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Cristero martyr now popular patron of Mexican migrants headed to US

Posted By June 6, 2012 | 9:52 am | Featured Article #4
SANTA ANA DE GUADALUPE, Mexico (CNS) -- The road signs leading to this hamlet of 292 souls in the dry highlands northeast of Guadalajara read "Santo Toribio Romo." The hamlet's proper name, Santa Ana de Guadalupe, is seldom spotted -- perhaps because of the popular appeal of its native son, St. Toribio Romo Gonzalez, patron saint of migrants and the most famous of the canonized 25 martyrs of the 1920s Cristero Rebellion. "None of the saints was especially well-known," says Father Antonio Gutierrez, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Guadalajara.

By David Agren
Catholic News Service
SANTA ANA DE GUADALUPE, Mexico (CNS) — The road signs leading to this hamlet of 292 souls in the dry highlands northeast of Guadalajara read “Santo Toribio Romo.”
The hamlet’s proper name, Santa Ana de Guadalupe, is seldom spotted — perhaps because of the popular appeal of its native son, St. Toribio Romo Gonzalez, patron saint of migrants and the most famous of the canonized 25 martyrs of the 1920s Cristero Rebellion.
“None of the saints was especially well-known,” says Father Antonio Gutierrez, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Guadalajara.
But with time, St. Toribio became known throughout the region and in migrant communities on both sides of the border — something Father Gutierrez called “a phenomenon that no one expected.”
Catholics in the Los Altos region of Jalisco state rebelled against the anti-clerical policies of the central government between 1926 and 1929 in a conflict that left church and state at odds for much of the last century.
The conflict remains contentious in some political and intellectual circles, but times have progressed to the point that signage on public roads can signal the birth place of a Cristero martyr, and the road itself might be known as the Cristero Trail.
Victor Ramos Cortes, a former seminarian and church observer, said the signs changed as St. Toribio became better known and pilgrims plied the highways leading to Santa Ana in ever bigger numbers.
The saint’s popularity corresponds with a tendency that observers like Ramos call “religion popular,” or the people’s religion, in which people worship in their own way and adapt Catholicism and saints — including some not recognized by the church — to suit their purposes.
St. Toribio was born in 1900 and became a priest at age 21. He was murdered by soldiers in 1928 near the town of Tequila during height of the Cristero Rebellion, and his remains were brought back to the parish in Santa Ana.
How he became so popular remains a mystery, although local priests have told Ramos of attempts by prelates to gather relics and promote the popularity of St. Toribio Romo. Attempts to locate Father Gabriel Gonzalez, the local priest in St. Ana, were unsuccessful.
What remains certain is that a martyr of the Cristero Rebellion became known as the patron saint of undocumented migrants and colloquially known as “Santo Pollero,” referring to the handlers paid by migrants to smuggle them over the border.
Migrants seek his intervention before heading north, while those en route say sightings of St. Toribio are commonly reported during difficult times on the journey.
Visitors to St. Toribio Romo Sanctuary in Santa Ana say he makes migrants invisible to border agents. Other histories suggest he simply appears.
“It’s as if he’s there waiting for them on the other side with a pickup truck,” Ramos said of many of the accounts.
Stories of St. Toribio helping migrants started surfacing in the 1970s. Many such stories were told by migrants from Los Altos, a region famed for ranching, tequila distilling and blue-eyed inhabitants. Others were recounted by migrants heading for the United States.
The migrants, said Father Jose Luis Aceves, rector of the Catholic basilica in San Juan de Los Lagos, would say of their experiences with St. Toribio, “This is what gave me passage to the United States.”
“It’s the legend that legitimized him,” Father Aceves added.
Others say he visits the sick, appearing to them in the hospital.
“I was desperate after six months … and came to ask for a miracle,” said Octavio Martinez, who came to Santa Ana to give thanks after his broken arm healed due to what he believes was St. Toribio’s intervention.
Visitors like Martinez are common at the small sanctuary in Santa Ana, where St. Toribio celebrated his first Mass. Because of the number of pilgrims, a bigger church, with seating for 2,000 people, is being built.
Much of the town now dedicates itself to serving the pilgrims, said Alicia Romo, a mother of four who grew up in St. Ana and works at the sanctuary.
“On Sundays, people don’t fit inside,” she said. The hamlet swells with pilgrims on May 25, too, the feast of St. Toribio.
The devotion to St. Toribio extends beyond Los Altos. Taxi drivers in Guadalajara, for example, hang small portraits of the saint from the rearview mirrors of their vehicles. A parish in Tulsa, Okla., dedicated a diocesan shrine to St. Toribio in 2008.
Whether other Cristero saints reach the prominence of St. Toribio is uncertain — although church officials are promoting projects such as the massive Sanctuary of the Mexican Martyrs in suburban Guadalajara.
“It’s a permanent promotion of the saints,” Father Gutierrez said.

