May 21 – Saint Christopher Magallanes and Companions, Martyrs – Optional Memorial

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Optional Memorial: Liturgical Color: Red

The governor of Mexico’s Tabasco state in the 1920’s, Garrido Canabal, was so insanely anti-Catholic that he named his three sons Lenin, Satan, and Lucifer. He was also a farmer and named a bull “God,” a hog “Pope,” a cow “Mary,” and a donkey “Christ.” He ordered the removal and destruction of all crucifixes from public buildings and graveyards in Tabasco. Painful photographs of the destruction prove that it happened. For his vicious persecution of the Church, he was elevated to a national cabinet position in the 1930’s. Canabal was a political protégé of the Mexican president, and later strongman, Plutarco Calles. Calles was an illegitimate child, born to unmarried parents. Calles hated being called an illegitimate child and especially resented the Roman Catholic Church for this title of illegitimacy. In time, Calles became a devout believer in the religion of atheism, eagerly shared his beliefs with others, and put great energy into evangelizing others to his side. As governor of the state of Sonora, he expelled all Catholic priests. As president of Mexico, he carried out an overtly violent, ferocious, scorched-earth attack on Catholicism without par in the twentieth century. This led to a popular counter reaction known as the Cristero War, a slow burn of assassinations, pitched battles, skirmishes, and reprisals. Mexico was in a full meltdown in the 1920s.

For a visitor to Mexico today, or to anyone familiar with its culture, such events are difficult to imagine or comprehend. Mexico harbors one of the most vibrant Catholic cultures in the entire world, full of devotions, processions, Masses, feast day celebrations, and religious song and dress. Yet these things did happen, and not a thousand years ago.

The militant, anti-religious mentality of Anglo-Saxon secular humanists is familiar to many believers today. It is the air we breath. This educated secularism opposes the very idea of God, exalts a narrow understanding of freedom, denigrates the concept of belief, and transposes science as an object of faith rather than a formal creed.

The militant anti-religious mentality of 1920’s Mexico, and of other culturally Catholic nations, was and is different from Anglo-Saxon secularism. Anti-Catholicism in Catholic nations expresses itself in anticlericalism. Hatred is unleashed against bishops and priests and their instruments of ministry—altars, crucifixes, vestments, rosaries, statues, etc.—not so much against creeds or ideas. You don’t need to read Nietzsche or master the Enlightenment canon to get it. Anticlericalism is not too complex. It’s crude and vicious. Just kidnap a priest, blindfold him, tie his hands tightly behind his back, and shoot him in the head. Anglo Saxon secularism wages its battle in the higher echelons of university classrooms and the courts. Anti-clericalism liquidates its enemies against the brick wall behind the local police station.

Today’s saint, and the others canonized with him, were caught in the storm that was Plutarco Calles. Father Magallanes was a priest of humble origins similar to those of Calles, but Magallenes walked a different path. After working the land as a youth for his poor family, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1899. He then served faithfully as a chaplain and pastor for many years. But the otherwise ordinary arc of his life took an extraordinary turn when, on May 21, 1927, he was on his way to celebrate the Feast of St. Rita of Cascia (May 22) in a small village. A shootout between Cristeros and Federal forces near the village led to Fr. Magallanes’ arrest, along with a brother priest, Fr. Caloca. There were no accusations and no trial. There was neither presentation of evidence nor right of defense, since priests had no civil rights in Mexico at the time. On May 25, 1927, the two priests were led to the courtyard of a municipal building for what always happened next. Father Magallanes stated: “I am innocent and die innocent. I absolve with all my heart those who seek my death and ask God that my blood bring peace to a divided Mexico.” The priests then absolved each other, spoke some few words of comfort, and then were shot to death by a firing squad of fellow Mexicans in soldiers’ uniforms. Father Caloca’s last words were: “For God we lived and for Him we die.”

Twenty-five martyrs are commemorated today. All were diocesan priests, except for three laymen who died with their parish priest. They were all Cristeros. They died in eight different Mexican states under circumstances similar to those of Frs. Magallanes and Caloca. Pope Saint John Paul II beatified the group in 1992 and canonized them in 2000. In addition to Frs. Magallanes and Caloca, these martyrs’ names are: Roman Adame Rosales, Rodrigo Aguilar Aleman, Julio Alvarez Mendoza, Luis Batis Sainz, Mateo Correa Magallanes, Atilano Cruz Alvarado, Miguel De La Mora, Pedro Esqueda Ramirez, Margarito Flores Garcia, Jose Isabel Flores Varela, David Galvan Bermudez, Salvador Lara Puente (layman), Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero, Jesus Mendez Montoya, Manuel Morales (layman), Justino Orona Madrigal, Sabas Reyes Salazar, Jose Maria Robles Hurtado, David Roldan Lara (layman),Toribio Romo Gonzalez, Jenaro Sanchez Delgadillo, David Uribe Velasco, and  Tranquilino Ubiarco Robles.

Fr. Magallanes, your quiet witness and noble death are an inspiration to all who suffer physical violence for the faith in unknown ways and in unknown places. May your intercession and courage be an inspiration for all priests, laymen, and religious who are tempted to bend in the winds  of persecution.

Read about St. Christopher:

Catholic Online

Franciscan Media

Pierced Hearts

Catholic Culture


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