‘We must not allow the Godless to take away our faith.’ — Friar Vega
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 was originally fought against longtime autocrat Porfirio Díaz and in favor of the demand by the mass of peasantry for land. However, later revolutionary leaders, and especially Plutarco Elias Calles (1877-1945), took on radical anti-Catholic stances, despite the Church’s strong support from the people.
After Diaz’s fall, the Catholic Church formed a political party, the National Catholic Party (NCP), that enjoyed good success at the ballot box. This didn’t set well with the gangsters who ruled the country during this unstable period.
On Feb. 18, 1913, Francisco I. Madero was forced to resign after a coup by military strongman Victoriano Huerta. A few days later, while being escorted to prison, Madero was assassinated by two policemen allegedly acting on Huerta’s orders.
Relations between the Catholic Church and Huerta grew strained after the publication of a letter in the NCP’s newspaper by Archbishop Leopoldo Ruiz y Flóres. The letter condemned Madero’s assassination and expressed doubt concerning the legality of Huerta’s regime.
Huerta perceived this publication as an attack on his authority and ordered the imprisonment of Gabriel Fernández, the president of the NCP.
It then got worse under the “revolutionary” (today hyped) Constitutionalists; who, rather than deliver agrarian reform, diverted attention against the Church. They demanded the Church donate 500,000 pesos to alleviate the condition of the poor. This levy was paid to the Revolutionary Council for Aid to the People under threat of execution. The actions infuriated the Church.
The bad blood grew when civil liberties of the members of the Catholic Church was infringed upon, and they were forced out of the political process by the Constitution of 1917.
In 1914, President Carranza — who put in place by the U.S. — inaugurated a period of open persecution. Priests were massacred, including 160 killed in Mexico during February 1915.
Nuns were abused and conscripted as camp followers and concubines of the warring factions roaming the country.
John Lind, one of Woodrow Wilson’s advisers, rejoiced over the news: “Great news! The more priests they kill in Mexico, the happier I shall be!”
An American pastor, indignant about the outraging of the nuns in Vera Cruz, received this reply from Wilson’s personal representative: “After prostitution, the worst thing in Mexico is the Catholic Church. Both must disappear!”
Plutarco Elias Calles became president in 1924. Calles’ Mexico has been characterized as an atheist state, and his program as being one to eradicate religion in Mexico. He instituted a corrupt state-controlled labor union that ran the slave system and aggressively seized Church property.
Although more religiously inclined rural folks spearheaded the Cristeros resistance, it also related to the official assimilation secular policies of the Mexican state. Only lip service was given to the value of the country’s ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic heritage, as Mexico fell prey to Illuminism and compulsory collective “universalist” philosophies. The Catholic Church in Mexico tended toward decentralized localism.
Read Winter Watch’s “Illuminism and Freemason Uprising” series
“Part I: A Deep Dive into Revolutionary History with Nesta Webster and James Billington”
“Part II: Nesta Webster on Henri San-Simon and His Utopian Proto-Socialist Disciples”
“Part III: The European Revolutions of 1848”
The Cristero soldiers were primarily western peasants who tried to resist the heavy pressures of the cosmopolitans and its revolution of the city elites and of the rich (aka kakistocracy).
A. Sanders, in “La preuve par le Mexique,” stated that Mexico at the time was dominated by oligarchs: Rockefeller (rubber), Goblentz (textiles), Guggenheim (mines) and Hearst (aka Hirsch), who owned 3 million metric arces, and the Kuhn-Loeb bank, which financed Lenin.
Mexican Illuminist Jacobins, supported by Calles’ central government, went beyond mere anti-clericalism and engaged in secular anti-religious campaigns to eradicate what they called “superstition” and “fanaticism,” which included the desecration of religious objects as well as the persecution and murder of the clergy.
On May 28, 1926, Calles was awarded a Medal of Merit from the head of Mexico’s Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for his actions against the Catholics.
Calles also sent a now-documented private telegram to the Mexican Ambassador to France Alberto José Pani Arteaga advising him that the Catholic Church in Mexico is a “political movement and must be eliminated in order to proceed with a Socialist government free of religious hypnotism, which fools the people … within one year without the sacraments, the people will forget the faith.”
“Now there must be a psychological revolution,” Calles declared. “We must penetrate and take hold of the minds of the children and the youth because they must belong to the revolution.”
The use of such expressions as Adios, “If God wills,” or “God forbid,” was subject to a fine.
In June 1926, he signed the “Law for Reforming the Penal Code,” known unofficially as “Calles’ Law.” For instance, wearing clerical garb in public and outside of church buildings earned a fine of 500 pesos ($250 U.S. per the historical exchange rate). A priest who criticized the government could be imprisoned for five years.
To help enforce the law, Calles seized church property, expelled all foreign priests and closed the monasteries, convents and religious schools. There was a clampdown on popular religious celebrations, such as fiestas. Chihuahua enacted a law permitting only a single priest to serve the entire Catholic congregation of the state.
The Constitution stated, “Religious ceremonies of public nature shall be ordinarily performed at the temples. Those performed outdoors shall be regulated under the law.” “Regulated” under Calles meant prohibited.
