mountains about 30 miles from Oviedo. He was 72 years’ old and had been parish priest for 37. Bl Isidro Fernández Cordero, aged 42, was a coalminer and the father of 7 children. Bl Segundo Alonso González, aged 48, was also a coalminer and the father of 12. In fact, his wife had died giving birth to the last of their children. He had two brothers and a sister who were Dominicans. Bl Antonio González Alonso was only 24 years’ old. He had wanted to be a Dominican like his brother, but tuberculosis prevented that, so he was training to be a teacher. He loved writing poetry. What all four had in common was their love for God and the Church, above all for the practice of night Adoration, which they organised daily and to which people came from numerous villages round about. For this they had already been imprisoned several times by the Communists, who were intent on eradicating the Catholic faith. These four martyrs, we were told by the Cardinal, had preferred nothing to Christ and paid willingly for their faith, and especially their love for the Blessed Sacrament, by martyrdom in the most horrific and heartrending circumstances. You will be interested to learn that, on 29th October, four monks of Silos will also be beatified as martyrs. They too, in a very special way, showed that they preferred nothing to Christ.
Recently we had a short retreat-workshop in which we discussed and meditated on those aspects of our life as Benedictine monks outlined in the EBC booklet To Prefer Nothing to Christ. Of course, St Benedict wrote this phrase in Chapter 72 of the Rule on the Good Zeal of Monks. We are to prefer nothing whatever to Christ in all that we think, do or say and in every area and aspect of our lives. One of the popular phrases of theological or spiritual jargon when I was a young monk was “fundamental or preferential option.” For example, Liberation Theology spoke of the Church’s preferential option for the poor. But in the monastic tradition, where we dedicate ourselves to the search for God, it is God himself who is our fundamental or preferential option, and all other options, as it were, must find their origin and their goal in him. Hence, St Benedict concludes his Rule with this powerful sentence, “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”
Now in Chapter 72, St Benedict had summed up his Rule by contrasting the “wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell” with the “good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life.” Having already described that evil zeal in every part of the Rule, though not in the sort of entertaining detail we find in the Rule of the Master, he devotes himself to a final summing up of what this good zeal consists of, in other words that charity or perfect love of God and of our brethren, which should be the tangible proof that we are disciples of Jesus. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (Jn 13:35) We are to “foster fervent love by supporting one another with the greatest patience” especially when it comes to “weaknesses of body or behaviour” and “competing in obedience to one another.” Does that strike a bell with you? Would you describe that as part of your fundamental option? Is that how you go about living each and every day in community? Then, we are told to guard against selfishness and self-centredness, never pursuing what we judge best for ourselves, but rather what is best for others. Do I put the community, my brethren, my duties first or myself and my own interests? Just think of our weekly services. If I am unable to do a particular job, refectory, cantor or reader, for example, do I make sure I advise the next person down or ask someone else to do the job for me? It’s the little things that make a community great. And do I really try to love my brethren, I mean truly love them, or am I false and just pay lip service to love like the hypocrites do? Even worse, do I simply ignore or even hate my brother?
Which brings us back to preferring nothing whatever to Christ. I cannot even begin to use that phrase as in any way a description of my life and vocation, unless I have accepted the rest of Chapter 72 and, indeed, the whole of the Rule of St Benedict, as my inspiration and guide, my rule of life, my hope and my joy. So each day, I need to seek conversion anew and pray that the Holy Spirit will conform my heart and mind to the mind and heart of God. We remember the words of St Paul, “And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.”(1Cor13:13).
There are indeed eremitical aspects to our life as Benedictine monks and we are all called to the daily martyrdom of living in community and laying down our lives for our brethren, but at the heart of our vocation lies love, charity, which will ultimately be the only proof that we truly prefer nothing to Christ.