Portrait of a Martyr: St. Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero

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From last September to this past March, Mexico Knights carried a cross-shaped reliquary containing the relics of six Mexican saints of the Knights of Columbus to cities and towns throughout Mexico. The faithful responded in large numbers to this pilgrimage. The Knights were priests who were martyred during the persecution of the Church in Mexico in the 1920s and 30s. They are: Fathers Luis Batiz Sainz, José Robles Hurtado, Mateo Correa Magallanes, Miguel de la Mora de la Mora, Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán and Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero. Pope John Paul II canonized them in 2000. Their feast day is observed May 21.

On March 18, following a Mass and prayers at the Cathedral-Santuario de Guadalupe in Dallas, the reliquary began a multi-city tour that will take it to several dioceses, chiefly in the U.S. Southwest. In June, the reliquary will be exhibited at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, and from Aug. 1-3 it will be displayed for veneration at the 124th annual Supreme Council meeting in Orlando, Fla. The reliquary’s complete itinerary can be found at the Order’s Web site, www.kofc.org.

In commemoration of the Mexican martyrs’ feast day, Columbia presents the story of one of these heroic men, Father Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero.

Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero was born in Sacramento, Chihuahua, on June 8, 1892. When he was 17 years old, he followed God’s call to him to become a priest and entered the seminary in Chihuahua. The poor conditions of the seminary at the time aggravated his fragile health. In 1918, he was sent to El Paso, Texas, to receive the sacrament of holy orders because the bishop of Chihuahua was himself ill. El Paso Bishop Jesús Schuler, a Jesuit, ordained Father Maldonado Lucero on Jan. 25, 1918, at the Cathedral of St. Patrick. Father Maldonado celebrated his first Mass at Sagrada Familia Parish in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

On Jan. 1, 1924, Father Maldonado Lucero was appointed pastor of Santa Isabel Parish, where he served until his death in 1937. The priest ignited enthusiasm for the faith in his parishioners. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament increased during his time at Santa Isabel. He also encouraged love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Tensions Mount Back to Top

In 1926, the government-sponsored persecution of the Church commenced. Public worship was suspended. churches, seminaries and religious schools were closed. The state of Chihuahua was spared from much of the hostility due to the prudent measures of local authorities. It wasn’t until 1931, when a new wave of religious persecution commenced, that Chihuahua was swept up in the violence. Priests were persecuted and exiled. Catholic officials and teachers were forced to sign declarations denying the faith. Rallies protesting the government actions were prohibited.

In 1934, Father Maldonado Lucero was arrested and exiled to El Paso. He vowed to return to his parish as soon as he could, and by 1936 he was back in Mexico in a town near Santa Isabel called la Boquilla del Río. There he stayed with a Catholic family who had transformed its house into a place where Mass could be celebrated publicly.

Father Maldonado Lucero celebrated Holy Week that year with special solemnity. At the conclusion of his Good Friday sermon, he went to hear the confessions of several sick parishioners who lived in a dangerous part of the region. On his return to the home where he was staying, he was met by gunfire but his life was spared.

'You Are a Priest' Back to Top

The next year, on Ash Wednesday, Father Maldonado Lucero was busy hearing confessions and applying ashes when a group of armed and drunken men came to town to arrest him. Although the faithful tried to hide him, he was seized. His captors marched him barefoot to the town center. Along the way, he prayed the rosary aloud. Many of his parishioners walked and prayed alongside him.

When the group arrived at city hall, a municipal official grabbed Father Maldonado Lucero by the hair and punched him. Another political leader shot him with his pistol. The shot hit the priest in the forehead, punching a hole in his skull and almost detaching his left eye from its socket.

Seeing that he was not dead, his persecutors kept up their attacks. They hit him with their rifle butts and dragged him to the building’s second floor where he was left lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood. Throughout the attacks, Father Maldonado Lucero gripped a small reliquary to his heart.

The priest was rescued by a group of women who took him to a hospital. There, he received absolution, the last rites and a blessing. The day after Ash Wednesday, Feb. 11, 1937, Father Maldonado Lucero died. His body was taken to the bishop’s home where it was dressed in a priest’s vestments. Placed into a humble casket, the body was carried in a funeral procession accompanied by thousands of Catholics shouting “Praise be Christ the King” and reciting the rosary. The people were saddened and angered by the deadly attack on him. After his burial, they gathered around his grave and sang hymns to the Virgin Mary. A simple headstone was designed with the inscription, “You Are A Priest.”

Father Maldonado Lucero died a martyr, but his sacrifice was not in vain. On April 26, 1937, the governor of Chihuahua signed a request authorizing the resumption of public worship in the state. On May 1, the bells in the cathedral began tolling again, calling the faithful to Mass. By the first anniversary of his death, public worship had been restored throughout Chihuahua; the government had given up all persecution of Catholics in the region.