Feb 6 Cristeros War
Updated: Jul 22, 2021
Today we go back to year 1927 and remember the death of Matteo Correa Magallanes an innocent Victim of Mexico's Cristeros War. An uprising after the Mexican Constitution had been updated to restrict the power of the Church. Today's pod looks at the reasons for a conflict that cost up to 250,000 lives, destabilised the border with the US and led to terrible atrocities on both sides. A war fought for the freedom of religion.
Magallanes was a priest working in one of the oldest cities in Mexico, Conception de Oro, and his execution today was a consequence of the government's continuing conflict with elements of the Church, and the resulting rebellion sometimes referred to as the Cristero War. In 1917, the Mexican Constitution had been updated to include three articles which heavily restricted the power and the influence of the Church. The Convention on the Constitution had been called by Venustiano Carranza, a leader of the Mexican revolution. However the liberal leaning Carranza found, to his dismay, that the convention was dominated by radicals who wanted a far-reaching reform of the relationship of church and state. Articles 3 and 130 were strongly anticlerical: the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico was denied recognition as a legal entity; priests were denied various rights and subject to public registration; religious education was forbidden; public religious ritual outside of the churches was banned; and all churches were nationalized as the property of the nation. This was a year before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, (see Pod of Jan 20)
This triggered a massive rural uprising in north-central Mexico that was tacitly supported by the Church hierarchy, and aided by urban Catholic supporters. Months later the US Ambassador eventually got involved and the government made some concessions, and the Church withdrew its support for the Cristero fighters. , The conflict officially ended in 1929 with a quarter of a million dead, and a similar number displaced across the border to the US. Unfortunately the violence rumbled on, after the US brokered agreement, with some of those who had associated with the Cristeros taking up arms again as independent rebels. This time among their targets were unarmed public school teachers, because of their status as government employees. Some who refused to leave their schools and communities, would have their ears were cut off. And there were continued atrocities on both sides, and exaggerations of them were used for propaganda purposes.
At the height of the conflict, Fr. Correa was arrested by soldiers as he was taking communion to a dying woman. Suspected of being a Cristero, he was imprisoned. Whilst in prison, Fr Correa was asked by a General to hear the confessions of some imprisoned members of the Cristeros. Afterwards he demanded to know what the condemned prisoners had confessed and when Fr. Correa refused to tell him, today on the February 6th he was taken to the cemetery on the outskirts of Durango and shot through the head. As a Catholic priest, he knew that if he had broken the seal of the confessional he would have triggered an automatic excommunication onto himself, Latae sententiae. Canonised by Pope John Paul II, Matteo is one of 25 saints who have been officially recognised from this period. All had refused to take up arms but had been caught up in the conflict for witnessing to their faith. Another group of 13 have been declared Blessed, including a 14-year-old José Sánchez del Río. Numerous documentaries and films have been made about this period, Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory is famously set in this period and, a very well-known novel in the Spanish Speaking world called Pedro Páramo is set during the Cristero War in the western Mexico city of Comala.
It is interesting to note how Mexico’s larger neighbour the United States were involved. This could be an early example of American foreign policy. With instability on their border, the diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict were effective. However both sides were being funded and supported by religious group within the States. In the mid-1920s, high-ranking members of the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan had offered president Calles $10,000,000 to fight the Cristeros. This seemed to be a reaction against the Knights of Columbus in the US who it is claimed had secretly offered a group of Cristero rebels $1,000,000 to purchase guns and ammunition. The Knights had been founded as a mutual benefit society for Catholic immigrants in New Haven, Connecticut, but their support and service work had proven successful and they had expanded across the border. Nine of those beatified or canonized were members of the Knights, The American Knights collected more than $1 million to assist exiles from Mexico, continue the education of expelled seminarians, and inform US citizens on the oppression, they also met US President Calvin Coolidge to press for intervention.