Earlier this morning, 16th October 2016, at St Peter’s Square in Rome, our Holy Father Pope Francis canonised seven new Saints, raising them up for the glory of God and for the edification of the faithful. This is the story of one of them, the young martyr, St José Sánchez del Río, also called Joselito, the diminutive form of his name, given because of the young age at which he died
The Twentieth Century was a period of astonishing barbarity in the world, including two World Wars and various persecutions against the Church and Catholicism, a time in which the blood of numerous Martyrs was spilled in many different places. One such place was Mexico.
In the early part of the Twentieth Century, Mexico was blighted by the Cristero War, which broke out in 1926. Two years earlier, President Calles had taken office as President and he began to enact statutes to enforce the anti-clerical laws which formed part of the Mexican Constitution of 1917; these allowed the seizure Church property and the removal of the privileges of the Church. Convents, monasteries and schools were closed and Priests were either exiled or killed. Religious freedom was severely curtailed.
Not surprisingly, all of this led to a great uprising amongst the people, who were deeply religious – after all, this land had been blessed in 1531 by the appearances of the Mother of God to St Juan Diego at Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City in December of 1531. The appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe led to the conversion of millions within a few short years. Negotiations took place which ultimately involved the American Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Whitney Morrow. The Knights of Columbus were also involved, informing the public in the United States about what was happening, and supporting those forced into exile, as well as raising funds to support the Cristeros. The Knights had already seen a number of their members murdered in the war.
And so, this was the political and social situation into which young José Sánchez del Río would find himself playing an extraordinary part.
José was born in Sahuayo on 28th March 1913. As the war began in 1926, his two older brothers joined the Cristeros, and he wanted to follow them; however, his young age – fourteen – prevented his mother from giving her permission to his joining the war. This refusal was echoed by the general of the rebels, Prudencio Mendoza. José was not easily dissuaded by these refusals and finally succeeded in obtaining permission to join the Cristeros, where he would become the flag-bearer. Because of this, he was affectionately referred to as ‘Tarcisius’ – the name of the young Roman Martyr from the Third Century, when died protecting the Blessed Sacrament from desecration.
On 25th January 1928, José was captured by the Government forces, who imprisoned him in the sacristy of the local Church. The troops ordered him to renounce his Catholic faith, which he steadfastly refused to do. To ‘encourage’ him, the troops made him watch as another prisoner was hanged. But this did not break his resolve; on the contrary, as the poor man went to the place of execution, José encouraged him to remains steadfast, telling him that he would soon be in Heaven, and asking that the man prepare a place there for him, as he would soon follow.
Whilst imprisoned, José wrote to his family, telling them he was ready to die for his faith, and he prayed the Rosary. His family made attempts to gather a ransom, with which to obtain his release, but this was fruitless.
Two weeks later, on 10th February 1928, the troops began to torture young José – the sheared off the skin from the soles of his feet, before forcing him to walk over salt-covered paths around the town and from the Church to the local cemetery. At intervals, they cut him with machetes, so that he was bleeding heavily from numerous wounds.
At intervals along the way, the troops told him that if he shouted ‘death to Christ the King’, his life would be spared. Crying out in pain, the child still refused to renounce his faith. His response to them was clear – “I will never give in. Long live Christ the King!”.
Finally, reaching the place of his execution, the troops stabbed him repeatedly with bayonets and the enraged commander of the troops shot him. Moments before he died, young José drew a Cross in the dirt. Kissing the Cross, he gave his soul to God and entered eternity.
The diocesan proceedings which led to the Canonisation of José opened in Mexico in May 1996, lasting until October of that year, when the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared there was ‘nihil obstat’ (‘no obstacle’, or ‘nothing contrary’) to the Cause proceeding, and so he accorded the title of ‘Servant of God’.
In 2002, the ‘positio’, (‘Positio Super Virtutibus’) was drawn up, looking at the facts of his virtues and Martyrdom, and resulting in José being declared ‘Venerable’. On 22nd June 2004, Pope John Paul II approved the process and cleared the way for Beatification.
Consequently, the following year, on 20th November 2005, the Cardinal Prefect of the Causes for the Canonisation of Saints, on the authority of Pope Benedict XVI, declared José ‘Blessed’, the final step before sainthood.
In 2015, a miracle believed to have been obtained through the intercession of Blessed José was accepted as authentic by the medical board and by the theologians examining the Cause.
Baby Ximena Guadalupe Magallón Gálvez was born in the autumn of 2008 and her parents realised very quickly that something was deeply wrong with their child. Tests revealed the young girl had suffered a stroke, later compounded by tuberculosis. Operations and intense treatments followed, and the parents were eventually told that 90% of the baby’s brain was dead and she was in a vegetative state. The child’s mother, Paulina Gálvez Ávila, said –
“Dr. Rosendo arrived and crying, I begged him to save my daughter. They put her into an induced coma and gave us 72 hours to see if she would live, since 90 percent of her brain was dead. We went to Mass every day to ask God and Joselito to intercede for my baby, that they would work a miracle. I asked them to let me be with her and hug her, then they disconnected her. At that moment I put my baby in God’s hands and the intercession of Joselito and at that moment she opened her eyes and smiled. She looked at the doctors and she started laughing with them.”
The medical team could not explain the change which had taken place in the baby.
In January this year, Pope Francis signed a Decree declaring that the inexplicable cure of the baby from massive brain damage was an authentic miracle, attributed to the direct intercession of Blessed José.
And so today, 16th October 2016, with around 80,00 of the faithful present, José Sánchez del Río was declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church, his feast day to be celebrated on 10th February, the date of his death.
Prayer to Saint José Sánchez del Río
Saint José Sánchez del Río, littlest soldier of Christ whose last bloody steps brought you to the arms of Our Lord and Our Lady, keep healthy and strong the steps of Our Lord’s soldiers who remain here on earth, so they they may have your strength to endure and persevere to the end. Amen. Viva Cristo Rey!