Magallanes, Christopher and 24 companions

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Martyrs of Mexico (1915–37). The canonized 25 are a small proportion of the total of Christian martyrs in 20th century Mexico. Magallanes (born in 1869) grew up in poverty, entered the seminary of Guadalajara in 1888, was ordained in 1899, and became parish priest of Totalice in 1910. He cared for the temporal as well as the spiritual needs of his poverty-stricken parish by building a dam to improve water-supply and enabling peasants to buy small plots of land; he also built schools and catechetical centres for them. He was completely dedicated to non-violent means and the overall aim of his life was the reconversion of the Huichole Indians, who had been neglected since the Jesuits were expelled in the 18th century. He was caught up in a battle between the rebel Cristeros and the government troops in 1927. He was accused of supporting the uprising and was shot only four days later. He died protesting his innocence and hoping that his blood ‘may serve to bring peace to divided Mexicans.’ His curate, Fr Agustin Caloca (b. 1898) was arrested and shot at the same time.

These two priests however were neither the first nor the last Mexican martyrs. The first was David Bermudez (1881–1915), a priest who taught in the diocesan seminary, who was arrested as a priest and then released. He went to help the wounded lying in the street during an exchange of fire and was taken away and shot by soldiers.

In 1926 one priest and three laymen were martyred. Luis Batiz, another parish priest, left his presbytery for a private house where a platoon of soldiers arrested him to take him to Zacatecas, but on the way there the car was stopped and he was shot. The three laymen were closely associated with him: one was married with three children. All were taken out of cars and shot in the same place.

Others suffered in 1928 and the last in 1937. All were priests, several of native Mexican descent, and from poor families. They were all involved in an active apostolate which it was extremely difficult to practise under the successive anti-clerical governments. The last of them died in 1937. Pedro Maldonato (b. 1892) was ordained in 1918 and ministered at Chihuahua. Somehow he survived the early persecutions, was arrested in 1932, and again in 1934. In 1937 a fire broke out in the local school, for which he was blamed. Seized by an armed and drunken group, who beat him unconscious, he died in hospital. A feature of the Mexican martyrdoms seems to be the absence of any proper legal trials: suspicions were taken as facts and soldiers on occasion were allowed to kill without proper verification. These martyrs were canonized together in 2000 and their collective feast is on 25 May.

Ann Ball, Faces of Holiness (1998);for the political background see J. Meyer, The Cristero Rebellion and E. Dussel, The Church in Latin America, 1492–1992 (1992);B.L.S. xii (supplement), 270–5 (closely followed above).

Subjects: Christianity.

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