Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Every account of martyrdom always forces me to think if I am willing to lay down my life for our Savior. If I were called to martyrdom, I would have to trust that God would give me the grace to endure the trial. However, He may not find me ready to be called, if I have not been preparing by being faithful to Him long before He called me to give up my life. Indeed, as we learn through experience, each day is an opportunity to be a martyr (witness) by accepting His will with joy. That is truly a challenge, but I am always inspired by those who have gone before us, as recounted in this story:

Seventy-six years after the fact, Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, still has a vivid memory of the martyrdom of his young friend José Sánchez del Río.

The Holy See today promulgated the decree recognizing the martyrdom of the 14-year-old Mexican adolescent, who died killed on Feb. 10, 1928.

Father Maciel explains in the book "Christ Is My Life" (Sophia Institute Press) how his vocation was influenced by the witness of José, who lived in a nearby village in the state of Michoacan.

Marcial Maciel's family had to leave their home in Cotija because of the persecution and discriminatory laws unleashed against Catholics.

Maciel, then 7, recalls how José invited him to run away with him to join the "Cristeros," Catholic rebels who opposed the central government's impositions.

"He was captured by the government forces, which desired to set an example to the civilian population supporting the Cristeros," Father Maciel recalled.

José "was asked to deny his faith in Christ, under pain of death. José rejected the apostasy. His mother was transfixed with grief and anguish, but encouraged her son," he added.

They skinned the soles of his feet and forced him to walk through the town toward the cemetery. He cried and moaned from the pain, but did not give in. Every now and then they stopped and said: "If you cry 'Death to Christ the King' we will spare your life. Say 'Death to Christ the King.' But he answered, 'Hail, Christ the King.'"

Father Maciel continued: "Already in the cemetery, before shooting him, they asked him for the last time if he wanted to deny his faith. He did not do so and was killed right there. He died crying out with many other Mexican martyrs, 'Hail, Christ the King!'"

"These are indelible images in my memory and in the memory of the Mexican people," the priest added, "although there is not much talk about it in the official history."

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