The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 19, 2000 Issue
Local News

Mexican martyrs have local ties

Five came from same hometown of soon to be ordained deacon

By Maureen Blaney Flietner
Compass Correspondent

Some of Luis Sanchez's relatives from his hometown in Mexico won't be able to attend his May 20 ordination as the first Hispanic deacon in the Green Bay Diocese.

Instead, they will be in Rome for another high point in Hispanic religious history: the canonization of 25 martyrs of the Mexican persecution and of Jose Maria de Yermo y Parres, priest and founder of the Congregation of Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Poor.

The Mexican martyrs include Cristobal Magallanes, a Mexican parish priest, 21 other priests and three laymen, who died between 1915 and 1937.

Sanchez understands. Three of the 24 martyrs are from his hometown, Cuquio. The old people there, he said, remember and told him when he was growing up how these martyrs died.

"I heard really sad stories," he said. Two, he was told, were shot in the legs and hands, put naked across donkeys and taken to town where they suffered for four or five hours, he said.

He was told that the soldiers said, "Give up Jesus Christ and we will leave you alone," to which they responded, "No. Jesus Christ is our life." And they were tortured more, he said.

Fr. Fidel Gonzalez Fernandez, MCCJ, professor of church history and consultant to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said the violence came under "Calles law."

The law, named for Pres. Plutarco Elias Calles, called for harsh sanctions against those who violated the Constitution, which banned the church.

When Mexican states began to implement "Calles law," bishops and the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty tried to block it and urged a referendum. But the petition, though signed by 2 million people, was rejected by the Mexican Congress.

Peasants and share-croppers rose up against the repression. The government used that as an excuse to massacre priests and Catholic laity. But the troops could not defeat the rebels known as the "Cristeros" and a reconciliation was attained.

Sanchez said that as a boy he was surrounded by good role models. "I grew up with a lot of faithful. My father had evening and morning prayers. I was an altar boy. A lot of my cousins are priests and I have a brother in the seminary."

He said those who know about the martyrs and about his ordination told him, " 'Those that died for our religion are really a blessing for you.' It is going to be a day to remember."

While the canonizations are big news in Mexico, Sanchez says many Hispanics in the Green Bay Diocese are unaware.

"Some people haven't been back home. There are not as many old-timers here to explain to them what happened."

Meanwhile Sanchez is anxious and a bit nervous about his ordination, though he's looking forward to serving as a deacon wherever he is needed.

"I want to put my faith into practice" Sanchez said. "I think this is going to be something very special for me, my family and my community."

Sanchez and four other men will be ordained at 10:30 a.m. May 20 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. St. Willebrord, his parish, has planned a celebration at 12:30 p.m. May 21.

Related Story: Bishop to ordain five deacons on Saturday.

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