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Blessed José Luis Sanchez Del Rio: The Boy Martyr

by Rebecca Esparza, Correspondent
March 1, 2013

Parishioners at Immaculate Conception in Taft held a Mass and procession throughout their neighborhood in celebration of the arrival of a first class relic belonging to Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio. The 14-year-old martyr’s last words were “Viva Cristo Rey” which means “Long live Christ the King.”
Rebecca Esparza, for South Texas Catholic
Mary Ann González had a total hysterectomy last May and the biopsy results were not what she and her family had been praying for.

“I was diagnosed with stage two uterine cancer,” the lifelong parishioner at Immaculate Conception in Taft said. “Before leaving for more surgery with a gynecological oncologist in San Antonio, I saw a movie that encouraged and inspired me. Actually, it ended up changing everything.”

Mary Ann and Victor Gonzalez carry the first class relic and a photo of Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio to the altar of Immaculate Conception Church in Taft.
Rebecca Esparza, for South Texas Catholic
The Texas Catholic Conference arranged a special screening of the movie “For Greater Glory” at a Corpus Christi theater in June 2012. The movie depicted the true story of the Cristero War in México during the 1920s. The government in México persecuted Catholics for their faith, between 1926-29. During the movie, González learned about a young boy–José Luis Sanchez Del Rio–who was destined to become a martyr for his role in the Cristero War.

Born on March 28, 1913, José had older brothers who were all committed to the war against the Mexican government, and he wanted to join the fight as well. He was too young for combat, but was allowed to participate as flag bearer. During a particularly brutal battle, he was captured by Mexican soldiers and imprisoned.

At just 14-years of age, he felt called to defend his faith until his ultimate death. He endured cruel torture at the hands of the Mexican government’s soldiers. The enemy troops beat him, forced him to witness his fellow prisoners murdered and even taunted him with promises of freedom if he renounced his faith. Under severe pain and agony at the hands of his captors, Jose’s last words were “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King). After being shot and stabbed, he drew a cross in the sand and kissed it before dying.

Pope Benedict XVI beatified him on Nov. 20, 2005, making Blessed José one step closer to canonization as a saint.

“I knew immediately after seeing the movie Blessed José would watch out for me. I asked him for courage to go through my surgery,” she said. “I also made a promise to him that if I were to come out of the surgery successfully, I would do everything in my power to share his story with more people.”

By July, González had the surgery in San Antonio and the news was a complete surprise. Tissue samples taken during surgery revealed no evidence of cancer and chemotherapy treatment was not needed.

The first class relic from Blessed Jose sits in front of his photo at the altar at Immaculate Conception Church in Taft, during a recent Mass in his honor.
Rebecca Esparza, for South Texas Catholic

“My promise to Blessed José was to move heaven and earth to make him more well-known,” González said. “I remember sitting down with his picture in my hands, a few weeks after surgery thinking ‘I made a promise, now what?’”

And then an idea came to her; bring a relic of Blessed José from México back to Immaculate Conception. With the support and guidance from her husband Victor, the first thing she did was to discuss it with her parish priest at Immaculate Conception, Father Jesus Francisco Lopez.

“He gave me the go ahead to make a few phone calls to México,” González said. “I spoke with the lady in charge of the relics. All we needed was a letter from Father Francisco stating our request. Within two days, we received word the relic would be mailed to us and would receive it in 15 days. I was completely overjoyed.”

But the blessings did not end there. González learned she would be receiving a first class relic, which means it was actually a bone fragment from Blessed José.

“We were not expecting this,” she said excitedly. “I was afraid to send the relic through the mail. We asked a priest friend of ours in Nuevo Laredo to bring it with him during a previously scheduled trip to Corpus Christi and we had the relic by Nov. 27.”

Father López acknowledged the great blessing from God she received through the intercession of Blessed José.

“In thanks for her blessing, she wanted to spread her devotion. Communication was established with the parish of Santiago Apóstol in Sahuayo, Michoacán in México where the remains of Blessed José Luis are located. The process took an unbelievable three weeks from the time of the first communication to when the relic arrived in Corpus Christi,” he said.

Father López said preparations for the arrival of Blessed José’s relic at Immaculate Conception then kicked into high gear. Parishioners decided to install the relic on the anniversary of Blessed José’s martyrdom, Feb. 10, 1928.

“Our local Knights of Columbus Council was chosen to head the event because of the historical link between the Knights of Columbus and the Cristero War. Several members of the Order were martyred during the persecution of the Church in México and the Order was instrumental in aiding priests, orders of religious men and women and other persecuted Catholics to take refuge in the United States,” Father Lopez said.

The first class relic was presented at a Mass at Immaculate Conception in Taft after a procession around the neighborhood with the Blessed Sacrament. Mary Ann and Victor González carried it during the procession behind the Blessed Sacrament.

“This whole story goes perfectly with our concentration on the Year of Faith. Giving up his life for Christ at such a young age…he’s a role model for young people all over the world,” Gonzalez said.

The acquisition of the relic has brought a sense of peace to the entire community, she said.
“We all need someone to look up to, not only young people. I’ve also witnessed first-hand how this has uplifted our parishioners. Each one has used their talents to make the installation of Blessed José’s relic possible, all for the greater glory of God, as it should be,” she said.

The relic is available for public veneration, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-7p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m.-noon.

Today, Mary Ann González is the picture of perfect health and is thankful for the gift of life, as well as the chance to spend more time with family, including her three grandchildren.

“This whole experience has taught me to persevere in my faith until the end, like Blessed José did. I’m doing well health-wise, but only our Lord knows. He will always give me the courage to forge through what lies ahead.”