Pilgrims gather in front of San Miguel Arcangel.
Pilgrims gather in front of San Miguel Arcangel.

“¡Qué viva Cristo Rey!” Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares shouted from the pulpit at San Miguel Arcangel Church in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. We weary pilgrims journeyed from Mexico City to the state of Guanajuato and found another beautiful town square beneath another magnificent church steeple.

“We are walking on the path of the Mexican martyrs,” the bishop said,  referring to the many that died defending their faith against the Mexican government during the Cristero War in 1926-1929. He said there are places in the sacristy of San Miguel where priests hid from Mexican government officials. “We are now in the land of the Cristeros.”

Reflecting on the Gospel, the bishop reminded us that the Lord always has power over Satan. “Our faith helps us now to live each day and it prepares us for everlasting life. We must stay strong in our faith, like our brothers, the Cristeros.”

Bishop Nevares’ mother told him stories of the Cristeros while he was growing up. The Mexican government passed anti-religious laws with the 1917 constitution, including making celebrating Mass illegal. When those laws were enforced and Mexican authorities began executing priests and lay Catholics for practicing their faith, a war known as la Cristiada.

The bishop’s grandfather would wake his mother up in the middle of the night, when the priest would come to their house to celebrate Mass in secret. The priest built a concealed tabernacle in their house and the bishop’s grandfather would distribute Communion to other Catholics privately.

San Miguel de Allende is where Mexican independence fighter Ignacio Allende was born. He fought alongside Fr. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla to gain independence from Spain.

The Cristeros followed in the path of these Mexican independence heroes as they resisted an unjust government.

“¡Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Long live Christ the King!” are not so much a defiance of then-Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles, but a proclamation of his faith. The Mexican martyrs answered to Jesus Christ, not the Mexican government.

During the Cristero War, Mexican government agents burned churches, harassed nuns and murdered countless Catholics. Pilgrims will be learning more about these martyrs in the days to come.