 

Cristero War took her father but strengthened her faith, says woman
By Doris Benavides
Catholic News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — As she shut off the garden hose and set it next to her recently planted flowers, Maria Meza greeted a visitor.
“Yes, come in, everything’s all wet, clean,” she said with a smile.
The 92-year-old said she likes to exchange good-natured banter, but all smiles vanish when Meza begins narrating her family’s ordeal back when she was 7 years old and living in her native Michoacan, Mexico.
“Las balas tronaban (The bullets whistled),” said the survivor of the Cristero War of the 1920s, in which Catholics took up arms to contest the Mexican government’s systematic repression of religion. It is depicted in the movie “For Greater Glory,” opening in U.S. theaters June 1.
In an interview with The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Meza said welcomes the idea about the movie and would like to see it if it was shown in Spanish. She taught herself to read and write but found it very difficult to learn English, although she attended several classes after arriving in the U.S. in the 1970s with her husband and 10 children.
Her father, Jose Meza Galvez, was a strong Cristero who hid many priests in his house to help them avoid getting killed by the government that persecuted all Catholics during the three-year civil war. More than 90,000 people died, mostly men and numerous priests, including her uncle, St. Rafael Guizar Valencia. A bishop, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
For three days, Maria Meza, her four sisters and their mother, Maria Ayala, hid in a cave while all the men in town fought against the government’s army.
With sadness, she recalled when the war ended. A few days after the war was over a group of military burst into her home and killed her father.
“One shot was enough,” she said. He was about 40 years old.
The rest of the family survived because the army went after the men, Meza said.
“But he died bravely, shouting, ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’ ‘Vivan los Cristeros!'” she said proudly.
After that sad day, her mother made sure that the family’s Catholic heritage stayed alive among her children. Two of the girls entered the religious community Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family); the other three married and passed their strong faith on to their children, along with the Cristero War story.
“I’ve heard this story many times in my life since I was a small boy,” said her son Manuel, 62, the fourth of her 14 children. Four died at a young age.
Although the story has been passed through generations of survivors, it did not make it in the annals of Mexican history. Many analysts presume it is because the Mexican president at that time, Plutarco Elias Calles, who led the war, was one of the founders of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country for the next seven decades.
Even for Manuel, it is hard to believe that the dead were hanged from poles on the roads under the fearful watch of survivors. Others were buried in mass graves.
“Thank God that war finally ended,” Meza said. “They were three long years. They (the soldiers) put houses on fire, raped many women and tried to destroy all religious images.”
That is why she tries to preserve her Catholic beliefs, she confides.
“I don’t want my family to change to another religion,” Meza said. “I respect other people’s beliefs, but we went through so much and I think it was worth it.”
Purposefully, 12 years ago she and her husband bought a house across the street from Resurrection Church in East Los Angeles.
Unless she is sick, which rarely happens, she gets up at 5 o’clock every morning and by 6:45 she is sitting at one of the pews.
“Every single day,” Meza said, except on Sundays, when she attends the 10:30 a.m. Mass together with other family members. She has 60 grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren.
“I am preparing myself to receive my glory,” she said. She receives Communion every day and prays the rosary every night before going to bed at 9 p.m. sharp.
“When I stand in front of the Judge, I think I will be prepared,” she said proudly. “I think I have a solid faith. Although I don’t know him, I do believe in him. And I don’t lack anything; even in hard times he has provided.
“That shot to my father’s head was not in vain. The seed that my parents planted in me doesn’t wither that easily.”

PHOTO:Ciara Merida, 3, listens during Mass May 6 at St. Toribio Romo Church in the border city of Tijuana, Mexico. In the background is a portrait of St. Toribio, patron saint of migrants and the most famous of the canonized 25 martyrs of the 1920s Cristero Rebellion. (CNS photo/David Maung)