In 1928, Mexican soldiers tortured a 14-year-old boy, prodding him to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. It was during the Cristero War, which began when the government eliminated Church privileges and seized Church properties throughout the country in accordance with anti-clerical laws written into the Mexican Constitution.
José Sánchez del Río was 12 when his brothers joined the rebel forces. He had cultivated a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and prayed his rosary devoutly each day. José begged his mother for months to join his brothers in fighting to restore the rights of the Church. “Mother,” he said, “Will you deny me the chance to go to heaven, and so soon?” She finally relented, but José was rejected by the commander of the local force because of his youth.
The leader of another band of Cristero fighters 25 miles away was inspired by the boy’s grit, so he made him an aide to their general. When the general’s horse was killed in battle, José volunteered his horse, allowing the general to escape. Mexican soldiers captured the boy, and the captain offered José freedom in exchange for information about the Cristeros. He refused, so they skinned the soles of his feet and forced him to walk to the graveyard, promising to spare him if he denied Our Lord. José died yelling, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — Long live Christ the King!
José’s witness — told in the 2012 film For Greater Glory — is among the most compelling of the past century. At a time when Christian, and in particular Catholic, beliefs are under attack, we can draw strength from his profound faith.
At the boy’s Oct. 16 canonization Mass, Pope Francis reminded us that in order to be great saints, we must be people of deep prayer. Saints, he said, “struggle to the very end with all their strength, and they triumph, but not by their own efforts: The Lord triumphs in them and with them.”
Scripture encourages us to move forward in confidence. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us … persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Heb 12:1). The winds of our secular culture may be blowing hard against us, but the Church offers us a rock upon which we will always find firm footing.
PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.