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Catholic Heroes . . . Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores

March 29, 2016 saints No Comments


During Holy Week, we hear our Lord say during the Passion, “For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31). Throughout the history of the Church, Catholics have been persecuted and martyred and they continue to be persecuted and martyred today. This is the normal situation of Catholics, one in which we should rejoice to be able to join our Lord in winning souls for Heaven.
Persecution also decimated Catholic activities in Mexico during the early 20th century. Graham Greene wrote that the persecution of the Church in Mexico was second only to the persecution of Catholics in England under Queen Elizabeth I.
The Cristero War (1926-1929) came as no surprise to the Vatican. Pope Pius XI in 1925 issued Quas Primas instituting the Feast of Christ the King (this encyclical is also very appropriate for our times), counteracting the rise of nationalism and secularism, as in Mexico.
On November 18, 1926, the same Pope issued Iniquis Afflictisque dealing with the persecution of the Church in Mexico, decrying the brutal anticlerical actions of the Mexican government of Plutarco Elias Calles.
One of the martyrs, a young boy named José Luis Sanchez del Rio, will be canonized on October 16, 2016. Young José died on February 10, 1928, only ten months after the death of another martyr, Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, who died on April 1, 1927.
Anacleto was the second of 12 children born to Valentin Gonzalez Sanchez and Maria Flores Navarro in the village of Tepatitlan, Jalisco, Mexico, a little over 200 miles northwest of Mexico City. His father was a weaver who enjoyed drinking too much and his mother was a devout woman who had her son baptized the day after he was born.
As a child, Anacleto had a quick mind and a special gift for organizing activities. A friend of the family, who was also a priest, dubbed him the “Maestro.” At a young age, Anacleto took on various jobs to help support the growing family.
He attended school and organized many Catholics groups and joined others such as the Association of Young Mexicans, which taught catechism classes and performed acts of charity.
The same priest who dubbed Anacleto “Maestro” recommended that he be sent to the seminary, seeing in him a future caring, capable, informed priest. Anacleto readily agreed, attending first the San Juan de los Lagos Seminary and then the Guadalajara seminary not far from his home. After just a few years, however, he discerned that he did not have a vocation to the priesthood.
When the anticlerical government ordered that all the Catholic churches be closed, Anacleto took action. At the age of 26, he organized the Popular Union and found the Gladium. This newspaper, with the title meaning “sword” in Latin, published articles supporting the Church.
Four years later, as the conflict between the Church and the Mexican government intensified, Anacleto pleaded for “peaceful resistance.” In 1919, because of his articles on his ideals for social reforms and religious liberty he was arrested, but released.
As he agitated for Church rights, he also continued his studies by attending law school, receiving his degree in 1921. The following year he married Maria Concepcion Guerro, with whom he had two children.
That year he also organized the first Catholic Labor Congress in Guadalajara, a state in northwest Mexico. This congress was so successful and so popular that it spread quickly. It was not long before it became the National Catholic Labor Conference which spread throughout Mexico.
Anacleto proved his faithfulness to the Catholic Church repeatedly from his days as a youth until the end of his life such as the publication of Gladium and the organization of the Catholic Labor Conference. Thus he soon became a target of the Mexican government. Yet the intrepid young husband and father continued to fearlessly champion Catholic causes.
After the relationship between the state and the Church deteriorated even more, Anacleto no longer urged passive resistance. Peaceful efforts resulted in worsening conditions for religious freedom. Four members of the Association of Young Mexicans were murdered. Therefore, he joined the cause of the National League for the Defense of Religious Freedom.
Once the government and their associates began taking the lives of people, Anacleto realized that peaceful means would not protect the rights of the people to practice their religion.
Guerrilla warfare against the government spread in January 1927 and Anacleto had to go into hiding for his public defense of the Catholic Church. He continued to write from his seclusion and spent much time analyzing and developing strategies for the war against the government.
The Mexican authorities were relentless in their pursuit of Anacleto and finally captured him on April 1, 1927 at the home of Vargas Gonzalez. They also took the two Gonzalez brothers and carted all three off to the Colorado jail.
As they did to Blessed José Louis Sanchez del Rio, the jailers tortured Anacleto by slashing his feet. They also hung him by his thumbs, thereby dislocating them. Despite the wounds, his fractured shoulder, and the beatings, Anacleto never gave any information to his torturers.
By the end of the day, frustrated with Anacleto’s refusal to confess or reveal secrets, the authorities condemned him to death. Anacleto was executed along with the Gonzalez brothers and Louis Padilla Gomez on April 1, 1927.
As Anacleto approached his death he declared, “I pardon you from my 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.”
Finally, he died, but before taking his last breath he declared, “I die, but God does not die.”
Anacleto Gonzalez Flores died on April 1, 1927 and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 20, 2005.
Dear Blessed Anacleto, as the Church continues to be persecuted overtly in many countries, especially in Africa; and as the Church around the world sees her members martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ, pray for us to remain steadfast amidst so many trials. Pray for us to be patient in our suffering and persevering in our faith. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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