Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Templo de la Compania de Jesus

The florid details of the Churrigueresque façade of the church of La Compania de Jesus in Guanajuato are striking. The church was constructed between the years of 1747 and 1765.

But, as always, the details inside the church are equally as interesting. A rectangle of red velvet hung on the wall next to an image of Saint Lucy to encourage petitioners appealing for better eyesight to pin their silver milagros of eyes there. But, regarding proximity as more potent, several fortified their prayers by taping their charms directly on her image.

One day El Nino Medico almost was submerged completely in a sea of boys’ toys, but he was liberated from them the next week. Only a few photos, milagros and a lone baby shoe remained by his feet. A new crop of toys probably has arrived in his case by now.

Holding El Nino securely in one arm, the Virgin Mary somehow uses her other to hoist up some lad. She rescues him from the fierce-looking jaws of a black, toadlike version of the devil, surely by some artist from another time period than whoever sculpted the original statues in the ornate Baroque niche.

A few-peso fee grants admittance to the sacristy containing a small collection of paintings. But the appeal for me was not just the art. The docent pulled aside a heavy floor-to-ceiling drape to reveal the true treasures – first-class reliquaries containing major bones of several saints.

 

Ah, and the bloody feet pictured on the poster for a pilgrimage taking place tomorrow. Those feet represent those of Jose Sanchez del Rio, who will be canonized a saint in Rome tomorrow. Born in Sahuayo, Michoacán, in 1913, the teen left home to serve as the flag bearer for the Cristeros, who were rebelling against the enforcement of rigid anticlerical laws in 1926 by President Plutarco Elias Calles. Foreign Catholic priests were expelled from Mexico, and monasteries, convents and Catholic schools were closed.

Violence escalated, and the armed Cristeros, primarily rural peasants with no military training, even managed to inflict several defeats on federal forces. When Blessed Jose was captured, he refused to recant his faith. He was imprisoned in the seized parish church, and his jailers attempted to extract a ransom from his family for his release.

In addition to captured Cristeros, a government official was using the church to house his prized fighting cocks. According to the website of Ive Minor Seminary:

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 (the name of the government official) 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 carried out their own gruesome ritual prior to the execution. As he was marched to the firing squad:

…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.

Blessed Jose obtained his martyrdom on February 10, 1928.

The roster of Mexican saints now numbers about three dozen. No doubt, a few of the faithful will make the pilgrimage tomorrow barefoot in honor of the canonization of the new saint.

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Mexico’s first charro bestows blessings on travelers

At first glance, he doesn’t look very good. But you have to know the backstory. He didn’t die yesterday.

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio was 98 when he died and was buried, briefly, for six months. And that was more than four centuries ago.

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio is among the group of saints, or in his case almost-saints, whose bodies have withstood the normal ravages of time. God chose to leave their bodies incorrupt, or intact, and they remain on display for the faithful.

While San Sebastian de Aparicio seems handsome for a 500-year-old man, in his youth his beauty caused great problems for him. He was so “comely,” according to the website Roman Catholic Saints, “wicked women frequently set snares for his purity.” The pious 31-year-old finally fled the lascivious ladies of Spain and settled in Puebla.

Blessed Sebastian de Aparicio began making ploughs and wagons for the primitive farmers he found there, and he plowed fields at no charge. So produce could be moved around the country, he set about building roads. This included a 466-mile stretch connecting Zacatecas, where there happened to be a lot of silver, to Mexico City. His farming, ranching and transportation endeavors made him wealthy.

Taking pity upon a young girl whose parents could afford to pay no dowry, Sebastian finally married at age 60. After her death at a young age, he entered a second “virginal marriage,” according to American Catholic. (Try to avoid falling prey to skepticism at this point.)

Finding himself a widower again, he distributed his worldly goods to the poor, funded a convent and entered the Franciscan order at age 72.

He died in 1600, and miracles attributed to him began to multiply and accumulate. He was beatified in 1787, but he’s still on the waitlist for sainthood after all this time.

