A campaign of religious persecution by the Mexican government — and with it the Cristero War — began in 1926. A second era of persecution followed nearly a decade later, from 1934 to 1938. Tens of thousands were killed for their faith during these periods, proclaiming the spiritual battle cries “Viva Cristo Rey! Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” Among them were 38 priests and laymen — nine of them Knights — who have been beatified or canonized as martyrs and whose feast day is celebrated May 21.
A young bishop named Luis María Martínez, ordained an auxiliary for the Archdiocese of Michoacán in 1923 at age 42, was a pastor and witness to the martyrs, and he came to view their suffering as a paradoxical blessing. Their participation in the suffering of Christ, Martínez believed, would ultimately bear spiritual fruit for Mexico as a whole. Martínez was appointed archbishop of Mexico City in 1937 and became the Mexico state chaplain of the Knights of Columbus the same year. He served in both positions for nearly two decades.
“Archbishop Martínez was famous for his kindness, prudence, intelligence, cordiality and great sense of humor — which greatly helped the word of God to enter the heart of so many people,” writes Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, postulator for the cause of St. Juan Diego, in the foreword to a new English-language edition of a collection of the archbishop’s homilies and talks. “Martínez was not only instrumental in achieving a stability for the Catholic Church in civil society, but also greatly strengthened the souls of Catholics in Mexico, so that they might never lose faith in the love of God.”
Archbishop Martínez’s last public homily was given in September 1955, during a pontifical Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Knights’ presence in Mexico. He died Feb. 9, 1956, and his cause for canonization was opened in 1981.
Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt from a homily given by then-Bishop Luis María Martínez on the feast of Pentecost, May 24, 1931, during a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Tepeyac, the site where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531. The excerpt, printed with permission, is drawn from a compilation of Archbishop Martínez’s homilies, reflections and talks, newly published in English under the title Am I Not Your Mother?: Reflections on Our Lady of Guadalupe (Magnificat, 2022). For more information, visit magnificat.com.
“There are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.” (1 Jn 5:7-8)
FOUR CENTURIES AGO, Most Holy Mary of Guadalupe brought us the Holy Spirit, the One whose proper name is Gift and who is the principle of all the gifts of God; and Mexico, having received this divine Spirit, was able to fulfill the providential mission that it received from God. …
We did not hear the noise of a rushing wind but the sweetest lullaby of Mary’s heavenly voice. No tongues of fire appeared, but the miraculous roses sprang up. Their fragrance filled our soil and their petals painted the divine image that our eyes contemplate. It could be said that in her joined hands Mary brought us the divine Dove, and the Sun that surrounds her is the Sun of Love whose rays enliven our souls. Our Lady of Guadalupe brought us many gifts … but the gift par excellence that she gave us when she visited us is the Holy Spirit, who spread to all flesh on the continent.
It was natural that, when the Holy Spirit came, he would pour out upon the new continent the three divine floods that flowed from the Upper Room.
“Archbishop Martínez was famous for his kindness, prudence, intelligence, cordiality and great sense of humor — which greatly helped the word of God to enter the heart of so many people.”
First, that of water. It is not a vain attempt to look for analogies, or a rhetorical trick. I tell you the truth in Jesus Christ. There was something exceptional and miraculous in the evangelization of the native peoples. Their attachment to their old traditions, the charm that the wild beauty of their idolatrous worship exerted on them, the link of the new faith with the conquest made at the edge of a sword — all these things placed incredible obstacles to the colossal enterprise of Christianization initiated by the heroic missionaries. To tell the truth, the missionaries’ first efforts were sterile, but as soon as the Virgin Mary appeared on this glorious hill, the regenerating waters of baptism spread marvelously throughout our country. It was a veritable flood, and out of it arose a new humanity….
The national soul was forged with a deep-rooted faith…. Oh, how many would have wished that that sweet life had been prolonged forever, or at least that the transition from infancy to youth had been made without turmoil, without catastrophes, without bloodshed! Mary Most Holy, who has a special love for us, had in store for us something better than what we could have imagined. She had in store for us the cross, the sacrifice — the glorious testimony of blood. …
Mary had the glorious cross in store for us, and that is why the generous Mexican blood has soaked our soil in abundance. I am not referring only to the blood that has not yet dried, to that which we ourselves have seen spilled, but to all that has been shed in the century of our independent life. The history of that century is one of blood, and, thank God, at the bottom of all our vicissitudes and all our struggles has always been our Catholic faith, our unshakable faith. Mexico has been a people martyred for its faith, and the same predilection of the Virgin Mary has exalted our martyrdom because, given the enmities that God placed between the woman and the serpent, it is natural that the serpent becomes wilier in the land where the celestial heels of Mary rested. Mexico has given Jesus the testimony of blood after having given the testimony of faith. …
The marvelous flood of water four centuries ago and the heroic flood of blood of the last century announce and prepare an intimate, most sweet, and abundant flood of love. I am not a prophet, nor do I pretend to announce the future. I tell you only what my heart dreams, what my soul senses, what seems to be logically deduced from what we contemplate and know.
