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June 14 is celebrated as US Flag Day.
In the U.S. as in other countries, the nation’s Flag and the great respect for her, always represents and should always represent a living country, born of the contributions and selfless sacrifices of active duty troops, the veterans and their families and citizens, dedicated and devoted to their country, human rights and freedoms whether in peacetime or in wartime.
THE FLAG & OUR VALUES:
Generally, the Flag always unites a nation under the constitutional values and principles of Life, Liberty, Justice and Equality for all. It also represents the right to nurture one’s faith in communion with one’s community’s brothers and sisters, and the work to always create a peaceful environment where people of all faiths can freely practice their faith, or where people with moral and spiritual leanings but no religion, can live freely.
These are the freedoms that the U.S. Flag represents. And as Pastor Frank Orzio, severely wounded Vietnam combat veteran and along with his wife, co-founder of Wounded Warriors Ministry he says, “these freedoms have been ‘bought’ for us by those who gave their ‘today’s’ so that we can have our tomorrow’s, and so that we can always freely say –‘May God Bless America!’”
And this high cost was also paid in Mexico by the sacrifices of the Cristeros (Cristada – or followers of Christ) from 1926 to 1929 that pitted the government primarily against the Catholic faithful and to a small extent the Catholic church.
I only remembered this because of the great movie “For Greater Glory” headlined by Andy Garcia (General Enrique Gorostieta) and other major Hispanic actors.
MY CRISTERO “ABUELITO”:
I grew up with my grandfather because my mother separated from my dad when I was 5 years old, and my dad died when I was 10, the same year we immigrated to the U.S.
My grandfather as well as my whole family was born in Michoacán. My grandfather Eleuterio was born in 1892 and died in 1984 (RIP). My grandfather was an illiterate, humble, hardworking man, with a small parcel of land who dressed in white linen trousers and sandals (“calzón blanco de manta y huaraches”). He had an undying devotion and great love of Christ which I did not fully comprehend.
I would spend hours with my grandfather, and he would recount stories about his involvement in the Mexican Revolution and when he fought as a Cristero. But like with every child, these were just stories to me.
I served in the U.S. Marines, and then the CA Army National Guard. A great reason for serving is because I believe, like other citizens do, that it is always necessary to be prepared to defend our county, our rights and our families. And I think that I was influenced greatly, although very subtlety, by my grandfather and his convictions. (My youngest brother likes to say that I joined the military because I saw the movie Platoon.) So I have always been very proud to belong to the U.S. Armed Forces, which are very professional forces.
And it gave me greater pride recollecting and understanding that my grandfather like thousands others, although they were simple and humble men, women and children and poorly armed and poorly trained, they still took up arms to defend their families and to maintain their freedom to practice their faith freely as “Cristeros” (believers in Christ).
What they lacked in military might, they overcompensated by the righteousness of their cause. For they knew well, that they were fighting and dying for their loves of God, their country, their homes and their families’ freedoms.
On June 14, 1926, ironically US Flag Day, anti-clerical and anti-Catholic Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles signed the law that bears his name and which added Article 130 to the Constitution, limiting the power of the Church.
- The Calles Act came into force across the country on July 31, 1926.
- It was what the government needed to close churches, Catholic schools and convents, in addition to expelling foreign priests and reducing the number of priests.
- As a reaction to this, the faithful created the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty (“La Liga Nacional de Defensa de las Libertades Religiosas” -LNDLR).
When in September Congress rejected the request to amend the constitution presented by the bishops and supported by two million signatures, the leaders of the League (LNDLR) decided to resort to arms, but independent of the Vatican.
Catholic groups took up the fight against the government with the battle cry of “Viva Cristo Rey and the Virgin of Guadalupe! – Long Live Christ King and the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe!”. This was the standard and the motto of the Cristeros.
The federal army retaliated viciously by executing prisoners, raping women and children, torturing and killing civilians without due-process, destroying villages and ruining crops in a “scorched earth” strategy and implementing a real religious persecution by desecrating churches and sacred relics: also any priest found in the open was shot, and every public or private religious act was punishable by death.
And unfortunately for the Mexican Catholic faithful who were fighting for their lives and freedom to practice their Christian faith, the US government was providing significant military and material assistance to the anti-clerical government.
“The personal friendship that existed between the remarkable Ambassador Morrow and President Calles was accompanied by close political collaboration. Morrow, in his diplomatic capacity, played an essential role in the settlement of the religious conflict, and, as a financier, he assisted his Mexican colleague. Thanks to his good offices, the Government was able to purchase directly from United States arsenals ten thousand Enfield rifles, ten million rounds of ammunition, and aircraft which took part in the battle of Jimenez with American pilots.
This was a deadly ironic twist which allowed the Mexican government to continue its religious persecution while allowing the US to benefit from its petroleum concessions.
THE CRISTERO BOY:
Also entering the struggle for religious freedom was a young 13 year-old boy, Jose Sanchez del Rio, who was born in Sahuayo, Michoacán.
After his brothers joined the struggle with the Cristeros, he first tried joining at 12 but his mom would not allow him. He was also turned away by General Prudencio Mendoza. The boy insisted in wanting to serve and give his life for Christ. Apparently the words that convinced his mom were “It has never been so easy to attain heaven as it is now” (“Nunca ha sido tan fácil ganarse el cielo como ahora”.)
In a major battle, the Cristero General’s horse was shot from under him. Young “Joselito” as the boy was affectionately known, came to the general and gave his horse to the general saying,
“Take my horse. You are more important to the cause than I am.”
The boy was captured and taken prisoner near Cotija. The government troops tried, through intimation and torture, to force Joselito to deny Christ and the Cristero cause and to join them against the Cristeros, or to face execution. Joselito always indignant rejected all these proposals.
For Joselito’s refusal, they continued torturing him and cut open the soles of his feet, then forced him to walk barefoot and with bleeding feet through the cobblestone streets of town to the cemetery. As the government troops led him on this torturous march, the boy would not stop acclaiming and worshiping Christ, to the astonishment and anger of the soldiers, and the admiration of the people who witnessed his martyrdom. Joselito was eventually stabbed, and then shot to death at the cemetery.
For his martyrdom and for his faith in Christ, Joselito was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI, in 2005.
CONSEQUENCES & LESSONS:
The result of the Cristero War was 250,000 deaths among civilians and military, to which must be added the costs of military and economic consequences of the crisis.
“Peace” (which some considered betrayal of the people) was negotiated during June 12th through the 21st, in 1929, although the government again tried to deny religious freedom in 1937 but without much success.
For me the lessons learned are:
- Governments which are constituted by men, with all their human frailties and greed, may oftentimes act against the physical and moral needs of the people.
- But also that no wrong will win, no matter how mighty or powerful, when the people finally rise up and the cause is right, as exemplified by the Cristeros who were fighting for their God, their country, their homes and their families.
Their sentiment as was confirmed by my “abuelito” (grandfather),
“it is better to die fighting for Christ, the Virgin Mary and our families, even if the Devil is angered.”
Thus, I think that it is always important to honor our US Flag, and remember and give thanks for the rights and freedoms we enjoy.
And although there may have been instances where our government has strayed from our values, it is worth remembering that, it has always been ordinary people who sacrifice for our nation, in devotion and faithfulness to our values, like that of the Cristeros, who achieve something extraordinary.