I would like to share with you a chapter in the history of the parish that we have here in Chicago, which I think can help us better understand and face the persecution that Christians are currently undergoing.
Our church, Saint Francis of Assisi, was dedicated in 1853 by the second bishop of Chicago. From the beginning, its parishioners mainly consisted of German immigrants, but as the years went on it became a predominantly Italian community, and later, Mexican. In recent decades, the parish community has been majority Mexican, while being enriched with Hispanics of diverse nationalities, especially Ecuadorian and, most recently, an Argentinian and a Chilean: Fr. Walter Mallo, pastor, and the writer of this chronicle.
On November 20th 1994, when the faithful of the parish numbered around four thousand, the parish was closed. It was a decision made more out of regard to the finances of the diocese than to the wellbeing of the parishioners of St. Francis. They even had the cranes at the doors to tear it down.
Thanks to the fortitude and perseverant prayer on the part of the parishioners, and especially of the group that remained on 24-hour shift inside the church for several months, the Archbishop of Chicago ultimately decided not to close the parish, which was returned to operation in 1996; it has been in continual operation ever since
Although the parish was not closed out of hatred towards the faith, this made me reflect that many of our faithful had ancestors who were Cristeros. Let us remember that in Mexico, in the year 1926 when the atheistic socialist government of Mexican president Plutarco Calles began a fierce persecution against the Catholic Church, churches were closed and priests were assassinated. The Cristeros were the thousands of Mexican Christians who fought to defend their religious liberty. It is estimated that some 25,000 Christians lost their lives during the three-year war period.
The present persecution of the Christians has increased to such a point that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has said, “…there are more martyrs today than in the early times of the Church…” Today there is no peace in the world because the world has been deaf to the words Our Blessed Mother told us in Fatima in 1917:
“God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart…I shall come to the world to ask that Russia be consecrated to my Immaculate Heart, and I shall ask that on the First Saturday of every month Communions of reparation be made in atonement for the sins-of the world. If my wishes are fulfilled, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, then Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, bringing new wars and persecution of the Church.”
Russia was the first nation where Atheistic Communism was established on November 7, 1917. Currently, Russia has spread her errors throughout the world, especially atheistic practice, to those who live as if God does not exist. As a consequence, atheism has brought about apostasy in a global society that has vigorously denied the Catholic faith, imposing laws opposed to the law of God, legalizing abortion, same-sex unions, etc.
An anti-Christian global society has inevitably led to the persecution of Christians. In Iraq and Syria alone, it has been calculated that 1.5 million Christians have had to abandon their homeland, and according to news agency World Watch Monitor, at least 4,334 Christians were assassinated around the world in the year 2014 alone. In regard to this the Holy Father in April said, “The Church today is a Church of martyrs: they suffer, they give their lives and we receive the blessing of God for their witness. And among them are our brothers slaughtered on the beach in Libya; let’s think of the young boy who was burnt alive by his companions because he was a Christian; let us think of those migrants thrown from their boat into the open sea by other migrants because they were Christians” and also added that there are “many others of whom we do not even know and who are suffering in jails because they are Christians.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death.” The word “martyr” comes from the Greece word “martus” which means “witness,” he who gives testimony. We are not all called to be a witness to the point of the shedding of blood, but we are all called to give witness to our faith, faithfully lived every day until the hour of our death.
Saint John Paul II would reflect, “Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Indeed, faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment … The voice of conscience has always clearly recalled that there are truths and moral values for which one must be prepared to give up one’s life.
We have the example of thousands of Christians who knew how to give up their life; they are the martyrs who preferred to die before disowning the faith and sin. To name a few: Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Thomas More, Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, and Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio are all examples of Christians Martyrs. Ever since the days of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Christians have always been persecuted; but Origen says that at the end of time before the Second Coming, Christians will suffer more persecution than ever before, not only in a few places, but all over the world. Nowadays, it has become increasingly common to ban the crucifix in public locations and schools, to teach religion classes, or to publically pray in a procession, etc.
Before these reflections, I believe it is best to ask ourselves a few questions. Are we willing to give up our lives if we are confronted with anti-Christian persecution which spreads evermore day by day? Are we giving testimony of our faith by living it faithfully? What are we doing so that the evangelization of our culture can be efficacious in an anti-Christian world?
The Secret is Mary! She is the answer to all of these questions!
As Saint Louis Marie de Montfort says, “If then, as is certain, the knowledge and the reign of Jesus Christ must come into the world, it can only be a necessary consequence of the knowledge and reign of Mary,” and there is no better way to make the Blessed Virgin be known and reign in our souls than by living and promoting the consecration to her according to Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.
