Our Patron: Saint Jose Sanchez Del Rio
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Saint Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was born in Sahuayo, Michoacan (Mexico), on March 28, 1913—his parents were Macario Sanchez and María del Río. At the age of 13 , Jose begged God that he too might be able to die in defense of his Catholic faith. In response to the bitter persecution of the Catholic Church by the government of Plutarco Calles, a movement of Catholics called the “Cristeros” rose up in defense of the Faith. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio told his mother, “In order to go to Heaven, we have to go to war.”
He begged his mother to permit him to accompany the Cristeros, saying "Never has it been so easy to obtain Heaven!" Eventually she allowed him to join the other men in his family who were going. Given his youth, it required much pleading before the Cristero general finally gave him permission to join them, albeit only as a flag bearer. Only a short while after Jose joined the Cristeros, a battle was joined between the government forces and the Cristeros in which the general’s horse was killed. The young man said to the general, “Take my horse and save yourself. You’re the general, and what am I worth to the cause?” The general refused at first to take the young man’s horse, but Jose insisted, and finally the general got on the horse and fled.
When the government troops caught up to the youth, he said to them, “You are going to take me, but I don’t surrender.” When Jose was first captured, the government troops forced him to witness the execution of another Cristero, thinking that he would weaken in his defiance when he saw the killing. Instead, rather the opposite happened—Jose encouraged the man, who while preparing to be executed was wavering in the face of death, to embrace his martyrdom, and the man died heroically for his faith!
Jose was imprisoned in a town called Sahuayo (in Michoacan), in the parish church, which they were using as a jail. The local government authority, a man named Rafael Picasso, asked for a large ransom to let Jose go, because despite his age, they were going to shoot him as they did all the other Cristeros who refused to apostatize. However, Jose told his people not to offer them any money since because he wanted to go to Heaven, he would just go back to the struggle.
The government officials encouraged Jose to write a letter to his aunt Maria Sanchez, and they told his aunt to tell Jose’s mother that she should come and pass by the church. They thought that if Jose could see his mother close-up, he would weaken in his resolve at seeing her tears, but he did not waiver. Witnesses say that his food was brought to him in a small basket, and in that food his uncle, Fr. Ignacio Sanchez, would put a consecrated Host. When he got it, he knelt there in the church, gave thanks, and then gave himself Holy Communion. People walking by the church on the street said that they could hear Jose praying the rosary and singing hymns to Our Lady—he never wavered in his prayer life while he was imprisoned.
Picasso, the government official, had decided not only to use the parish church as a jail, but also as a chicken coop. He had a collection of fine and valuable imported fighting roosters, and had decided to house them in the church. When Jose arrived he saw the roosters running around the church and was indignant, and said, “This is not a barnyard!” He took them all by the neck and killed them, hanging them from a banister. According to some, Picasso had imported some of those very fine birds all the way from Canada, and this was the last straw; he was so indignant that he commanded that they execute the boy by firing squad. The soldiers noticed that Jose didn’t have any shoes on and they offered to give him some. He told them, “Why do I need shoes? What I want is to go to Heaven.”
Therefore, the soldiers brought Jose to be executed, and as they did so they began to strike him with the machetes they carried. Even worse, they chopped off the soles of Jose’s feet, and they forced him to walk along the rocky unpaved road to the cemetery. Instead of complaining, he shouted, “Long live Christ the King!” Witnesses said that the stones where Jose had trodden were all soaked in his blood, and although he moaned from the pain, he never weakened in his resolve.
When they got to the cemetery, Jose was already covered in his own blood. The soldiers showed him the grave, and said, “This is where we are going to bury you.” The boy responded, “That is good. I forgive all of you since we are all Christians.” He offered them his hand and said, “We’ll see each other in Heaven. I want you all to repent.” Perhaps trying to work on his love for his family, the soldiers asked him what he wanted them to tell his family; his response was, “Tell them that we will see each other in Heaven.” Finally, the soldiers told Jose that if he would say “Death to Christ the King,” they would free him and allow him to go home to his family. His response was, “Long live Christ the King!” At that point they shot him. As he was still alive after that, they gave him a coup de grace to the head and he died. Some versions of his story say that Jose made the sign of the cross in the ground with his own blood before being finally shot in the head.
Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was killed on February 10, 1928, and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 20, 2005. For us, he is a constant reminder that the call to follow Christ is for all people, whether young or old. His feast day is February 10—the day he died.
"Never has it been so easy to obtain heaven!"
Saint Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, from the movie For Greater Glory
Our Co-Patron: Blessed Rolando Rivi
Born in 1931 to a good Catholic family, Rivi discovered his vocation very early and entered the seminary when he was only 11 years old. At that time, all seminarians, even those in high school, wore cassocks. After the Sept. 8, 1943, Italian armistice with the Allies and subsequent Nazi occupation of northern Italy, groups of partisans were formed to support the Allies’ liberation effort. The movement was initially composed of independent troops or by former officers of the Royal Italian Army.
In Modena, partisan form-ations were mostly composed by communists and socialists and they were united by anim-osity toward fascists and an anti-Catholic spirit. Communist partisans, in particular, thought that clergy could be an obstacle for their revolutionary project, and this fed their anticlericalism. In June 1944, Nazis troops occupied the seminary, and so all the seminarians were sent home. Rivi returned to his hometown of San Valentino, carrying his books with him to continue his studies there.
In San Valentino, the young seminarian never stopped wearing his cassock, despite the rising climate of violence. When his parents suggested he refrain from wearing it for his own safety, Rivi reportedly replied: “I study to be a priest, and these vestments are the sign that I belong to Jesus.” The situation, however, grew more difficult: Four priests were killed by the communist partisan brigades, and Father Olinto Marzocchini, San Valentino’s parish priest and Rivi’s spiritual father, was attacked and subsequently transferred to a more secure place. Nevertheless, Rivi’s days were spent between service in his parish and his studies.
On the morning of April 10, 1945, after serving Mass, the 14-year-old took his books and went to the nearby woods, where he was accustomed to studying. Yet this time, he never returned. At noon, his parents, worried because Rivi had not come back for lunch; they went to the woods and found his books on the ground and a sheet of paper, where the following words were written: “Do not search for him. He just came with us partisans for a while.” Kidnapped and stripped of his cassock, Rivi was imprisoned and tortured by partisans for three days. Some of the partisans proposed to let him go, since he was only a young boy. But the majority sentenced him to death, in order to have “one less future priest.” On April 13, Rivi was taken to a forest in the surroundings of Modena. The partisans dug a grave and had Rivi kneel on its edge. While he was praying, the young seminarian was killed by gunshots to the heart and head. His cassock was rolled into a ball, kicked around and then hung as a war trophy in the front door of a house.
Pope Francis recognized with his signature on Holy Thursday, that the young seminarian was not murdered by the Communist partisans for political reasons, but in odium fidei—out of hatred for the faith. The Pope beatified Rivi on the Fifth of October, 2013, making him the first high school seminarian ever to be beatified.
Blessed Rolando Rivi, Pray For Us!