VATICAN CITY, MAY 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Among the latest people in line to be canonized as saints is Bishop Rafael Guízar Valencia, a standout evangelizer in Mexico at the time of its religious persecution last century.
Last Friday Benedict XVI authorized the promulgation of a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Rafael, who was bishop of Veracruz.
Rafael Guízar Valencia (1878-1938) was born in Cotija de la Paz, in the state of Michoacan, the fourth of 11 children. His brother Antonio became archbishop of Chihuahua.
Rafael Guízar received his priestly ordination at age 23 in Zamora in June 1901. He was in charge of spiritual direction in the Zamora seminary, where he taught dogmatic theology.
He was soon appointed apostolic missionary by Pope Leo XIII, and evangelized the villages he visited, basing his teaching on a simple catechism that Father Guízar wrote.
At the time of the Mexican revolution of 1910, he dedicated himself in particular to the dying and their families. In 1913, he carried out mission work among soldiers in Mexico City, Puebla and Morelos.
Disguised as a vendor of trinkets, and sometimes under a hail of bullets, he attended to the dying, imparted sacramental absolution and often gave them viaticum, which he carried concealed to avoid detection as a priest.
In July 1919, he was in Havana when he received the news that Pope Benedict XV appointed him bishop of Veracruz.
On Nov. 30, 1919, he received episcopal consecration in the Cuban capital by the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Tito Trocchi.
Among his works, Bishop Guízar revived the diocesan seminary, establishing it in Xalapa, moving it later to Mexico City, when anti-clerical forces confiscated the Church’s buildings.
During the religious persecution of the 1920s, he was exiled in the United States, Guatemala and Cuba, where he continued his missionary work.
Later he returned. But under the government of Plutarco Elías Calles he had to travel to Mexico City with many of his seminarians and asked the priests of Veracruz to continue their services in anonymity.
Bishop Guízar succeeded in keeping the seminary open. The authorities sought him and he was again forced to leave the country. He went to the United States, Cuba, Guatemala and Colombia.
On May 7, 1929, President Portes Gil stated his willingness to dialogue with the bishops. On hearing the news, Bishop Guízar returned to his homeland, to his diocese and to his seminary.
That May 24 he wrote a letter to all the faithful asking for prayers for a speedy peaceful arrangement between the Church and state. The arrangement, though provisional, was made public on June 22, 1929.
In 1931, the governor of Veracruz, Adalberto Tejeda, imposed a law limiting the number of priests to one for every 100,000 inhabitants — 13 priests for the entire state of Veracruz. This forced Bishop Guízar to flee his diocese a third time. This time he went to Puebla and Mexico City.
He returned later despite a death sentence passed against him. After a painful illness, he died in a house next to his seminary in Mexico City.
He was beatified Jan. 29, 1995, by Pope John Paul II.
One of the future saint’s sisters, María, was the mother of Maura Degollado Guízar, whose son Father Marcial Maciel founded the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi movement.
In a book-length interview, “Christ Is My Life,” Father Maciel recalled his great-uncle: “I remember that on one occasion he invited me to accompany him to Mexico City’s Alameda. He was carrying an accordion which he played very well, but I didn’t know for what he would use it. We arrived at this place, which was very crowded and he took out his accordion and began to play popular songs.
“People gathered around him. When there was a sufficiently large number, he put the accordion aside and began to preach Christ. I don’t know if he did so to teach me a lesson. I think it flowed from his soul and it was obvious that he really enjoyed talking about Christ to others.”