There was a wide variety of attacks on the Catholic faith, morality and principles.
Catholic organizations began to intensify their resistance. The most important of these groups was the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty founded in 1924.
On July 11, 1926, Catholic bishops voted to suspend all public worship in response to the Calles’ Law. On July 14, they endorsed plans for an economic boycott against the government, which was particularly effective in western-Central Mexico (the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas).
Catholics in these areas stopped attending movies and plays and the use of public transportation, and Catholic teachers stopped teaching in secular schools.
The bishops worked to have the offending articles of the Constitution amended. Pope Pius XI explicitly approved this plan. Calles’ government considered the bishops’ activism sedition and had many more churches closed. Vatican officials were dismissed, and diplomatic relations were broken off by the government.
On Aug. 14, 1926, government agents staged a purge of the Chalchihuites’ Zacatecas chapter of the Association of Catholic Youth and executed their spiritual adviser, Father Luis Bátiz Sainz.
A series of local uprising and guerrilla actions followed. The formal Catholic rebellion began on Jan. 1, 1927, with a manifesto sent by Garza titled “A la Nación” (“To the Nation”). The Mexican episcopate never officially supported the rebellion, and tended to fair-weather support only when military success was forthcoming.
Therefore the rebels, called Cristeros (Christ the King), were grassroots and had scarce logistical supplies and relied heavily on fundraising from their Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc, and raids on towns, trains and ranches in order to supply themselves with money, horses, ammunition and food.
By contrast, later in the war, Calles’ government was supplied with arms and ammunition by the U.S. government. In at least one battle, American pilots provided air support for the federal army against the Cristeros rebels.
On Feb. 23, 1927, the Cristeros defeated federal troops for the first time at San Francisco del Rincón, Guanajuato, followed by another victory at San Julián, Jalisco. However, they quickly began to lose in the face of superior federal forces, and they retreated into remote areas.
The media and government declared victory and plans were made for a “re-education campaign” in the areas that had rebelled. Concentration camps were set up for this.
In August 1927, the Cristeros got a boost when retired general and a military professional with skills Enrique Gorostieta joined. As the Federales came to realize they were the oppressors and their losses mounted- morale sank, and desertions were high.
With 50,000 fighters in the field, the Cristeros maintained the upper hand throughout 1928. In 1929, the federal government faced a new crisis: a revolt within army ranks.
Both U.S. councils, and mostly newly formed Mexican councils of the Knights of Columbus, opposed the persecution by the Mexican government. They circulated 5 million leaflets educating the U.S. about the war, held hundreds of lectures and spread the news via radio.
Congress named Emilio Portes Gil as interim president. Portes was more open to the Church than Calles and told a foreign correspondent on May 1, 1929, that “the Catholic clergy, when they wish, may renew the exercise of their rites.”
U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow managed to bring the parties to “arreglos” (agreement) on June 21, 1929. Religious instruction in the churches (but not in the schools) would be permitted. The church would recover the right to use its properties, and priests recovered their rights to live on such property.
Legally speaking, the church was not allowed to own real estate, and its former facilities remained federal property. However, the church effectively took control over the properties.
On June 27, 1929, church bells rang in Mexico for the first time in almost three years. The war had claimed the lives of some 90,000 people. However, despite the agreement, Cristeros continued to be rounded up and murdered. Torture was standard treatment.
There were 4,500 priests serving the people before the rebellion. By 1934, there were only 334 licensed by the government to serve 15 million people. The rest had been eliminated by emigration, expulsion and assassination. By 1935, 17 states had no priests at all.
The Cristero War affected emigration to the U.S. Many of the Cristeros — by some estimates as much as 5 percent of Mexico’s population —fled to the United States. Many of them made their way to Los Angeles. Old line Mexican-American immigrant families in southern California tend to be religious conservative Cristeros and pro-American, a far cry from more recent arrivals.
After the supposed truce, puppet-master Calles behind the scenes continued a push for complete state monopoly on education, suppressing all Catholic education and introducing secular education in its place: “We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth.”
Mexico’s Congress amended Article 3 of the Constitution in October 1934 to include the following introductory text (translated):
The education imparted by the State shall be a socialist one and, in addition to excluding all religious doctrine, shall combat fanaticism and prejudices by organizing its instruction and activities in a way that shall permit the creation in youth of an exact and rational concept of the Universe and of social life.
This invoked a counter-terror against secularist teachers by the Cristeros. It’s calculated that approximately 300 rural teachers were murdered between 1935 and 1939. Many others had their ears cut off by the Cristeros. These are often known as maestros desorejados (“teachers without ears”) in Mexico.
The secularist amendments were invalidated by President Manuel Ávila Camacho in 1940 and officially repealed from the Mexican Constitution in 1946.
On May 21, 2000, Pope Saint John Paul II canonized a group of 25 martyrs from this period. Twenty-two were secular clergy and three were laymen. They refused to leave their flocks and ministries, being shot or hanged by government forces for offering the sacraments.
The martyrdom of Father St. Cristobal Magallanes and 14-year-old St. José Luis Sánchez del Río [from the film “Cristeros, For Greater Glory” (2012)].