Saint José Luis Sánchez del Río: Heroic Fighter

On February 10, the Church also celebrates the memory of Saint José Luis Sánchez del Río, the child martyr in the Cristeros War. After suffering with sobriety countless torments, José Sanchez expired on a cross drawn by him on the ground with his own blood. 

Newsroom (11/02/2022 15:34, Gaudium PressSahuayo was a small village in the state of Michoacán, Mexico.  After their daily work, the people gathered at the Angelus in the Church of Saint James the Apostle to thank the kindest Mother of Guadalupe for the graces and favors that she had granted them during the day. And they all prayed the rosary, never ceasing to pray for Mexico so that the merciless persecution of the government against the Catholics would cease as soon as possible.

One boy stood out for the piety with which he prayed. It was José Luis Sánchez del Río. Just 13 years old, mischievous like all his age, he had a fixed idea in his mind.

Once, when his parents had the parish priest to dinner, the conversation fell to the religious persecution which was taking many Mexican martyrs to Heaven.  The small boy asked the priest if children could be martyrs, and the priest used the moment to highlight the Holy Innocents whose feast day the parish celebrated in December.  Yes, God’s permissive will sometimes allows for children to be martyrs.

It has never been so easy to win Heaven!

In fact, in August 1926, news arrived in the small village that public Catholic worship was forbidden. The Sánchez del Río family gathered in dismay, and while the younger sons were content to continue helping their father with the farm work, Miguel, the eldest, decided to take up arms together with his friends, the Gálvez brothers, to defend Christ and his Church.

Seeing this, José asked his parents’ permission to also enlist in the “Cristero” Army, which had been formed under the command of General Prudencio Mendoza. His mother, however, objected:

“My son, a child of your age will hinder rather than help the army.” she explained.

“But, Mama, it’s never been so easy to win Heaven as it is now! I don’t want to miss the opportunity.” was his eager reply.

Hearing this answer, his mother gave him permission but put a condition that he himself should write to General Prudencio Mendoza, asking if he would accept it. His reply was negative.

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Not discouraged, José wrote another letter, asking the general to be accepted, if not as a combatant, at least as an auxiliary soldier in the troop: he could take care of the horses, cook and provide other services to the soldiers.

Seeing the greatness of soul and enthusiasm of this teenager, the general replied that he accepted him. So, with the blessing of his Catholic mother, he left for the “cristero” camp, very happy to be able to fight for Cristo Rey and Santa María de Guadalupe.

Heroic Fighter

In the camp, the youngest member of the Sánchez del Río family soon won the affection and trust of the “Cristeros,” who gave him the nickname Tarcisio. His joy infected everyone, and from the beginning he was in charge of leading the recitation of the rosary with the troops at the end of each day.

For his valor and good behavior, the general gave him the position of bugle boy of the detachment. Shortly thereafter, José Sánchez del Río was promoted to standard-bearer and his most ardent desire was fulfilled: to be on the battlefield as a soldier of Christ.

In February 1928, one year and five months after his incorporation into the “cristero” army, a battle took place near the city of Cotija. After several hours of fierce fighting, the young standard-bearer saw the general’s horse fall dead from a gunshot. Galloping over immediately, he said with resolution: “My general, here is my horse, save yourself. If I die, I won’t be missed, but you will.”

He handed over his horse, grabbed a rifle, and fought bravely. When he ran out of bullets, he advanced on the enemy with the bayonet at hand. He was taken prisoner and led to the enemy general, who rebuked him for fighting against the government.  The young saint, like David of old did not back down under such a rebuke. “General, you should know that I fell prisoner, not because I surrendered, but because my bullets ran out, for if I had more, I would continue fighting.”

Indomitable Prisoner

Seeing such decision and boldness, the general invited him to join the government troops, telling him, but the boy knew his allegiance, and retorted, “Never, never! I prefer to die! I will never join the enemies of Christ the King! Have me shot!”

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The general had him locked up in the prison of Cotija. In the dim light, with a bad smell, and surrounded by delinquents, he managed to write a letter:

February 6, 1928

My dear Mama

I fell prisoner in battle today. I think I am going to die, but it doesn’t matter, Mama. You must resign yourself to God’s will. Don’t worry about my death, which is what worries me; on the contrary, tell my two brothers to follow the example set by their younger brother.

And you must do the will of God, be strong and send me your blessing, together with my father’s. Give my greetings to everyone for the last time. And receive the heart of this son who loves you so much, and who wanted to see you before he died. – José Sánchez del Río

However, instead of being shot the next day as he imagined, together with a small friend also imprisoned, named Lázaro, he was taken to the church in Sahuayo, which General Calles’ troops had turned into stables.

The sacristy was occupied by the fighting cocks of the anti-Catholic deputy Rafael Picazo, who often held orgies there with his friends.

Upon seeing his new prison, José was outraged. It was the same church that, not long before, he had attended with his family for the recitation of the Angelus and the Rosary. They had turned it into a den of bandits!

When he found himself alone in the twilight, the young soldier of Christ the King managed to untie the rope that tied him up, went to the cages where the deputy’s fighting cocks were kept, and cut the necks of all of them.

Then he slept peacefully.

The next day, as soon as he heard what had happened, Representative Picazo ran to the sacristy-prison, where, full of indignation, he questioned the young prisoner.

“God’s house is a place to pray, not to be a place for animals,” the saint replied with vigor.

Filled with anger, Picazo threatened him with death, and received this serene answer:

“Since I have taken up arms, I am willing to do anything. Have me shot!”

A Cross Drawn in his own Blood

On Friday the 10th, around six o’clock in the afternoon, an escort took him back to the barracks. There, upon learning of his death sentence, he wrote to one of his aunts, who had managed to sneak him Communion, the last letter of his life:

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February 10

Dear Aunt

I am condemned to death. At eight thirty in the evening will come the moment I have so longed for. I thank you for the favors you and Magdalena have done me. I am in no condition to write to Mom. (…) Give my greetings to everyone and receive, as always and for the last time, the heart of this nephew who loves you and wants to see you. Christ lives, Christ reigns, Christ rules! Long live Christ the King! Long live Santa Maria de Guadalupe! – José Sánchez del Río, who died in defense of the faith. Don’t stop coming. Farewell.

At eleven o’clock in the evening, the long-awaited moment arrived. The hatred of the enemies of the Church was such that, with a very sharp knife, they tore the skin off the soles of his feet and forced him to walk from the barracks to the cemetery, stepping on stones and dirt.

Not a single complaint left his lips in the midst of this torture. He arrived at the cemetery singing religious hymns. Taken to the edge of a grave that would soon be his own, the soldiers gave him a few non-mortal stabs, to see if he would apostatize from this ordeal.

In a mocking tone and aiming to psychologically break the hero of the faith, the captain commanding the escort asked him if he had a message for his parents. He replied:

“Yes, tell them that we will meet again in Heaven.”

He then asked the captain to be shot with his arms crossed. As his only answer, the captain drew his pistol and shot him in the temple.

Feeling mortally wounded, Jose took with his right hand some of the blood that flowed abundantly from his neck, drew a cross on the ground, and prostrated himself on top of it as a sign of adoration.

Thus, in the last hour of the night of February 10, 1928, his soul ascended to Heaven and was received with jubilation by his beloved Christ the King and his most beloved Mother, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

(Heralds of the Gospel Magazine, January/2006, n. 49, p. 23 to 25)

The post San José Luis Sánchez del Río: heroic fighter appeared first on Gaudium Press.

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