Shrine promotes 20th century teen saint as “model of faith and gift of self”

Joselito 1 

At the Mass for the dedication of the Diocesan Shrine to St. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, St. Francis Xavier, parishioner Mayra Vera holds her two-year-old son Ramon Barajas as they reverence the first-class relic and statue of "Joselito" at the Lake Station church on Feb. 10. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

by Anthony D. Alonzo

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

        LAKE STATION ­­– Parishioners and visitors at St. Francis Xavier celebrated the dedication of the Diocesan Shrine to St. José Luis Sánchez del Rio with shouts of “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!) at the Saturday evening vigil Mass on Feb. 10.

        Faithful filling the Lake Station church participated in a bilingual liturgy, witnessed declaration of the shrine, gathered for a traditional Mexican meal and enjoyed performances by Ballet Folklorico Yolotzin dancers. The event recalled the life of “Joselito” and his martyrdom on the same day in 1928, as a “heroic witness to the Catholic faith and to religious liberty.”

        “It is really a gift and blessing that this parish forever until the end of the world will be the diocesan shrine for St. José,” said Bishop Donald J. Hying. “What a blessing it is not only for the people here but for the whole diocese as we lift up the beautiful model of faith and gift of self that this young boy is for all of us.”

        An entrance parade of St. Francis religious education students dressed as “Joselitos” in jeans, white shirts and red scarfs served as a youthful display of faith. During Mass, the parish’s first-class relic of the saint was displayed in a reliquary near the altar, alongside a statue of St. José.

        Born on March 28, 1913 in Sahuayo, Michoacán, Mexico, Sánchez del Rio found himself in the middle of a battle for religious rights the versus the militantly anti-Catholic government of President Plutarco Elías Calles, who enacted a new constitution that enforced harsh anti-cleric rules, banned public worship and confiscated Church properties.

        Defying the wishes of his parents and staying in the troubled region to join his older brothers in the Cristeros movement, Joselito became part of the armed resistance to the socialist government. During a battle on Feb. 5, 1928, the 14-year-old was captured by Mexican authorities.

        During his homily, Bishop Hying spoke about Sánchez del Rio’s prayerfulness and selflessness, noting how the teen welcomed the possibility of martyrdom, saying during his capture that “never has it been easier to win heaven.”

        After being paraded through town, lacerated and mocked, Sánchez del Rio was given a chance to curse the name of Christ, but he instead answered his tormentors, “Long Live Christ the King!” He was then shot to death.

        On June 27, 1929, church bells tolled again after years of silence to mark a U.S.-brokered agreement ending major Mexican government hostilities to Catholics.

        “Joselito traded his life because his faith was so strong,” Bishop Hying said. “The faith of this little boy (is) for us a model, because we are called to live for Jesus, as in the day’s second reading (1 Cor 10:31), which says do everything for the glory of God.”

        Visitors at St. Francis may reverence the St. José Luis Sánchez del Rio relic, view the statues of his likeness and walk through a pictorial exhibit of the saint’s timeline, which was recently set up in an adjacent classroom with support from the local St. Joselito Society. These features are accessible when the church is open, according to the church’s director of religious education and pastoral associate Lucia Bim-Merle.

        Bim-Merle praised the efforts of the Ayala family, St. Francis parishioners who visited areas of their family’s origins in Mexico to secure the first-class relic. Family members have subsequently returned to Indiana with holy cards and handmade sacred objects to offer at the makeshift Joselito gift shop at the Lake Station church.

        Plans have been discussed for future construction of a standalone structure on the St. Francis campus to house the St. José Luis Sánchez del Rio relic and exhibits.

        St. Francis pastor Father David Kime and associate pastor Father Roque Meraz agreed that the dedication festivities showed a harmonious blend of cultures and a vibrant display of faith.

        Father Meraz said, “We gather at the table of the Lord, then we gather at the table with our neighbors and share memories, that’s what’s happening today.”

        Fourteen-year-old Christian Ayala, who was an altar server at the Feb. 10 dedication, said he was proud to be a part of the special Mass.

        “It’s a big honor for us to (dedicated a shrine) to this saint in our church,” said Ayala, with his fellow altar server Fernando Cabrera, 10, looking on.

        Brooke Palmer, 13, and brothers Robert and Cody Stanley, 17 and 15, respectively, each said the growing popularity of the Mexican martyr could speak to today’s youth.

        “It’s unusual, because you expect a fourteen-year-old to not be a big believer,” said Cody Stanley, an Andrean High School sophomore. “I’m impressed that Joselito thought about going to heaven so easily – a lot of people don’t think about that.”

        Parents and senior citizens were also grateful for the establishment of the shrine.

        “I’m very happy because every Sunday prior to Mass I say prayers through the intercession of St. José,” said parishioner Maria Ortiz. “God loves us and he gave us the gift of having Joselito.”

 

Joselito 2

At the Mass for the dedication of the Diocesan Shrine to St. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, St. Francis Xavier, parishioner Mayra Vera holds her two-year-old son Ramon Barajas as they reverence the first-class relic and statue of "Joselito" at the Lake Station church on Feb. 10. A 14-year-old martyr, St. Jose was was murdered on Feb. 10, 1928 by anti-religious Mexican government forces after he had taken up arms as a Cristero fighting for religious liberty. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

Joselito 3

After the Mass for the dedication of the Diocesan Shrine to St. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, Ballet Folklorico Yolotzin of East Chicago dancers Julie Mercado (left) and Angelina Lancaster perform a traditional dance recalling the armed Cristeros movement of which St. Jose was a part of, at St. Xavier in Lake Station on Feb. 10. A 14-year-old martyr, "Joselito" was was murdered on Feb. 10, 1928 by anti-religious Mexican government forces after he refused to deny Christ, saying "Viva Cristo Rey!" (Long live Christ the King!) (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

Joselito 4

St. Francis Xavier director of religious education and pastoral associate Lucia Bim-Merle (center) shows young parishioners a photo of St. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio during the gathering for the Mass and dedication of the diocesan shrine for "Joselito," at the Lake Station church on Feb. 10. The shrine to the 14-year-old martyr, who fought against anti-religious Mexican government forces and who was murdered on Feb. 10, 1928 because he would not curse Christ, features a first-class relic, statues of the saint and a pictorial exhibit. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

Joselito 5

During the Mass and dedication of the Diocesan Shrine to St. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio at St. Francis Xavier, students from the Lake Station church's religious education program dressed as young Cristeros carry signs bearing images and quotes from "Joselito," on Feb. 10. The shrine to the 14-year-old martyr who fought against anti-religious Mexican government forces and who was murdered on Feb. 10, 1928 because he would not curse Christ, features a first-class relic, statues of the saint and a pictorial exhibit. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)