José Luis Sánchez and His Martyrdom (Part 2)

Interview With Father Marcial Maciel, Founder of Legionaries of Christ

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ROME, NOV. 21, 2005 ( Among the witnesses of the martyrdom of 14-year-old José Luis Sánchez del Río, beatified Sunday in Mexico, was 7-year-old Marcial Maciel, who later founded the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi Movement.

In Part 2 of this interview with ZENIT, Father Maciel, 85, recalls his friend’s martyrdom. Part 1 appeared Sunday.

Q: José was killed and the Cristero movement he supported failed. Was it a futile death?

Father Maciel: In 1929 the Cristeros lay down their arms in obedience to the order of Pope Pius XI. The political authorities of the time did not keep their agreements with the Church and with the Cristeros, and many disarmed Cristeros afterward were killed.

It all ended in nothing. It seemed a failure. But as Tertullian said: «The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.»

On his first trip to Mexico in 1979, the first of his trips as a pilgrim around the world, John Paul II witnessed the enthusiasm and life of the faith that is breathed in Mexico, undoubtedly watered by the blood of the martyrs.

A martyrdom not only is never a futile death, but rather is a fruitful and redeeming death.

It is the death of the disciple who associates himself to his Master’s cross, and who with him offers his life for the salvation of many men, including his own executioners.

Like Jesus, [the martyr’s] death seems immediately a failure, but he is a luminous witness of the resurrection and of eternal life over death.

I have been able to witness several times that since José Luis’ death until today, many visit his tomb, take flowers to him, light candles, and pause there to pray, praying for his intercession.

As Jesus said: «God is not God of the dead, but of the living.» When we pray to the saints, we know we are speaking with people who are alive, who have triumphed definitively and have reached happiness with God, toward which we journey during this life and to which we are all called.

Q: At 15 years, is a boy capable of giving his life for Christ? Can a 15-year-old boy know his vocation clearly?

Father Maciel: You ask me if a 15-year-old adolescent is capable of giving his life for Christ. The very context of this interview, José Luis Sánchez del Río’s martyrdom, a boy of 14 years, is in itself an answer.

In your second question you establish a beautiful relationship, which encloses a great truth. Martyrdom is a call from God to give the whole of one’s life for Christ in a few minutes. A vocation is also a call to give the whole of one’s life for Christ, but day by day, minute by minute.

We must not forget that it is God who calls, and he chooses the moment to do so. God is the sower who deposits the seed.

He can awaken a priestly vocation in the heart of a child, as in that of a youth, as in that of an adult; when he sees the opportune moment. He knows how to find the way to make them feel clearly in their interior his invitation to follow him.

Of course, as happens with every process of maturation, in the life of a child and of a youth, the seed must grow in time, and the call will be studied and will have time to be pondered and verified.

The path toward the priesthood or consecrated life goes through different stages of formation, and the Church will admit those who are apt.

What is important is to be able to offer these children and adolescents who feel God’s call in their interior at an early age, a space of freedom and a propitious environment, a «good earth,» sun, water and air so that the seed can sprout in its time; this is what we try to do in the vocational centers of the Legion and of the Regnum Christi.

This was also my personal experience: I received the call to the priesthood at 14 years of age; I left my home for the seminary at 15 years; I have never doubted my vocation; I have been and am fully happy in my priesthood and I am already 85 …

Q: Do you know that the founder of another religious congregation which arose in Mexico was also a witness of this martyrdom?

Father Maciel: I suppose you are referring to Father Enrique Amezcua Medina, founder of the priestly Confraternity of the Laborers of the Kingdom of Christ. He is from Colima.

I cannot tell you if he was a witness of the martyrdom, I rather think not, but I do believe that he owes his priestly vocation to José Luis Sánchez, whom he met in 1927, at the height of the Cristero war.

He said that when he was 9 years old, when he approached José to get to know him, José hugged the flag of Christ the King against his chest and spoke with much fervor about the Most Holy Virgin to a discouraged Cristero youth.

Father Enrique … the boy Enrique, approached him and said he wanted to be like him, a soldier of Christ the King. José smiled at him and said he was still too young, but that what he had to do was to pray much for him and for all the Cristeros.

Father Enrique recalled how he fixed his gaze on him and said: Perhaps God will want you to be a priest. And if one day you become a priest, you will be able to do many things that neither I nor we can do. So, don’t fret.

They made a pact to always pray for one another, and they sealed it with a handshake. And José Luis said good-bye to him: «Now, until God wills, see you soon, or in heaven …»

Q: For what do you pray to José Luis?

Father Maciel: For what I always pray: that he obtain from God the grace for all of us to be faithful to our faith and to our unconditional love of Christ until death. I entrust to him all children and adolescents.

I think that, as he was for me, José will be for all of them an excellent model of friendship with Christ and of Christian faithfulness and coherence.

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