Tuesday, June 5, 2012

President Plutarco Elias Calles : 'For Greater Glory': August 1, 1926, All religious services were stopped throughout Mexico

Written by Archbishop José H. Gomez

The anti-Catholic persecutions in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s are long forgotten, it seems.
The reality is hard to believe. Just a generation ago, not far from our borders, thousands of men, women and even children, were imprisoned, exiled, tortured and murdered. All for the "crime" of believing in Jesus Christ and wanting to live by their faith in him.

So I welcome the new film, "For Greater Glory." It tells the dramatic story of this unknown war against religion and our Church's heroic resistance. It's a strong film with a timely message. It reminds us that our religious liberties are won by blood and we can never take them for granted.

That such repression could happen in a nation so deeply Catholic as Mexico should make everybody stop and think. Mexico was the original cradle of Christianity in the New World. It was the missionary base from which most of North and South America, and parts of Asia, were first evangelized.

Yet following the revolution in 1917, the new atheist-socialist regime vowed to free the people from all "fanaticism and prejudices."
Churches, seminaries and convents were seized, desecrated and many were destroyed. Public displays of piety and devotion were outlawed. Catholic schools and newspapers were shut down; Catholic political parties and labor unions banned. Priests were tortured and killed, many of them shot while celebrating Mass.

The dictator, Plutarco Elías Calles, used to boast about the numbers of priests he had executed. His hatred of organized religion ran deep. He really believed his reign of terror could exterminate the Church and wipe the memory of Christ from Mexico within a single generation.

He was wrong. In the forge of his persecution, saints were made.

It became a time of international Catholic solidarity. American Catholics opened their doors to refugees fleeing the violence. My predecessor, Archbishop John Cantwell, welcomed many here to Los Angeles — including Venerable Maria Luisa Josefa de la Peña and Blessed María Inés Teresa Arias.

We need to ask for the strength to be Cristeros. By their dying, they show us what we should be living for.

Ordinary Catholics became Cristeros, courageous defenders of Jesus Christ. Many felt compelled to take up arms to defend their rights in what became known as the Cristeros War. Others chose nonviolent means to bear witness to Christ.

"I die, but God does not die," Blessed Anacleto González Flores said before his execution. His words were prophetic.

Martyrs are not defined by their dying but by what they choose to live for. And the Cristeros' blood became the seed for the Church of future generations in Mexico.

Today, we need to know their names and we need to know their stories.

We need to know about the beautiful young catechist, Venerable María de la Luz Camacho. When the army came to burn her church down, she stood in front of the door and blocked their way. They shot her dead. But the church was somehow spared.

We need to know about all the heroic priests who risked their lives to celebrate Mass and hear confessions. Growing up, we had prayer cards made from a grainy photograph of one of these priests, Blessed Miguel Pro. He is standing before a firing squad without a blindfold, his arms stretched wide like Jesus on the cross as he cries out his last words: ¡Viva Cristo Rey! ("Long live Christ the King!")

We need to learn from the examples of all the Cristeros who have been canonized and beatified by the Church. And today especially, we need to pray for their intercession.

As it always has been, today our Catholic religion is under attack in places all over the world. In Mexico and America, we don't face suffering and death for practicing our faith. But we do confront "softer" forms of secularist bullying. And our societies are growing more aggressively secularized.

Already, sadly, we've accepted the "rules" and restrictions of our secular society. We keep our faith to ourselves. We're cautious about "imposing" our beliefs on others — especially when it comes to politics. In recent months, our government has started demanding even more — trying to coerce our consciences, so that we deny our religious identity and values.

We need to ask for the strength to be Cristeros. By their dying, they show us what we should be living for.

So, let's make that our prayer this week. That like the Cristeros, we might be always ready to love and sacrifice to stand up for Jesus and his Church.

And may Our Lady of Guadalupe — Mother of Mexico and the Americas, and the bright star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.
Reflections of a Carmelite Sister after seeing "For Greater Glory"
June 1, 2012

We rarely go to a movie theatre. Yet, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was offered my community, the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, to be a part of a premiere showing of "For Greater Glory" on May 31st in Beverly Hills. 75 of our sisters immediately said "yes" to the gracious invitation of Archbishop Jose Gomez. Why? Because it was during those days, the days of the horrendous religious persecution in Mexico in the 1920s that our community began. Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, affectionately known as Mother Luisita, had already accepted 55 sisters into the new community

It was on July 31, 1926, that President Plutarco Elias Calles enforced the anti-clerical laws throughout Mexico. The following day, August 1, 1926, all religious services were stopped throughout Mexico. No more Masses. No more marriages. No more first Communion. No more religious practices of any kind. This is where the movie begins. And that is why we are so interested. Our community was just beginning at that time also.

Regular folk, people like you and me, felt the loss of their religious freedom all the way to their deepest soul. In the region of Los Altos, where my community and the cristeros originated, a new group formed made up of these Catholics who protested the law. There was a boycott. There was a petition. When all these failed, there rose up a group known as "cristeros" who fought for three years to reclaim their churches and their religious freedom.

Now I had read about the cristeros, researched the elements of the persecution in Mexico, and a few times I've given talks on the beginnings of our community. I had read about how some of our first sisters had been put in jail. I had heard about sleeping on mats and having to get up at a moment's notice and take all belongings and escape over roof tops to safety. I had read coded letters in which our holy foundress, Venerable Mother Luisita, wrote in detail about current fashions. She was a very simple and austere soul and wore only a mended Carmelite habit. I used to think why such detail about current women's fashions, for heaven's sake. Well after seeing the movie, I understood. It was for the sisters to wear a better disguise so they would not be discovered and arrested. After I saw the movie, "For Greater Glory", it all became real to me. The blood. The torture. The injustice of it all. Above all, the faith of the people. What faith!

Some of you reading this column might know us, because your child is in one of our schools, or a family member is in one of our health centers. Or perhaps you participated in one of our retreats we offer. But, today, in this column you will learn more. Our community was born in religious persecution. Our first sisters and the people who stood by them were courageous, strong Catholics. When Mother Luisita arrived by train into the United States in June 1927, she stepped down from the train and kissed the ground of a free country with religious freedom She could wear her Carmelite habit.

Groups of sisters remained in Mexico, hidden by families who knew they would be killed if the Sisters were found in their homes. That's how our schools stayed in session during those dark years, with private lessons and small group lessons which took place in private homes. Our sisters following Mother Luisita's example became beacons of hope and helped God's people deepen their spiritual resources through prayer. That is our mission, "to promote a deeper spiritual life among God's people" Our mission is aimed at fortifying each one of you with the spiritual intimacy with God that will give you strength in hard times.

I urge you to see the movie "For Greater Glory" and when it is over, like me, you will probably see some parallels. Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live Christ the King!)
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