If you are traveling through Puebla, you should make a pilgrimage to his shrine in the Church of San Francisco, particularly if you are from Texas. Although Blessed San Sebastian de Aparacio might not be canonized, he’s regarded as particularly helpful in granting miracles to travelers and was Mexico’s, which included Texas, first cowboy.

 

 

Holy card from Oaxaca, Mexico: Zapotecans in line for sainthood

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A long list is found on one of the walls of La Compania de Jesus Church in Oaxaca. A list of those waiting. Those whose lives in Mexico were so full of sacrifice Rome surely will notice and promote them on the road to sainthood.

I’m pulling for the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, the land of corn tortillas. Poor Christobalito, Antonio and Juan were, after all, children. Antonio and Juan were clubbed to death, but Christobalito’s own father, a confirmed pagan, condemned him to be beaten with clubs and then set ablaze for his faith. The trio was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990, but they hardly seem on the fast-track. They have been waiting in line a really, really, really long time. Ever since the late 1520s.

But in Oaxaca, a pair of Zapotecs stand out, although newcomers to the waiting list by comparison to the ninos above.

Back in 1700, Dominican priests in Oaxaca would commission converts to serve as “attorneys general,” assigned to police the purity and practices of those living in rural areas. Jacinto de los Angeles and Juan Bautista of San Francisco Cajonos, “the town in the clouds,” were so honored. Overhearing those worshipping the harvest god, Huitzilopochtli, talking about a clandestine evening gathering in his honor, the attorneys reported back to the Dominican friars. Intervention was planned, and Jacinto and Juan led a group to break up the idolatrous meet, seizing the men’s musical instruments.

Unfortunately for Jacinto and Juan, their Zapotec brethren did not take kindly to what they viewed as tattle-tale turncoat interference. A mob seized the two from the sheltering confines of the convent. The pair refused to recant their faith, even under torture.

They survived being thrown off Tanga Hill in the village of San Pedro, but clubs still were viewed as a popular way to deal with Christians anyway. The mob clubbed them and cut them with knives before cutting open their chests and feeding their hearts to the dogs. (I don’t make these things up. Read the Vatican’s version here.)

Whatever parts were left were gathered later by the faithful, who put them in the church of Villa Alta until 1889. The remains were moved to a chapel in the Cathedral of Oaxaca, a chapel almost always locked for their protection.

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A bad thing happened to what should be set aside as their day. Jacinto and Juan attained martyrdom on September 16, but, unfortunately, 110 years later Father Hidalgo absconded with their day on the calendar. His cry for independence from Spain changed what would be their feast day to Mexican Independence Day, a celebration far overshadowing their sacrifices.

But an exhausted-looking but determined Pope John Paul II rescued them from obscurity, beatifying them in 2002 as examples “of how, without regarding one’s ancestral customs as myths, one can reach God without renouncing one’s own culture but letting oneself be enlightened by the light of Christ, which renews the religious spirit of the best popular traditions.”

While their hearts probably wouldn’t be fed to the dogs, one wonders what kind of reception church spies would receive in someplace like San Juan Chamula today. “Hey, they are sacrificing chickens in your church.” “Hey, do you know that elder over there has four wives?” They would be so expelled from town.

But, the good part of this story is how Jacinto and Juan are revered in their hometown. Their stories didn’t rise up on the Vatican radar without help. A trio of maize and chickpea farmers championed their cause at the grassroots level. According to a story by Stephen Henderson in the Los Angeles Times, they researched the story at City Hall and then chronicled the testimonies of more than 30 locals who claimed prayers to Jacinto and Juan were answered with miracles. This represents 1/10 of the entire town.

The task took decades of dedication, but it paid off. A group of Cajonos proudly accompanied the glass-encased heartless remains of Jacinto and Juan to Mexico City for the papal ceremonies taking them one step closer to sainthood. Plus, the pair was given a new feast day of their own – September 18.

 

The Pope-blessed glass-encased relics can still be glimpsed sitting on the altar in that side chapel in the Cathedral of Oaxaca, a destination for Zapotecan pilgrims.