The twentieth century saw the rise of various vicious anti-Catholic regimes, totalitarian and ruthless in stamping out the Church. Ecrasez l’infame! Voltaire would sign off his letters, but they – the Nazis, the Communists, the Spanish ‘Republicans’, and, for our purposes today, the atheistic Mexican government which, for reasons that are complex, from 1926 to 1934, persecuted the Church in that country with a relentlessness that still beggars the imagination.
Untold numbers of martyrs were the result- 4,000 priests were either killed or expelled, and by 1934 only 334 priests were ‘licensed’ to minister to a population of 15 million Catholics. Amongst those glorious victims whom we celebrate the parish priest Cristóbal Magallanes Jara (1869 – 1927) and twenty-one companion martyrs. Father Magallanes entered the seminary at the age of 19, but with little formal schooling. He was ordained in his thirtieth year in 1899, and appointed parish priest of his hometown, Totatiche. As was the custom and necessity back then, and in many ways still is, the priest had his fingers in many pies, not only sacramental ministry, but founding schools, and centres of training for carpentry and other skills, even helping set up a local dam.
In the background, persecution and rebellion were fomenting. The government under the military general, fervent freemason, and bitterly anti-Catholic Plutarco Elías Calles was not only persecuting the Church, but subverting all aspects of life, from education, to family life and local farms. The people rose up in revolt in the ‘Cristeros’ movement, as portrayed in the film ‘For Greater Glory’, and it was difficult to disentangle the political from the spiritual resistance. Father Magallanes preached against violence – not that this made the choice of the Cristeros immoral, for the Church has always taught that such armed resistance against state aggression may at times be morally justified, and even necessary. But the Calles government was not much into philosophical distinctions, and Father Magallanes was charged with conspiracy against the government regardless of his pacific tendencies, arrested on May 21, 1927, and shot four days later without trial, along with his fellow younger priest, Agustín Caloca Cortés. The latter was offered freedom, but he would only take it if Father Magallanes were also released. This was refused, and they both went to God, ‘for greater glory’. (Father Miguel Pro would follow them on November 23rd, of that same year)