Cristero War took her father but strengthened her faith, says woman

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Maria Meza, a 92-year-old survivor of Mexico's Cristeros War, prays in front of a crucifix May 9 at Resurrection Church in Los Angeles. Meza, whose father was killed in the Cristeros War, 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. (CNS photo/Doris Benavides, The Tidings)

LOS ANGELES — 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.”

— By Doris Benavides, Catholic News Service 

12 COMMENTS

  1. What a beautiful story. Saw ForGreaterGlory last night. Every Catholic kid needs to see it, particularly Hispanic Catholic kids. Parishes need to build children and adult education programs around the film.

    Check out my posts ¡Corazón Cristero! Cristero Heart! http://bit.ly/JefvhG and Blessed José Sánchez Del Rio – They’re going to shoot me Tuesday morning at six for believing in God. http://bit.ly/MwDfP7

    Please give my regards to Maria Meza. ¡Que vivan las Cristeras!
    @MichaelBarger1

  2. Thank you for the comments. I’m blessed to have Maria Meza as a family member she is my wife’s grandmother and she is a very strong woman blessed to have her and she is still going strong. Glad the story was told on the big screen. I was not aware of Cristero war until about 3 years ago that my aunt told me I had a famous uncle that fought in the Cristero War and I replied back what? I was not taught this in Mexico that is when the P.R.I. was in power. She said we were related to Victoriano Ramirez (el catorce) from San Miguel el Alto, Jalisco where most of my great granparents are from. I started to read more about this war about how the government was trying to secularize the Catholic faith but many rose and stood up for their faith and are living witnesses today.

    Viva Cristo Rey!

    • Dear Amigo, I recently saw the movie for Greater Glory and was reminded of a relative priest from Jalisco or Michoacan, who was written about, Fr. Jose Garciduenas. Can you find out if your abuela knows anything about him or if she heard about him as a martyr during that time. I would greatly appreciate it if you would email me any information. Gracias, R. Garciduenas

  3. I saw the movie on June 2nd. I disagree with Mr. Barger. EVERY Christian needs to see this movie. Catholics yes should see it, but there is a message for all Christians.

    I think prayers to the martyrs and saints of the Cristeros War to intercede for us now would be helpful.

  4. Thank You Michael Barger and Dixie Meyers, I will make sure to give your reguard to my grandmother. Thanks to all for your nice comments.

    Viva Cristo Rey y La Virgen De Guadalupe!!!

  5. I just watched the movie “For The Greater Glory” and was truly touched. In a world where my faith is attacked on a daily basis, especially in a last 3 years (not being political), I was happy to see a great number of people stand up for their faith. The really touching parts to me was that the general converted in the end and the unending faith this young man had even unto death. Remember, his faith was strengthened due to a faithful priest. I will watch this film again with my wife. She is not Catholic, but I think any Christian should enjoy this movie and be moved. Thanks to all those who gave their lives.

  6. I bought For Greater Glory yesterday at the Daughters of St. Paul bookstore in Miami. Superb movie, which reminds me so much of the restrictions being set by the HHS mandate. Its aim is to erase Catholic morals from the public sphere. It will not succeed! If Mexican Catholics can stand up to much greater persecutions, US Catholics can do no less. We are fortunate that our Constitution was not written in 1917! I find it most telling that the Klu Klux Klan was in sympathy with Communists against the Catholic Church in Mexico.

  7. I’m a proud grandson age 57 of porfirio and Guadalupe Meza from tlaquepaque jalisco are family is in Los angeles in Facebook wonderful moving movie many blessings to you and your family

  8. It was a dangerous risk protecting priest back then. Thank you Maria for sharing your story. A heavy price for those defending the Catholic faith back then.

  9. How can I find out the names of those who died in the cristero war! I was told that my great grand father was a cristero and was hung by the mex gov

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