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Famous last words: A martyr of the bloody Cristero War forgives his persecutors

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Larry Peterson - published on 01/15/17

Blessed Anacleto González Flores didn't take up arms but worked tirelessly to fight the Mexican government's brutal treatment of Catholics

Our neighbor to the south, Mexico, has a long and fascinating history. One period that was chillingly deadly was during the tenure of Presidente Plutarco Elias Calles. Officially in office from 1924-1928, he effectively retained much influence until 1940. He was around long enough to begin and oversee the period known as the Maximato. It was during the Maximato that the Cristero War took place, one of the darkest and bloodiest periods in Mexican history.

Presidente Calles was a populist but within two years of his presidency he turned viciously on the Catholic Church. Using the anti-clerical articles of the Constitution of 1917, he attempted to literally wipe out Catholicism in Mexico. The Cristero War left a long list of dead priests, nuns, brothers and lay Catholics from all over Mexico. Many of these defenders of their faith have been declared saints and martyrs. Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores is one of them.

Anacleto Gonzalez Flores  was born in Tepatitlan, Jalisco, in Mexico in 1888. He was the second child of 12, with eight brothers and three sisters. His father was a weaver and had no love for the Church. At times he would even refuse to allow his wife to attend Mass. To compensate for this, every time Anacleto’s father would travel into Tepatitlan, Anacleto’s mom would do her best to teach her children about their faith. Anacleto, who had been baptized the day after he was born, listened attentively and developed a prayer life. His faith was becoming a part of who he was.

A priest from the local parish recognized Anacleto’s mental prowess and his growing love of his faith. He recommended him for the seminary. Anacleto did enter the seminary and excelled in his studies. However, after a short time, he decided the priesthood was not his calling and left. He went to Guadalajara and began studying law. In 1922, at the age of 34, he became an attorney. He married a woman named Maria Concepcion Guerrero and the couple had two children.

Anacleto, now a man strong in faith, attended daily Mass. He began visiting prisoners and teaching catechism classes to children and adults. A staunch defender of religious liberty and freedom, he founded the Popular Union (UP), which was an organization set up for Catholics to stand against the increasing persecution of the Church. He was also a leader in the Catholic Association of Mexican Youth and began publishing a magazine called La Palabra (The Word), which attacked the anti-clerical rules as set forth in the Constitution of 1917.

The National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty was formed in 1925 to unite Catholics against the religious persecution spreading across Mexico. This organization brought together members from the National Catholic Party, the Union of Mexican Catholic Ladies,  the Knights of Columbus, the National Parents Association, the National Catholic Labor Confederation and other groups. In its first year the League swelled to 36,000 members. It would  play a major role in the impending Cristero War, which would last from 1926-1929. Anacleto Gonzales Flores quickly became one of the leaders of the League.

In 1927, after President Calles’ obscene and violent enforcement of the anti-clerical rules was underway, militant members of the League began the Cristero War. Anacleto did not take up arms but he did give anti-government speeches, helped raise money and food, and wrote pamphlets and flyers condemning the government’s brutal treatment of the Catholic population. Anacleto was quoted as saying, “The country is a jail for the Catholic Church. We are not worried about defending our material interests because they come and go; but our spiritual interests, these we must defend because they are necessary to obtain our salvation.” Quickly he was placed high up on the government’s “watch list.”

Anacleto began to work discreetly and spent much time in hiding. During the early morning hours of April 1, 1927, he was in the home of his friends, the Vargas Gonzalez family. Two of the Vargas brothers were also there. Soldiers broke down the door and dragged Anacleto and the brothers off to jail. Anacleto was hung by his thumbs, flogged, stabbed with non-fatal bayonet wounds and had the soles of his feet cut open. The pain he was forced to endure was horrendous.

He never divulged any information about his friends or their whereabouts. That same evening he was taken out with the Vargas brothers and Luis Padilla Gomez. They were all shot to death. Anacleto’s last faith-filled, courageous words were, “I pardon you from the heart; very soon we will see each other before the divine tribunal; the same judge that is going to judge me will be your judge; then you will have, in me, an intercessor with God.”

Anacleto Gonzalez Flores bravely died for his faith. Pope Benedict XVI beatified him on November 20, 2005.

Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, please pray for us.

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