Sahuayo, Michoacan, Mexico, is a city of about 62,000 persons, known primarily for four things:  the Tlahualilies, about whom you read a little in my previous post;  carnitas, braised or roasted pork, which is often combined with things like cilantro, onions, peppers, and salsa and served with or in tortillas;  shoe shops; and  Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, the “boy saint” of Sahuayo, about whom I am going to tell you more below.
When we were in Sahuayo a year ago, we kept seeing pictures and paintings of a teenage Mexican fellow. His face was plastered on books and pamphlets and there was even an altar to him in the parroquia in el centro, i.e. the parish church in the “downtown” part of Sahuayo.
Pretty much a normal appearing Mexican teenager, right down to the blue jeans, so we were intrigued not only by who he might be, but also why he was so revered in Sahuayo.
My friend Kathi splurged a whole 15 pesos to purchase a small booklet about him, and she, Jonnie, and I spent a late night in our hotel room taking turns reading to ourselves in Spanish and then translating into English his story. [Some of us with greater facility than others, I might add.] It was our bedtime story.
So here’s Jose Luis’ story, in very general terms. Back in the late nineteen twenties, a religious war broke out in Mexico: the Cristeros Rebellion. During the late nineteen teens, the Mexican legislature, jealous of the power that the Catholic church held and of the money that went to the Church, passed legislation that outlawed the Church’s influence on the daily lives of Mexican citizens. Things like the right of the Church to own so much property and be the primary providers of education. Priests and nuns were denied the right to wear clerical attire, to vote, to criticize government officials or to comment on public affairs in religious periodicals.
But, as is the case with a lot of unpopular new laws, enforcement was pretty lax and life went on as it had. That is, until about a decade later, when a new president took office and demanded not only that the laws be enforced, but that heavy fines be imposed on offenders.
This, not surprisingly, got the Church and its followers up in arms….literally. And thus began the four year long Cristeros Rebellion.
Meanwhile, back in Sahuayo, a 13 year old Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, whose older brothers had gone off to fight in support of the Church, was also feeling the need to take up arms. His mom, of course, was vehemently opposed to this. I can just imagine her thinking, “For God’s sake,” literally, “I’ve already let my my older sons go off and fight in this crazy little war. I don’t want my youngest son to go out there and get himself killed!” [Okay, maybe she didn’t say this, but if my 13 year old wanted to do this crazy stuff, I certainly would have….so I’m extrapolating.]
However, in early August of ’26, when the Mexican government forces attacked the parish church and killed the priest and vicar thereof, Jose Luis decided enough was enough….and he went down and enlisted in the Catholic army. His dad tried to buy him out; his mom tried to talk him out. But it was a done deal.
And for 18 months, he fought the “good” fight, serving as a flagbearer in the Church’s forces. But eventually he was captured by the government army, who demanded that he publicly renounce his faith. Jose Luis refused to do so, and so they cut his feet, marched him to the cemetery on those cut feet, and killed him.
With his dying breath, Jose Luis drew a cross on the ground with his own blood and died while kissing it…..or so the story goes.
Five and a half years ago, in November of 2005, Pope John Paul II beatified Jose Luis in a ceremony in Guadalajara. If, like me, you are not Catholic, you should know that beatification signifies that Jose Luis is definitely guaranteed a place in heaven and that he now has the capacity to intervene for people who pray in his name.
Next stop? Sainthood. And that’s the story of the boy “saint” of Sahuayo….as least as I understand it. Thanks to Wikipedia for the information I did not previously have.