By Eric Cyr
The Call To Arms
Back in San José, Emmanuel eventually accepted the unexpected alteration of his life and met with a few other young men who had been turned out of the Zamora seminary. They wasted no time in joining together with other youth of the village to start their own branch of the resistance. The Catholic Youth of Mexico had been growing rapidly throughout the country, and led by these former seminarians so desperate to find purpose in the lives they felt had been stripped of meaning by their own government, they began the agitation in earnest in San José. Emmanuel knew his father would never approve of such militaristic political involvement, so he worked hard to find excuses to get away from the ranch when he could and other ways to aid the movement when he could not. Juan Diego joined his brother as soon as he learned about the League, already calling himself a cristero and collecting all he would need for an armed rebellion. These boys had no experience of war and its damages, no understanding of the immutability of death, and as a result had no fear of fighting for what they believed was a just, even a sanctified cause. Eva Rosa and Maria Eva did what they could as well, providing food, clothing, and secret shelter where it was needed and possible without allowing Adán to find out.
In June of 1927, Emmanuel Francisco led a meeting of the Catholic Youth in a dimly lit room in the home of Doña Prudencia Vega, a fearless octogenarian supporter of the League. She was a frail wisp of a woman who looked as if she may be blown away in the wind at any moment to beam wrinkly smiles at the clouds and dote on the birds. Despite this fragile appearance, she remained one of the strongest forces in San José, respected for her wisdom and tenacity as much as for her generosity and compassion. Emmanuel stood tall as he addressed Doña Prudencia and the twenty or so men seated in the room, his red handkerchief gripped firmly in his left hand and periodically wiping the sweat from his temples.
“The armed resistance has begun already. In Los Altos, Guanajuato, Colima, San Luis Potosí—all throughout the country, since the first insurrections on the first day of the year, cristeros like ourselves have been fighting back. We cannot continue to watch as the federales inebriate themselves on the confiscated wine of our churches, as our God is desecrated in the sanctuary and our priests and brothers are shot in the street. We have to join in the fight.”
Several men cheered sharply in approval as hands clapped and fists pounded the table with vigor, but an acerbic dissenting voice cut through the clamor.
“Not all of us have the luxury of a lush life like you, Emmanuel. You have your rifles and your ropes of bullets, but where do you expect the rest of us to get weapons? Ammunition? Or would you have us fight with pitchfork and torch?”
“Many of the men have guns already, and we have been scouring the farms and ranches in the countryside for all of the weapons we can find. There are powerful supporters throughout the state. We will have enough for each willing soldier to fight.”
Another skeptical voice joined the first. “And what of our families? We have wives, daughters to protect! We can’t all prance around with the freedom of an exiled seminarian.”
Emmanuel ignored the goading insult. “And if we don’t fight, how do you expect to protect your wives and daughters? What will you protect them from, and what will you preserve them for?” He paused and stroked the sweat from his thin mustache with his handkerchief. “You’re right—I have nothing left, little to worry about but myself. But still I worry; I think about my sisters, 11, 13 years old. My brother, only a baby in our mother’s arms. If we don’t sacrifice and fight and even die for them now, what will the future hold for them? If our own patria would drive God from our borders and condemn them to a future living as damned, what worse is there to protect them from?”
His bright young eyes pierced through the growing darkness as a long, pregnant silence overtook the room.
A new voice, gentle but without fear, finally broke the stillness. “But is there really no other way left to us? To kill for God—it can’t be right. There must be something else we can do.”
“And as you try to figure out what that something is, all the priests will be killed or forced out of Mexico or wed off to mistresses, and every good Catholic will be laid in his grave. With no other options, we must act and pray for God’s mercy. If you have another solution, I will hear it, but I have nothing else.”
Silence again as the darkness crept deeper into the room. In the last glow of light, the men could only see Emmanuel’s silhouette as he spoke.
“Then I propose this: we finish collecting as many arms as we can and as many men as are willing and able to fight. In one month’s time, we will ride out from San José. I have spoken with Don Pedro Pulido in Cojumatlán. He has fifty or sixty men who will ride out to meet us as well. We will join together and have a force that will be a thorn in the side of Calles and his law.
Follow along with the conclusion, Part 5.