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Viva Cristo Rey!


Atheists often say that religion is the source of all the evil in the world, and behave as if they believed it. 

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proThey never tell us what they think is the source of all the evil in themselves.

I'm looking at a photograph taken in Mexico City, November 23, 1926.  It's a police compound, outdoors.  Snow lies on the rough logs of the wall.  To the right stands a man in military uniform, a saber slung at his side.  To the left a man is kneeling, his hands pressed together and raised to his lips in prayer.  He is handsome and slight of stature, in the prime of manhood.  He is dressed in a dark business suit, but if he had had his choice, he would be wearing the outlawed cassock and clerical collar.  He is Father Miguel Pro, s.j., and he is about to be executed by firing squad.

Father Pro was accused of taking part in an attempt to assassinate Álvaro Obregón, who with Plutarco Elías Calles formed a tag-team of president-dictators, with Obregón newly elected to the office he had held ten years before.  Calles and Obregón hated the Church and persecuted her with a relentless energy that would do credit to an apostle — held in check sometimes by political necessities and not by mercy or second thoughts.  Father Pro was innocent, according to the testimony of the would-be assassin himself.  He was a man of peace, tending to the needs of the widows and orphans of los Cristeros, the soldiers of Christ who were fighting the secular despots.  It didn't matter: Let Obregón himself tell us why: 

We know what to do when an ant bites us: we don't look for the ant...we get a pan of boiling water and throw it on the ant hill.  When a scorpion bites us we get a lantern and look for it; and if we find another scorpion, we don't let it live just because it hasn't bitten us; we kill it because it can poison us with its venom, too.

So Blessed Miguel Pro was led to his death.  At the moment of execution, he forgave his enemies and extended his arms in the form of a cross, crying out, Viva Cristo Rey!  Long live Christ the King!  Thirty thousand mourners thronged the streets for his funeral.

Fear and Loathing

We crush a scorpion because we fear and loathe it.  Reason hardly comes into play.  Such is the fear and loathing that Christ's Church arouses.  We should never underestimate it.

We crush a scorpion because we fear and loathe it.  Reason hardly comes into play.  Such is the fear and loathing that Christ's Church arouses.  We should never underestimate it.

Catholic priests, said the Mexican consul to the United States, had fought against human progress and Mexican independence from the beginning.  When the Mexican bishops suspended religious services to protest hostile laws that violated freedom of speech and religion, President Calles mocked them and said it was so much the better, because the work of eradicating Christianity would proceed more quickly.  Religion is for the poor and the ignorant, and keeps them so.  Such is the song the illuminati have sung since Voltaire, hardly caring to hide their contempt for the poor whom they claim to love.

The anti-Catholic laws were many and insidious, some of them written into the nation's radically secular constitution.  Governors could limit the number of priests allowed to preach in their states: in Tabasco, one for every thirty thousand people, and only if those priests were married and over forty years old.  Seminaries were shut down.  Spanish-born priests were deported.  Religious education for primary school children was prohibited, even if given outside of school hours.  Priests could not speak on political matters, even as citizens in the public square.  The government seized Catholic orphanages and schools, though most of the Church's real property had been plundered long before, when Mexico won her independence from Spain.  In many places it was easier to find a whore to lie with than a priest to baptize your child.

Most Americans found the Mexican business baffling, not in keeping with their own progressive view of liberty and their still strong understanding of the central role of religion in the common good.  Most, that is, who were not anti-Catholic Klansmen.  Prominent Catholics, including William F.  Buckley, father of the famous journalist, tried to enlist American support for the rebels, the Cristeros who had finally resorted to armed rebellion.  That part of the story is intricate and impossible to reduce to clear saints and villains.  The Vatican itself — and that included the never timid Pius XI — doubted the Cristeros' hope for success, and though it decried the laws as abominable, sought some modus vivendi with Calles and Obregón.  The Coolidge and Hoover administrations kept a wary distance.

