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Mexican Martyrs and the Knights of Columbus

A painting and statue of Mexican martyrs were unveiled at the Knights of Columbus Museum on September 13 for the start of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). They will become permanent additions to the museum's collection.

The painting shows six priests, each a member of the Knights of Columbus, killed between 1926 and 1937. They are among the 25 Mexican Martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 24, 2000.

The statue that was unveiled last month shows a peasant, a priest and a businessman, representing Catholics from every level of Mexican society, all martyred for their faith.

The 1920s and 30s were bad years to be Catholic in Mexico. The 1910 revolution put people in power who at best distrusted the church. Their 1917 constitution included five articles that put Catholics in their place, from the point of view of the new secular state.

  • Article 3 allowed only secular education in the schools
  • Article 5 banned monastic orders
  • Article 24 allowed public worship only inside churches
  • Article 27 restricted the right of religious organizations to hold property
  • Article 130, deprived clergy members of basic rights, making them second-class citizens. Priests and nuns:
  • were forbidden to wear clerical attire
  • were not allowed to vote
  • were not allowed to criticize government officials
  • were not allowed to comment on public affairs in religious periodicals

In 1926, Mexico's new president, Calles, started enforcing these articles, and added some anti-Catholic laws of his own. The Church did not cooperate, and the Cristero rebellion began.

The Mexican Episcopate suspended all public worship in Mexico on July 11, 1926. The suspension took effect place August 1. In July, the bishops endorsed a plan for a boycott against the government. Catholics were supposed to stop attending movies and plays, and riding on buses or streetcars. Most Catholic teachers refused to serve in secular schools. Mostly because Catholics with more money than principles didn't cooperate, the boycott failed.

The Cristero rebellion continued for almost three years. On June 21, 1929, an agreement that became known as the arreglos, or arrangements, allowed religious instruction in churches, and gave Catholics two other minor concessions.

Catholics didn't stop practicing their faith, and Mexico's secular government didn't stop trying to stop them. By the end of the 1930s, about 40,000 Catholics were dead, killed or martyred, including 90 priests and more than 70 members of the Knights of Columbus.

These are the six priests, martyrs and Knights of Columbus, in the painting:

On August 15, 1926, Father Luis Batiz Sainz (Council 2367) faced a firing squad with three layman: David Roldan, 19; Salvador Lara; and Manuel Morales. They had refused to submit to anti-religious laws. Father Batiz Sainz asked the soldiers to free Manuel Morales, who had sons and daughters. Morales refused. "I am dying for God," Morales declared, "and God will care for my children." Father Batiz Sainz gave his friend absolution and said, "See you in heaven."

Father Mateo Correa Magallanes (Council 2140) was imprisoned and ordered to hear the confessions of his fellow-prisoners. The commander then ordered Father Mateo to tell him what the prisoners had said. This would violate the seal of confession, and Father Mateo refused. As a punishment he was taken to a cemetery the next day and executed. The day of his martyrdom was February 6, 1927.

Father Jose Maria Robles Hurtado (Council 1979) was arrested June 25, 1927, while preparing to celebrate Mass. He was hung from an oak tree the next morning. Before he died, had forgave his murderers and offered a prayer for his parish. He even placed the rope around his own neck, so that none of his captors would be called a murderer.

Father Miguel de la Mora de la Mora of Colima (Council 2140) was one of the priests who signed a letter opposing anti-religious laws. He was arrested soon after he signed the letter. There was no trial. With his brother Regino as a witness, a military officer executed Father de la Mora as he prayed his rosary on August 7, 1927.

Father Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán (Council 2330) of Union de Tula. He took refuge at the Colegio de San Ignacio in Ejutla after a warrant was issued for is arrest. While there, he celebrated Mass and administered the sacraments. When soldiers came, he stayed at the seminary to burn the list of seminary students, protecting them from exposure. Father Rodrigo told answered simply, "a priest" when the soldiers demanded his identity. After being taken to the main square of Ejutla, where the seminary was located, he publicly forgave his killers. With a noose tied to a mango tree Father Rodrigo's neck, soldier gave him the chance to save himself by giving the "right" answer to this question, "Who lives?" The official answer was "Long live the supreme government." Father Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán replied, "Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe." The noose was tightened, then loosened, twice. Each time it was loosened, Father Rodrigo was asked the same question and each time gave the same response. The third time the noose was tightened, he died. This was in October, 1927.

Father Pedro de Jesus Maldonado Lucero (Council 2419) studied for the priesthood in El Paso, Texas, because of the political situation in Mexico. He was ordained in 1918 and went home in spite of the risk. While distributing ashes to the faithful on Ash Wednesday, 1937, he was arrested. He was beaten so brutally that one eye left its socket. Father Pedro died the next day at a local hospital. His tombstone read, "You are a priest."

Two other Knights were declared martyrs by the Vatican in 2005. This clears the way for their beatification. They were executed for their faith in Rancho de San Joaquin, Mexico, in April, 1927. The two Knights are Servants of God

José Trinidad Rangel Montaño (Council 2484) a diocesan priest from Leon.

Claretian Father Andres Sola Molist (Council 1963), a Spaniard

They are only two of the many thousands Mexicans who died rather than deny their faith. During this period the Knights of Columbus was outlawed and Columbia magazine banned from the Mexican mail. The Knights of Columbus survived.

Relics of the Mexican martyrs were given to the Knights of Columbus in 2001. In 2005, a century after the first Mexican council, the anniversary was celebrated by a nationwide tour of the relics through Mexico.

(Facts are from the Knights of Columbus (, EWTN (, Catholic Net (, and Mexico Connect (

Brian H. Gill, Editor, Sauk Centre K of C Bulletin

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This page last updated December 19, 2010