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Published: March 22nd 2010
The monument of Cristo Rey dominates the city of Sahuayo and the figure of Jesus stands at the top of the monument, outspread arms embracing the city below. I visited the monument my first weekend in Sahuayo but the delay in publishing this blog is due to the near impossibility of finding out the significance of this monument.
Colin showed me the route to Cristo Rey with the good advice of 'don't do it in heels or flip-flops'. I might have managed it in the latter but I probably would have broken an ankle in the former. We followed the road up the steep hill towards the sanctuary of Guadalupe. We briefly visited the church but as a service was in progress we couldn't view the interior. After the church the road grew increasingly steep and it was enough of a workout to reach the foot of the steps leading to the monument. I did however continue the upward climb, up the painted red and white steps to the fenced off area at the very top. The monument is an impressive block of stone with a huge picture of child Saint Jose Sanchez on one side and the figure of Christ
at the top.
We sat beside the monument in the sunshine before walking around enjoying the panoramic views of the city below. Sahuayo looks rather picturesque from above, the city petering out and fading into farmland that stretches to the encirling mountains. Eventually we began the downhill walk. The steps to the monument are flanked with mosaic images of the stations of the cross. We walked back into town down the hill which seemed even steeper on descent and would be impossible to run down without simply tumbling head over heels to the bottom!
Curious about the saint I decided to find out who he was. I was surprised by the image of Jose Sanchez who is depicted wearing a rather modern looking school uniform. In fact the picture appears to be a child's school photograph and his image is displayed several times around the town.
It has taken me some considerable time to find out exactly who this boy aint is. I discovered his name very easily as there is currently a celebration happening in town about his life and martyrdom. A large poster in the school details events happening over about a two week period. There have been
a couple of parades and one of my students told me he is going to be running a relay with a lighted torch and will be the one to carry it into the church at the end. One of the parades a couple of days ago was very impressive and I was sorry not to be out on the street to see it. I did manage to run up onto the roof to take a few photos before they all passed by. Huge crowds of peole moved through the streets, in costumes or uniforms. They carried an image of Jose Sanchez, and a second image of the boy in a glass coffin and walked up to Cristo Rey where, according to what I could understand from my neigbour's explanation, there was going to be a huge celebration and fireworks as it got dark.
Despite all these grand celebrations finding information about the saint remained troublesome. I asked several students at school and got raised shoulders in response (though whether that was simply typical teenage response I don't know!) I asked the principal who reiterated what I already knew, i.e. he was a young boy who was martyred, and then confessed
to not remembering the history very well.
I got a story about how the boy had the soles of his feet flayed and walks the town at night leaving bloody footprints... again this is from a teenage student so how reliable the information is I know not!
The best explanation I have is without doubt from an 8-year-old student via one of the other teachers.
'Do you know who the saint is?'
Yes. He's my third cousin.'
'The saint? The boy from cristo rey?'
'Yes, he's my third cousin'.
I did finally get a semi-coherant version of the story from a 17 year old girl in one of my classes. We digressed from the lesson in the book considerably and ended up discussing the saint and catholicism and I found myself trying to explain why England isn't a Catholic country which isn't the easiest task when talking to teenagers for whom English is a foreign language and who have no knowledge of English, or even European history. It turned into a interesting mini cultural exchange, although I'm sure the principal would rather I stick to the topic in the book!
So, courtesy of my students and a lot of
trawling the internet, here's what I've learned about Jose Sanchez del Rio...
Jose was born on 28th March, 1913 in the Villa de Sahuayo to parents Don Marcario Sanchez and Dona Maria del Rio. He was baptised in the parish church and attended school locally before continuing his education in Guadalajara. When the Cristero War began in 1926, Jose's older bothers, Miguel and Marcario, were caught up by the Christian ideals of Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, the leader of the Association of Young Mexican Catholics. That August they joined the forces of General Cristario Sanchez Ramirez.
In 1927 Jose Sanchez del Rio joined Cristero forces in Cotija, Michoacan, under the leadership of General Prudencio Mendoza. Because of his youth he was only admitted as a flag bearer rather than a soldier. A year later during a conflict with givernement forces the general's horse was shot down and Jose reportedly gave the general his own horse and was thus captured by the guards. He was imprisoned in the parish church in Sahuayo. Rafael Picasso, the government official, was using the church as a prison, and also kept some prize fighting cockrels inside. Jose, angered by the the usage of the church wrang
the roosters necks crying that it was a church not a barnyard. Picasso greatly angered by the boy's actions ordered that he be killed by firing squad.
Two children witnessed the death of Jose Sanchez del Rio, Marcial Maciel and Enrique Amezcua Medina who both went on to found religious congregations.
Rev. Marcial Maciel, aged seven at the time, reported what happened. He stated that the soldiers took Jose and cut the skin on the soles of the feet before forcing him to walk through the town toward the cemetery. They repeatedly stopped and said that if he would cry 'Death to Christ the King' they would let him live. Instead Jose cried Viva Cristo Rey. The commander ordered the soldiers to stab the boy so gunshots would not be heard. The boy continued to scream Viva Cristo Rey at which point the officer shot the boy in the head. Jose Sanchez del Rio died on 10th February, 1928 aged 14 years old.
The remains of Jose Luis rest in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in his hometown.
He was beatified on 20 November 2005 in the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.
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