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The Cristero War: Fighting for the Cross

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Blessed Miguel Pro upon his execution.
Image source: SVAMonks

Last November 23 was the feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro, a Mexican Catholic Priest, executed under the command of Plutarco Elias Calles, the 40th president of Mexico. His execution caused much controversy for its lack of trial. The then Pope John Paul II beatified Pro based on hatred for the faith. Miguel Pro was only one the individuals executed during the counter-revolution against the anti-clericalism of Calles’s rule.

The revolution was the Cristero War. It had its roots during the Mexican Revolution brought about by peasants who demanded their own piece of land. As the Catholic Church in Mexico refused to take sides during the revolution, Calles and his administration viewed it with contempt.

This started a 10-year anti-clerical initiative. Calles essentially picked points from the Mexican Constitution to start a war against the Church, which later caused a counter-attack led by believers—including priests. Although the persecution against the Church began in 1926, the uprising started a year after when devout groups who called themselves “Cristeros” or "Soldiers of Christ" rose.

The Cristero War started out with a handful of soldiers whose numbers quickly grew to 50,000. Emilio Gorostieta  served as the movement's general. Although Gorostieta considered himself an atheist, he took the job as general for the high salary and his political ambition.

For Greater Glory, a movie about the struggles of the Cristeros.

After much struggle, the Cristeros gained the upper hand in 1928. Even though Calles met with U.S. Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow and Fr. John J. Burke of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, it was only in 1929—after Calles’s term—when the government and the Church finally came into agreement as a new, more tolerant president, Emilio Portes Gil, came into power.

The Catholic Church in Mexico reopened and was free to worship publicly that year. Some anti-clerical laws remained until 1992, yet the Church operated once again without fear of persecution. An estimated 250,000 people died during the war and another 250,000 fled to the United States. Refugees of the Cristero War now have an extensive community in Los Angeles. The war also resulted in the lack of priests.

Before the war, there were about 4,500 priests serving Mexican communities. By 1934, they numbered at around 300. The faith dwindled, restored only later on. Mexico was truly at an appalling state during Calles’s time as president.

Looking back into the past allows us to think about how disparities in views thoroughly affect communities, even among the faithful. As such, we need to think twice about our differences and how we are to go about things, especially in today’s world.

References:

Mexico’s Forgotten Pain: The Persecution of Catholics and the Cristero War, The Catholic Gene

The Cristero War: the Story Behind the Cover Up by Kathleen Naab, Zenit

The Story, Martyrs, and Lessons of the Cristero War, The Catholic World Report


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