In addition, this consecration is intimately united to the message of Fatima, since precisely here, she told us, “God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart,” affirming that there is no better way to do this than by living and promoting the consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary according to Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.
Father Carlos Buela our founder writes, “I am convinced that without Fatima, it is impossible to understand the twentieth century. Following the footprints of Saint John Paul II, I think it is convenient to make the message of Fatima ours.” Referring to the Blessed Virgin May he writes, “She is Mother and Teacher of Christian life, that in a world dominated by consumerism, permissiveness and hedonism, she teaches the indispensable values of prayer, penance and sacrifice, reparation and atonement.”
Recently, the Holy Father in a homily said, “Everywhere there is war today, there is hatred … today Jesus weeps as well.” How many tears has the Blessed Virgin shed? This is why she has asked us in Fatima, “They must not offend our Lord any more, for He is already very much offended”, “Continue to say the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary to obtain peace in the world,” and “Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice.”
In the same light, Father Carlos Buela wrote, “Prayer united with sacrifice contains more strength than … nuclear bombs.” Let us think, for example, of the conversion of Saint Augustine, which was obtained through the prayers and tears of his mother, Saint Monica. Today there are many who are living in sin, in our families, and in the world. If we pray with lively faith, uniting it with sacrifice, we can obtain miracles through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary!
But even in these, our greatest actions, prayers and sacrifices, even the slightest stain of our egoism, attachment and self-love slides away, affirms Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. On the other hand, through this devotion, we offer all our good works to Our Blessed Virgin, who “purifies them of every taint of self-love.” And Saint Louis Marie de Montfort says, “He who on his own account presents something to Jesus, ought to remember that many times He rejects the gift that is offered because it is stained with self-love.”
Saint Louis Marie de Montfort writes, “…at the end of time, and perhaps even sooner than we expect, God will raise up great men filled with the Holy Spirit and imbued with the spirit of Mary. Through them Mary, Divine Sovereign, will work great wonders in the world, destroying sin and establishing the kingdom of Jesus her Son upon the ruins of the corrupt kingdom of the world…”
“Do not seal up the prophetic words of this book, for the appointed time is near. Let the wicked still act wickedly, and the filthy still be filthy. The righteous must still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.” (Rev. 22:10-12)
Establish the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in the world! For that is the goal in evangelizing the culture, and this will end the reign of the culture of death with its abortion, war, terrorism, drugs, pornography, deceit and corruption. As we pray, however, in the preface of the Mass of Jesus Christ King of the Universe, there will come “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”
In order to establish the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in this world, the secret is to live fully our consecration to the Blessed Virgin according to Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, that total gift of self to the Blessed Virgin, to belong, by means of her, entirely to Jesus Christ. Saint Louis Marie says that there is no devotion that “empties us more completely of self and self-love, that keeps us more firmly in the grace of God … [or that] unites us more perfectly and more easily to Jesus. Finally, no devotion gives more glory to God, sanctifies us more, and helps our neighbor more.”
Living the consecration to the Blessed Virgin will help us avoid sin, fulfill the commandments and fulfill our duties of the state, and it will increase our love for God in Sacred Scripture; by prayer and penance, it will lead us to holiness, which is where the reign of Jesus Christ should rightly begin, in each and every one of us. In every saint in the land, Our Lord Jesus Christ and Our Blessed Mother have reigned and still reign!
Likewise, even though we are very far from those heroic examples of the Mexican Cristeros who gave witness to their faith, faithfully lived until death, I am sure that living our consecration to the Blessed Virgin faithfully and with the grace of God, we can be “Little Cristeros” in Chicago, America, Europe or wherever God asks us to live, giving witness to our faith, willing to give up our lives, and manifesting one’s self as a joyful and convincing witness to a coherent Christian life, wherever the Lord calls us to be his witnesses”, as Holy Father Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis.”
Finally, I end with these words of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, “It is easy to … undertake this devotion, and say every day the few vocal prayers prescribed. The chief difficulty is to enter into its spirit, which requires an interior dependence on Mary, and effectively becoming her slave and the slave of Jesus through her.”
Let us ask Our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the grace to enter into the spirit of this consecration to her, to live it and deepen it every day, trying to be saints every day, so that we may hasten the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart, which will bring the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ in every one of us, and in the entire world.
Come Lord Jesus, through the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and queen over us, over our family, our parishes and the entire world!
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
God Bless +
Father Mario Ávila Vivero, IVE