The Conflict Between the State and the Church
Since the beginning of Christianity in Mexico, there have always been problems between the Church and the State ranging from reprisals like those that occurred in New Spain (the old name of the Mexican Republic) to the larger rebellions and deaths like those that occurred in the Cristiada.
The final and most violent chapter in the long history of conflict in Mexico between the Church and the State began in 1925. The armed movement of the Cristeros was the saddest and most dramatic, that lasted three years, from 1926-1929.
The depth of the tragedy convinced both the State and the Church to put an end to the confrontation that went far beyond the ends pursued by both institutions: peace, development and justice that permit all men to live in freedom according to their conscience.
The Cristiada (name given to the armed revolt) began when the then President, Plutarco Elias Calles, by national decree enforced Articles 3, 5, 24, 27 and 130 of the Mexican Constitution that attacked the freedoms and rights of religious groups to teach, associate and own property. Elias Calles, however, enforced the articles to extremes to the extent that there many Catholic Churches were sacked and destroyed and if the faithful disobeyed, orders were given to have them arrested and imprisoned. The Government’s intention was to eradicate the Church and it did everything it possible, even ordering the assassination of priests and exploding a bomb in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe trying to destroy the cloth the holds the sacred image of the Blessed Virgin. By the grace of God, the bomb did not cause much damage.
On July 3, 1926, the Secretary of the Interior issued a law that reformed the Penal Code of the Federal District and Territories relating to crimes of rights and privileges and those against the Federation in matters of worship and private education. This was in part, the initial cause of the Cristera Revolution.
It logical then that the Mexican people, the large majority Catholic, were not going to allow this type of abuse; above all when their Church was being attacked and destroyed. Their Faith was being attacked.
The name Cristiada was imposed by the voice of the people. The Cristiada, or the dramatic and moving story of a people who felt wronged because of their Faith and therefore challenged an iron government and an army that had the advantage in all sides except one, sacfrifice for their great Faith. An unfair fight, a biblical fight. David vs. Goliath.
It was sad to see that desolate time for our people: silenced bells, no more visits to the Blessed Sacrament, happiness in the Church turned into fear and dread, no more baptisms, no more Masses, no more marriages blessed by the hand of God, no more confessions, no more blessings for the living and the sick, no more anything of Church! Everything cast adrift without being able to with God in his Holy house!
The Mexican people decided to take up arms and fight for their Faith.
The armed conflict took place all over the Country. There were uprisings in the north of the Republic, from Bacum in Sonora to Concepcion del Oro in Zacatecas and Parras and Saltillo in Coahuila. In the south, from Tapachula in Chiapas to the states of Guerrero, Puebla, Oaxaca and on a lesser scale in a few other states. The strongest rebellions, however, were in the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Queretaro.
It’s worth mentioning that the ACJM (Catholic Association of Mexican Youth) was founded in 1913 and in 1917 it was solid and strong. The ACJM had a fundamental role in the Cristera War. It was necessary to recruit soldiers and leaders to defend God and Country. No one really wanted to take up arms, but they needed to. And great martyrs and heroes did emerge from their numbers. To mention a few, Blessed Salvador, Manuel and David, Acejotaemeros ( name given to members of the ACJM) from Zacatecas, the servants of God, Anacleto Gopnzalez Flores, brothers Jorge and Ramon Vargas Gonzalez, Luis Padilla, Miguel Gomez Loza, Luis Magaña Servin, Ezequiel Huerta, Salvador Huerta and so many other young men who decided to give their life for their God and their Country.
There were also other great leaders like Rene Capistran Garza (National President of the ACJM), Manuel Bonilla, Heriberto Navarrete and all the other acejotaemeros that set out to prove that God had sent the ACJM.
The Cristero movement was not only about taking up arms and fighting against the army that went around apprehending priests, there were also large demonstrations, processions and pilgrimages throughout the country in support of the cristeros. Some of the demonstrations grew to thousands of people but for the government, it was “only a reaction of Indian who were stupefied by the clergy and who were submersed in fanaticism”.
It must be remembered that many people could not stop going to Mass just because. So, Mass was secretly celebrated in hidden places throughout the mountains and hills. If the peope were discovered by the army they were executed right there on the spot. In some cases, the people fought back and died with dignity for God.
In the beginning, the Cristero movement took place only in small and disperse areas. As time went on, and as the government reprisals grew stronger, so did the movement. Since it had turned into an armed movement, the Cristeros had neither the equipment or the preparation needed to help them face the Army. But time helped organize them.
On July 31, 1926 the government wanted to take “the Church of the 7 Princes”. When the people found out, there became infuriated and began to riot. Two soldiers who were watching the church were killed. In retaliation, the government ordered that anyone found there be shot.
The Mexican people always knew that the government would intervene and take the churches to destroy them. They prepared themselves, took up arms and moved in to the churches to live there. Some protected the inside while others protected the outside. When the army arrived and found resistance, the soldiers who were better armed, simply opened fire on the people. Such was the case that occurred at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Guadalajara on August 3, 1926. When the news of this spread and rumors that the government would enter Oaxaca, the people prepared themselves. They watched over the town and moved into the church. When a group of federal soldiers arrived they were immediately mobbed by the town. Shortly thereafter, a heavily armed group of 250 soldiers returned the attack. The people defended themselves the best they could but the army took the town. The following day all those who were detained were taken to army headquarters, defeated, but with shouts of “Viva Cristo Rey” (“Long Live Christ the King”).
During the month of August,