The year is 1926. Catholic churches in Mexico are being burned to the ground. Priests are being beheaded in public squares for all to see. People are hung by telephone poles just for attending Sunday Mass. A group of men and women called the “Cristeros” say “Enough is enough”, joining together to fight the oppressive government.
Amidst these grown men and women stands one fourteen year old boy who wishes to fight for Christ. José Luis Sánchez del Río (beatified as Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI) joins the Cristeros and fights for the right to worship God freely.
One day in the midst of battle Jose is kidnapped by Mexican government officials. They place him in a cell with another Cristero boy and tell him “Renounce your Catholic faith and we’ll let this other boy live.” The young Jose instead encourages the boy to be strong and reassures him that he will see him in Heaven. He is then forced to watch the hanging of the other boy.
They once again give the young boy the option to renounce his Catholic faith and he will be set free. When he refuses, they take a machete and slash the bottoms of the boy’s feet. They then force the boy to walk around the town on scarred feet towards a cemetery where a grave is already dug for him.
Once more, they explain “Shout ‘Christ is Dead’ and we will spare your life”. The fourteen year old boy instead shouts “Viva Cristo Rey” (“Long live Christ the King”). He is stabbed multiple times by bayonets and shot by the general. Before being kicked into his grave, he draws a cross on the ground and kisses it.
Today (November 24, 2013) in the Catholic Church we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Before his death, Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, speaks with Pontius Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews. Christ responds “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
It was an overwhelming faith in that Kingdom that Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio gave up his life. It is an incredible faith in that King that so many martyrs die around the world every day. They do it with their eyes not set on this world, but on the Kingdom they hope to enter in the next life.
Viva Cristo Rey.