It was July, 1926, in Sahuayo, Mexico. The Calles Law was about to be promulgated, making all churches the property of the state and forbidding religious habits and clerical collars. Religious education would be prohibited. Seminaries, convents, and Catholic colleges would all become the property of the state. All religious communities would be dissolved. The freedom of the religious press would be suppressed and the taking of religious vows would be prohibited. In short, the Calles Law prohibited Catholicism. It is in this setting that Saint José, Boy Cristero Martyr, begins.
José Sanchez del Río was thirteen years old from a good Catholic family with seven children. They said the Rosary together every night. José was a lot like any other thirteen-year-old. He was impulsive and played enthusiastically with his friends. As an altar boy, he once dropped the censer filled with incense and caught an altar rug on fire. The kind priest, his uncle, said, “Thank God for holy water.” The young may find encouragement in knowing that holiness does not mean never making a mistake!
After two of José’s brothers joined the Cristeros, the Catholic resistance army, José started to think about joining too. Playing marbles and eating snacks, he and his friend discussed whether or not they would be accepted. Jose was, quite naturally, a little afraid. He visited the grave of a layman who died a martyr after helping the Cristeros and refusing to reveal the hiding place of the archbishop. José asked him to ask Jesus that he might also have the grace to fight for God. In the end we find out that this martyr, Anacleto Gonzale Flores, was beatified the same day as José, November 20, 2005.
Finally, José was allowed to travel to the Cristeros to ask the general if he could help in non-combat ways, since he was too young to fight. José’s family had already been helping the Cristeros by sending them food. Finally, José was allowed to be the flag bearer and the bugler.
There are some endearing scenes. The first time José was told to give the bugle call for charge, he forgot the notes. In the evenings he led the troops in saying the Rosary, prompting one soldier to remark that he reminded him of Saint Tarsicius.
Eventually Jose was captured in battle together with his friend Lorenzo. Lorenzo asked, “José, does it hurt to die?”
José answered, “I don’t know. I hope it’s quick.” Again, we see the very natural reaction of a thirteen-year-old boy.
José was martyred at the age of fourteen after being tortured.
Those young people who read Saint José, Boy Cristero Martyr, will be inspired by his courage, his faith, and his devotion to Mary. As he is dragged to his death José repeatedly cries out, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King) Moments before dying he draws a bloody cross in the dust. His last words were shouted. “Viva Cristo Rey y Santa María de Guadalupe!” (Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!) The last chapter follows with a delightful summary of the conversion and repentance of Saint José’s tormentors. It also details his path to canonization, including the miracle that made it possible.
Saint José’s torture and martyrdom is quite bloody and gruesome. For this reason, I don’t think I would recommend this book for anyone younger than middle school. The language is not graphic, but the story itself is quite violent. To tell it at all evokes horrific images. I was in tears. I recommend that parents read the last two chapters before deciding if their middle-school student is mature enough (or tough enough) to read it. Those teens and adults who do read it will find themselves profoundly moved by the life of this courageous and devout young teenager, Saint José Sanchez del Río.
Even a young teenager can be a saint!
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Copyright 2019 Rosemary Bogdan