Everything indicates to us that our providential mission is not finished. When a people has been so loved by the Mother of God, as we have been; when a people has been nailed to the cross, as we have been nailed, it has a high and glorious destiny — it has a providential vocation to ascend to the divine summit of love. In the supernatural link of the operations of the Holy Spirit, the divine flood of love must logically follow the floods of water and blood.
That is why I hope for a new epoch for my homeland — perhaps very near, perhaps already begun — in which, purified by water and blood, it will sing the new song of a new love — Mexican hearts, made for love, enriched by water and blood. With exquisite tenderness, the finest delicacy, and passionate ardor, they will offer to Jesus the testimony of deep love. And this love’s perfume will spread through our soil as the scent of Tepeyac’s roses spread four centuries ago….
By the testimony of our faith we were the people of Mary, and by the testimony of our blood, the people of the cross. By the testimony of love, we will be the people of the Holy Spirit, of the divine Unknown.
Editor’s Note: Near the end of his life, Archbishop Luis María Martínez received special permission from his physician to deliver what would be his last public homily Sept. 18, 1955, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Order in Mexico. The following words were addressed to the Knights of Columbus, with Supreme Knight Luke Hart in attendance, in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Mexico City.
HALF A CENTURY is something very important in the life of an institution, and when such an organization has borne true fruit in that half century, it is worthy of praise. I would like to give just praise to the institution and at the same time urge it to continue with that fruitful labor so that it may grow before God and country. And to do so, I invite all of you to ask for God’s help through the Holy Virgin, so that I may speak with dignity in these most solemn moments.
Hail Mary …
The Gospel of St. John tells us that in a conversation between Jesus Christ and the eternal Father, he said: “May all be one, just as I am in you” (cf. Jn 17:21), and thus we were made to understand the value of unity.
I believe it is here that one finds the basic worth of the Order of the Knights of Columbus in Mexico: in the unity demonstrated over a half century, in a unity that — like the Holy Trinity — is threefold: unity of faith, unity of organization, unity of action.
There is unity of faith because all members must be deeply Catholic. They must be very faithful to the Church in the way they think, which is as one, and they should be similar to the Church in the desire to be one thing, as Christ is in the Father.
Being always united in faith, the institution has achieved its first distinction: achieving 50 years of active faith that moves mountains and achieves wonders, the kind of faith that constantly transforms the world.
“I believe it is here that one finds the basic worth of the Order of the Knights of Columbus ... in a unity that — like the Holy Trinity — is threefold: unity of faith, unity of organization, unity of action.”
But there is also unity of organization. In order to be strong, solid and effective, it needs to be one. Practicing unity, all of you will be just one thing: There will be people of all categories, from all ranks of science, of all qualities and virtues, but all have Catholicism as a base, and thus they achieve unity of organization.
This second quality is necessary so that all of you may form a true body that acts together, because it is only in this way that unity of faith may bear fruit and that you may realize to a certain degree the longing of Christ and his Church.
The third form of unity is unity of action — everyone working together with the same general plan — the same in state capitals as in small mountain villages, so that in order to reach the soul of the country, all of you work for the good and progress of Mexico.
Keep forever etched into your minds these three forms of unity that are so basic to our society: unity of faith, unity of organization and unity of action. I urge all of you at this most solemn moment to preserve forever these three unities, which make all of you worthy of your ideals, and I assure you that you will grow in honor. Grow your faith, embrace unity, coordinate your efforts.
May it please God that this desire for Christ be realized. Ask for it, on this, the day of your golden anniversary, from the Queen of Mexico, who is your protector and who would deign to intercede so that all of you may be granted the necessary graces for the fulfillment of this threefold unity. With this celestial protection, all of you will continue to do good on earth and in heaven you will find the reward for your labors.
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