Jose Sanchez Del Rio

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My family has a small tradition on Good Friday where we take the train to Downtown Los Angeles and visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The cathedral is modern, but still spectacularly beautiful, with worship-inspiring art and architecture as well as a restful garden with reflective elements all around (my kids like the bronze animals they can play on).

My wife, daughter, and mother reading one of Jose’s letters

While there yesterday, we stumbled on a display highlighting the story of Jose Sanchez Del Rio. Reading the story makes me think of the state of Christianity today, what us Christians may face in the future, and ask “will Christians be willing to suffer for their faith”?

First, the story of Jose Sanchez Del Rio. He was a 14 year old boy from Mexico who wanted to fight in the Cristero Wars, a struggle in the early 20th century between faithful Catholics and the Mexican government who wished to reduce the Church’s influence on its people. A poster in the display in the cathedral in LA writes this about him:

A poster in the cathedral telling Jose’s story

On February 5, 1928, the young boy was captured during a battle and imporisoned in the sacristy of the church in which he had been baptized. In order to terrorize him, soldiers made him watch the hanging of one of the other captured Cristeros. But Jose encouraged the man, saying, “You will be in Heaven before me. Prepare a place for me. Tell Christ the King that I shall be with him soon”

On February 10, 1928, the young man was brutally tortured. They sheered off the skins of his feet, and he was forced to walk on salt through the town to the cemetery, while being struck continuously. The young man screamed in pain but did not give up. The soldiers wanted to force him to renounce his faith, but they did not succeed. They continously stopped him and said, “If you shout: Death to Christ the King, we will forgive your life.” But he answered, “Long live Christ the King!”

Once he arrived at the cemetery, he asked where his grave was, and in heroic fashion, he stood at the edge of his own grave, to save the executioners the work of transporting his body. As he continued to refuse to renounce his faith, the soldiers rushed at him and began to stab him. With each stab, the faith-filled fourteen your old shouted: “Long live Christ the King! Long live our Lady of Guadalupe!” The captain then shot him in the head, and his body was thrown into the grave, bathed in blood, while his soul soared into heaven.

When we stumbled on this story, I seriously considered letting my children read through it; its pretty frightening. But I think it is important that our Christian communities hold up heroes of the faith like this young man. They are inspiring, and also force us to reflect on our own faith.

Not every Christian will be asked to sacrifice in the same way Jose Sanchez did. In fact, the martyrs of the early Church at the hands of the Roman Empire often felt as though dying in the Colosseum was there life’s calling; and not for everyone. But what are we willing to sacrifice? How much safety and security are we willing to give up to be faithful. We often talk about Christ as the King, focusing on His power to help and redeem us. But how often do we consider living in the kingdom a life of sacrifice in service of the King who is often time despised?

Mexican Religious Persecution of the 20th Century

We may think about Communist Europe in the 20th century or modern day China and the Middle-East as places where Christians have been persecuted, but there are countries like Mexico who saw their own persecution. And they all follow the some fairly similar patterns. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 forced a rebellion because several articles were used in an anti-Church manner.

Article 3 prescribed completely secular-education. It read that education will be secular, free from religious orientation, and that “The educational services shall be based on scientific progress and shall fight against ignorance, ignorance’s effects, servitudes, fanaticism and prejudice”.

“Science” and “fighting ignorance” sounds like every university’s motto against religious influence. Also sounds like the #ExposeChristianSchools movement.

Article 130 separated the Church from State, much like the US. But also added “Churches and religious congregations shall be organized under the law”. Combined with new land laws (Article 27), this essentially meant that the State could regulate, modify, and close churches and church-run organizations at its own discretion. Ministers could be limited, removed, and have their rights to vote revoked by the state.

Like many other instances of governments suppressing religious activity, historians point to the governments desire for allegiance. It was believed that the Catholic Church (centered in Rome) held too much influence on Mexico. The government sought to essentially eradicate religion in Mexico because religious conviction and allegiance were seen to be anti-nationalistic and anti-liberal.

Richard Roman puts it this way; that religious institutions, like the Catholic Church, “was exercised through its control of education, oral confession, etc”1. This means that the only way to force allegiance to a nation to destroy religious education and its proliferation of ideas, values, and practices.

Our Allegiance to Christ the King

A Painting of Jose Sanchez by Renee Martinez Valadez – Notice the blood on his feet

Jose Sanchez Del Rio’s cries of “Long live Christ the King!” should be a reminder of our allegiance to the King. It is the opinion of many that the United States is starting down the same path that many other countries that have persecuted Christians went down, and we must question where our allegiance lies.

Although not only coming from government, academic institutions and popular culture all paint Christianity in anti-science, anti-liberal, and anti-progress lights. More and more religious freedoms are being attacked, and religious institutions are seen as propagators of misinformation.

The question is this: how do we build up Christians to have the faith to stay allied with Christ the King. Again, not everyone will face threats of death, but what happens when we are threatened with shame, ridicule, or disdain. Or what will we do when companies will no longer hire a Christian or schools will no longer accept Christian students’ views. How will we respond when being faithful means losing friends and family.

These days may be coming, and our investment into communities of faith (churches, Christian institutions, families, friends, etc.) that build strong and connected groups of believers will be the only way to resist any attempts to suppress our faith.

Fostering a Christian culture, in which every action of committed Christians springs forth from their faith, is the only way in which our faith will be of such high value that it is worth enduring any persecution.

I pray that this Easter weekend and Easter season is a time of fostering unbreakable faith within your community of Christians. And I pray we continue to build each others’ faith to be of undeniable value worth fighting for.

Footnotes

  1. Richard Roman, “Church-State Relations and the Mexican Constitutional Congress, 1916–1917”. Journal of Church and State Vol. 20, No. 1 (Winter 1978), 73.
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Chris Saenz
Chris Saenz is the founder of Post-Christian Era. He has a Master's Degree in Biblical Studies and more than a decade of church work in teaching, worship, and discipleship across many church settings and denominations. He and his wife and three children live in the Los Angeles area (Covina, CA).