Damned for Her Virtues

I now hear apologists for Calles crying, "But the Church was worldly and corrupt!"  Let's be honest.  The Church is never hated for being worldly.  Mocked, but not hated.  The Church is hated not for her vices but for her virtues which are transcendent, and which put the poor old world to shame.  Had Jesus been but a worldly man, his shoulders would never have borne the cross.  If the Church would capitulate to the latest demands of the world, then the world would leave it alone — because then the Church, like an inoffensive worm, would not be worth killing.

Let's be honest.  The Church is never hated for being worldly.  Mocked, but not hated.  The Church is hated not for her vices but for her virtues which are transcendent, and which put the poor old world to shame. 

The Catholic Church in Mexico, long before the anti-religious revolution that brought Calles to power, had been a force for liberty and for the welfare of the poor.  I'm referring not only to the many works of charity that the Church has always and everywhere performed.  Catholics began to take seriously the exhortations of Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum (1891), and various Mexican Catholic congresses were pressing for trade unions and guilds, tax-exempt credit cooperatives, free schools, better conditions for sharecroppers and Indians, and even, in exchange for indemnities, the expropriation of large tracts of land held by too few, to be parceled among farmers of the lower classes.

People who have the common good in mind must welcome the vigorous action of the Church.  That used to be the attitude of politicians in the United States.  This was not the attitude of Calles and Obregón and the "Constitutional" forces they led.  I'm looking now at a photograph of Calles.  He bears an uncanny resemblance to Stalin, with his mustache, square jaw, heavy brows, and craggy cheeks.  The resemblance is more than facial.  They were thugs in political garb, mob bosses come to great power; they hated the Faith that had nurtured them; they turned the army against their political enemies; they employed brutal torture and concentration camps; they considered themselves harbingers of a glorious national future, looking on the past with scorn.  They were willing to shed the blood of mere farmers, who in Mexico made up the large majority of the Cristeros. 

A Church Militant

One more photograph.  It's a semi-arid middle of nowhere, with tall grass and a few skinny trees.  A handsome baldacchino stands in the background, partly hidden by the flag of the Cristeros.  A priest in full vestments is giving the Eucharist to a long line of kneeling men.  Two soldiers in boots assist him.  A second line of men, facing the first line, can be seen in the foreground.  The nearest figure is of a powerfully built youth, all in white.  These men were willing to fight for the freedom of the Church.

Who were they?  All armed struggles attract their share of the violent and ambitious.  But the Cristeros had no aims for personal power.  Most came from the countryside.  They were not rich.  Many had grown up in the Catholic Association of Mexican Youth, studying the lives of Catholics like Daniel O'Connell, who fought for Irish independence.  They learned, as one of them said, that this life demands a soldier's determination.  It demands manhood and self-mastery.  We conquer by dying.  One of their leaders, Anacleto Flores, an admirer of the works and deeds of Gandhi, preached that all of Mexican life had to be leavened by the teachings of the Church; he rejected secularism out of hand.  A few were patriots who simply did not want their nation governed by madmen, and occasionally that patriotism would lead them back into the Church. 

No young man says, "I want to grow up to be lukewarm."  Who knows what the Church's fortunes will be in the West, so much more hostile to the faith it has lost than it ever was to the faith it had not yet attained.  We may be facing a long Lent.  But forty days or forty years or four hundred years, we must never give in.  We must never say, "We have no president but Caesar!"  We must never patronize our Lord, and toss him a scrap of Sundays and pious sentiments.  He is our King or he is nothing.  Viva Cristo Rey!


This month's essay is indebted to David Bailey's fine history
of the Cristeros rebellion, Viva Cristo Rey!, 1974.




Magnificat Anthony Esolen. "How the Church Has Changed the World: "Viva Cristo Rey!" Magnificat (March, 2017).

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The Author

esolen54smesolen7Anthony Esolen is professor of English Renaissance and classical literature at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. He is the author of Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal, Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, Reflections on the Christian Life, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Ironies of Faith: Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and is the translator of several epic poems of the West, including Lucretius' On the Nature of Things: de Rerum Natura, Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, and the three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. He is a graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina. Anthony Esolen is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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