The Catholic Defender: Story from Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers on Facebook
FEBRUARY 10 ~ Feast of Saint José Sánchez del Río
“Tell Christ the King I shall be with him soon.”
Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was born in Mexico, in the town of Sahuayo, Michoacan, on March 28, 1913. He was the third of four children.
Raised in a strong Catholic environment, Jose was taught well in the Faith. José loved his faith and grew up with a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
When José was twelve years old, the Cristero Wars began in Mexico. During this period in history the Mexican government attempted to extinguish the influence of the Catholic Church throughout the country.
It persecuted the Catholic Church by seizing property, closing religious schools and convents, and executing Catholic priests. In defense of the Church, the peasants of many of the central and western states in Mexico rebelled against the government.
Jose, in greatest desire to defend his faith, sought to join uprising Cristeros, a movement that had been initiated for defending the rights of Catholics.
He begged his mother for permission to join them, saying “In order to go to heaven, we have to go to war.” Additionally pleading, he exclaimed, “Never has it been so easy to obtain Heaven."
After some time, persuaded by his passionate pleadings, she permitted him to join the others among his family, who were already set on departing. However, due to his juvenile age, it required much persistent pleading until the Cristero general also accepted Jose, who would be allowed to act as flag-bearer.
A while later, a battle commenced in which the general’s horse, by a critical shot, collapsed to the ground. But without hesitation, the young man immediately told the general, “Take my horse and save yourself. You’re the general, and what am I worth to the cause?”
At first refusing, the general eventually submitted to Jose’s insistence, and by mounting the horse, he was able to safely retreat.
But since Jose himself had surrendered his sole chance of escape, government troops easily seized and overtook him.
As a captive, they forced the young man to witness the gory execution of another captured Cristero, in the hopes that this event would weaken his resolve. Instead, the surprising opposite occurred. Retaining every ounce of unfaltering character, Jose bolstered the faith of the dying Cristero.
By the powerful encouragement provided by that young man, the condemned victim was able to lovingly embrace his martyrdom with heroic confidence.
Held prisoner in Sahuayo, the town of his birthplace, Jose was lodged in his parish church, which was being utilized as a jailhouse.
The local official, Rafael Picasso, offered to accept a ransom (which demanded a preposterous amount), otherwise, they would consequently execute Jose, regardless of his youth. However, Jose sternly admonished his fellow townsmen not to pay a single cent; he knew this was his chance to die bravely for Christ.
Meanwhile, government officials procured the appearance of Jose’s weeping mother, for the purpose of inducing Jose to yield, but nevertheless, the 13-year-olds' determinations remained set on Christ over all things, even above the love of his own mother.
In regards to how Jose received nourishment, food was brought to him inside a small basket. His uncle, Fr. Ignacio Sanchez, was accustomed to hiding a consecrated host among the various provisions. Upon finding the Eucharist, Jose would kneel in adoration before humbly receiving it and giving thanks.
Those passing by the church at this time reported that they could hear Jose reciting the rosary and singing hymns to Our Lady. Therefore, even in imprisonment, he never wavered from his life of prayer.
But eventually, Picasso, the government official, would decide not only to use the church to house prisoners, but also his most prized collection of roosters, which he was exceedingly proud of.
When Jose discovered this, he was appalled that the holy grounds should be profaned in such a way. Indignant at this terrible sacrilege, he seized each of them, thus disposing of the costly birds.
Upon being notified of the young man’s action, the enraged Picasso promptly decreed Jose’s execution to commence. But before starting, a soldier perceived that the young man was lacking in shoes, and realizing the rough, coarse path on which he was going to walk, he sympathetically offered to supply him with some. However, he surprised him, replying, “Why do I need shoes? What I want is to go to Heaven.”
In preparing Jose for death, the soldiers began to mercilessly torture him, by striking him with metal knives. In addition, they peeled and sliced off the soles of his feet, in order to maximize his sufferings, since he would be forced to walk the lengthy, unpaved road to the place of his death.
While trudging along, although he suffered from his excruciating, disfigured wounds, he never ceased to remember that he was joined triumphantly with Christ-crucified. Marching to his Calvary with a blood-soaked body and with crimson-colored feet, Jose frequently exclaimed “Long live Christ the King!”
When he finally arrived at the designated place of execution, the tortured young man was completely covered by the blood of his own wounds. The soldiers, showing to him his grave, proceeded to tempt him, one last time.
They told him that he would be free if he would at least once say, “Death to Christ the King.” But Jose would never falter. While drawing on the ground the Sign of the Cross with his blood, he rang the air with his final creed, saying “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long Live Christ the King).
With this last phrase, they immediately fired two shots at the youth, who gained the palm of martyrdom that he had so much desired. He received the martyrdom on 10 February 1928 in Sahuayo, Michoacán de Ocampo, Mexico at the age of 14.