Saint José María Robles Hurtado
"I want to love your Heart
my Jesus with delirium;
I want to love you with passion,
I want to love you until Martyrdom…
With my soul I bless you my sacred Heart.
Tell me: is the instant of my eternal union near?
Stretch out your arms, O Jesus, / Because I am your ‘little one’."
- Father Robles
Father Robles was born on May 3rd, 1888 to a very devout Catholic family in Jalisco, Mexico. His father, Antonio and mother Petronilla attended Mass as often as possible and passed down their faith of love of Christ to their son who entered the seminary at Guadalajara in 1900. He graduated and was ordained to the Priesthood on March 22, 1913. Father Robles began serving as a pastor in the parish of Tecolotlan and promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus so much that he became known as the "madman of the Sacred Heart". Through this devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus he founded the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Guadalajara (Originally called the Institute of Sisters Victims of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus). He would often spend hours hearing confessions of his parishioners, spreading devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, caring for the sick of his people and teaching.
In 1917, the Constitution of Mexico prohibited any and all public processions and devotional practices. Father Robles refused to accept this secular notion and proposed a massive cross be built in the center of Mexico, a way of symbolizing the country recognizing Christ as the one and true King. Flyers and signs were placed throughout the country in the weeks leading up to the laying of the cornerstone and nearly 40,000 Catholics came to the hill known as La Loma (now known as the Mountain of Christ the King). While uplifting and giving hope to Catholics across Mexico, the laying of the cornerstone enraged the secular government and more crackdowns were soon coming. The government viewed this even as an act of defiance.
(The government would later destroy the monument with dynamite in 1928. At the bottom of the hill, where the head of the Statue of Christ was found, is the chapel of Mary Queen of the Martyrs).
This severe crackdown is today known as the Cristeros era and lasted from 1917 - 1937. The Cristeros era gets it name from the Spanish Cristo Rey or Christ the King, the name of antigovernmental rebel fighters. The last words of Cristeros, Catholics, and martyred Priests and Knights of Columbus were often "Viva Cristo Rey (Long live Christ the King)" or "Viva Cristo Rey y Santa Maria de Guadalupe (Long live Christ the King and Holy Mary of Guadalupe)". The persecutions against Catholics were so severe it that Pope Pius XI cited them in his encyclical Iniquis Afflictisque (1926):
"Priests…must be not only Mexicans by birth and cannot exceed a certain number specified by law, but are at the same time deprived of all civil and political rights. They are thus placed in the same class with criminals and the insane… The vows of religious, religious orders, and religious congregations are outlawed in Mexico. Public divine worship is forbidden unless it takes place within the confines of a church and is carried on under the watchful eye of the Government. All church buildings have been declared the property of the state."
"The clergy, on their side, have not hesitated to go to prison when ordered, and even to face death itself with serenity and courage."
On March 18th, 1926, the government of Jalisco decreed that all Catholic Priests must be registered and approved by the government. In addition, the same year all churches in and around Jalisco were bolted shut and the government labeled the Bishops who had lobbied to amend the constitution traitors and their actions sedition. On August 3rd, 400 armed Catholics shut themselves inside the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In a siege of the church by government forces, 18 were killed and 40 wounded. Just a day later 240 government soldiers stormed the parish church of in Sahuayo killing the priest and his Vicar.
On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12, 1926) the mayor sent a messenger to Father Robles that an order had been issued for his arrest. Father Robles only briefly went into hiding but continued to preach and offer Mass at the homes that sheltered and hid him. On June 25th, 1927, Father Robles was offering a private Mass at the home of the Agraz family when a knock was heard at the door. Father Robles opened the door and upon finding armed soldiers, willingly submitted himself to the arrest.
Parishioners and neighbors exhausted all legal resources to have Father Robles freed that day, but all were met with contempt from the authorities. General Jesus Maria Ferreira, chief of military operations in Jalisco gave the execution order but because legal injunctions protected the life of a prisoner within the jurisdiction, Father Robles was brought outside the area of Tecolotlan for his execution. Passing the village of Quila, the detachment caught wind of a local Oak tree suitable for the hanging. Shortly after midnight, Father Robles pulled out a small votive candle from his pocket and offered it to the soldiers to help light the path.
He turned to the soldiers and granted absolution to them for the execution. He then took the noose from the soldier holding it, saying:
"Don’t dirty your hands."
Father Robles took the noose, kissed it and placed it around his neck. A few minutes later, in silence just after midnight of June 26th, 1927, Father Jose Maria Robles Hurtado, Priest and Knight of Columbus council 1979, died.
Pope John Paul II beatified Father Robles on November 22, 1992 and canonized him along side others involved in the Cristero war, including Cristobal Magallanes Jara and Maria de Jesus Sacramentado Venegas on May 21st, 2000. Today his feast is celebrated on June 26.