The Mexican Martyrs Statue

The saints and blesseds of the Knights of Columbus are models for the Columbian virtues of Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism

Six 20th century saints brought the faith to life for the thousands who turned out to venerate the relics of the Knights of Columbus Mexican martyrs. At each stop during the yearlong pilgrimage through Mexico and the United States, the relics inspired words of praise and bridged a gap between countries and cultures. The six small pieces of bone embedded in a cross-shaped reliquary told a modern story of heroic priests who gave their lives while defending the faith and their flocks.

The relics pilgrimage also underlined the role of the Knights of Columbus in resisting the Mexican government’s brutal persecution of the Church during the Cristeros era of the 1920s and 1930s. At each stop, a Fourth Degree honor guard accompanied the blessed remains, and Knights turned out in large numbers to pay tribute to their fraternal forbears.

“When I heard about the relics tour, I made sure to bring them here to the cathedral because we have, in a sense, bragging rights more than any other place in the United States,” said Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of El Paso, Texas, which is situated along the border with Mexico. He is a member of El Paso Council 638.

One of the martyrs, Father Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero, fled persecution in Mexico before becoming a priest, and was ordained in El Paso’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he also celebrated his first Mass. Father Maldonado Lucero, a member of Council 2419, later returned to Mexico and was killed in 1937.

“Having the relics here [in late March] was a great gift for us,” said Bishop Ochoa. “Relics have not been too much a part of our people’s religiosity here in the United States. It was a teaching moment in the diocese, and it showed how the Knights continue to offer programs for the benefit of everyone in the Church.

The other five priest-Knights who were killed in Mexico during the Cristeros era were: Father Luis Batiz Sainz of Council 2367, Father José Maria Robles Hurtado of Council 1979, Father Mateo Correa Magallanes of Council 2140, Father Miguel de la Mora de la Mora of Council 2140 and Father Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán of Council 2330. Pope John Paul II canonized them in May 2000, along with 19 other Mexican martyrs from that period.

Sponsored by the Supreme Council, the tour began in Mexico City in September 2005 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and traveled throughout Mexico before coming to the United States in March of this year. The final stop was the 124th Supreme Convention last August in Orlando, Fla. The reliquary was a gift to the Supreme Council from the Knights of Columbus of Mexico.

Family Ties

Statue by acclaimed Mexican sculptor Antonio Castellanos Basich depicts a peasant, a priest and a businessman – all martyred for their faith.

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson in 2005 unveiled a painting and statue of the Mexican martyrs at the Knights of Columbus Museum.

The works were commissioned by the Knights to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Knights of Columbus in Mexico.

Both artworks commemorate the Catholics killed by the Mexican government in the early 20th century. Though the episode is largely forgotten today, more than 40,000 Catholics – including 90 priests and more than 70 members of the Knights of Columbus – were killed or martyred for practicing and defending their faith during the 1920s and 1930s.

The statue by acclaimed Mexican sculptor Antonio Castellanos Basich depicts a peasant, a priest and a businessman – all martyred for their faith. It is on display in the museum lobby.

For more on the Mexican Martyrs see the following articles from the online edition of Columbia magazine:

Saints of Service

St. José María Robles Hurtado