La Cristiada


The sun rose and injected the first warmth of the day into the dreary mountain forest. Jorge cracked open his eyes a little, to ascertain if day had actually come. It had. Jorge then proceeded to wake up his fellow band of weary warriors. They were twenty in total, armed with pistols, rifles, swords, and whatever else they scrounged up from the last skirmish with the federal troops. The year was 1929. This last three years had been tumultuous, to say the least. Things would only get worse. Soon, these 20 men would perish.

1924, Distrito Federal(Mexico City). “Ahh, what do I have to do today?” Mr. Calles muttered. There were many problems for the newly minted Mexican President. Foremost, not more than a decade ago, Mexico lost almost a million of its own citizens. This devastating loss occurred throughout the Mexican Revolution. Not for the first time, Mexico uprooted one dictator to replace it with another. The new dictator: the Institutional Revolutionary Party(PRI). Mr Calles belonged to this political party. Mr Calles needed to repair a shattered nation while trying to hold to lofty promises that the PRI made during the revolution. Among these promises was the typical socialist fare: redistributing the land from the wealthy few to the impoverished many. Mr. Calles, however, thought another issue was paramount: eliminate the Catholic Church. To Calles, the Church was and always would be an impediment to progress in Mexico.

“I hate these fucking catholics”, Calles said to his senior advisor, Gallegos, as he read the latest directive from the Holy See. Calles continued, quite ticked off: “All they want to do is push the people deeper into these unfounded myths and take their money. These unscrupulous bishops think they can govern better than me. We shall see”. Mr. Calles stepped onto his private balcony overlooking a verdant, brightly flowered courtyard in the National Palace. The sun shone brightly, providing a pleasant warmth to his skin. The air was, due to the high elevation of Mexico City, cool but not cold. Calles lit a cigarrette, hoping to relieve some of the angst built up inside his chest. The president knew what he would do, but had yet to formalize it in writing. “I am going to do what Alvaro and Venustiano didn’t have the balls to do: follow through with the constitution”, Calles yelled to the open air of the courtyard.

To keep it short, but not boring, the Constitution had several severely anti-clerical clauses within it. One of the harshest restrictions was that the Government could decide how many priests were allocated to each separate parish. In essence, if the Government wanted to, it could strip all Catholic churches throughout Mexico of any priests. Without priests, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to follow the Catholic faith. In fact, this was one of the main motivating factors in the minds of those who wrote the Constitution. Calles walked back into the lush surroundings of the Presidential office, sat down at an oak desk, and signed an executive order directing all Mexican states to immediately implement the all articles of the constitution. The seeds of imminent armed conflict were firmly sowed.

Being 1924, it took a considerable amount of time for the just-signed order to take effect. The archbishop of Mexico City, Jose Mora y del Rio, was not coy in his opposition to the religious articles of the 1917 Constitution. Mora y del Rio, through several intermediaries, became aware of Calles’ plans to shut down the Church. The bishop sat in a golden glazed chair in Mexico City’s cathedral. Ten prominent national religious figures surrounded the bishop. The baroque lavishness and high vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral contrasted sharply with the gloomy, troubled mood of those gathered.

Juan Aguirre, a fierce little priest from Cuernavaca, spoke first, “President Calles must be stopped. We should immediately close all churches and cancel church services to protest that satanic Calles. If we do nothing, then Calles and his cronies will have effectively taken control of our church and the people. Once they have control, those bastards will drive Christ out of the peoples’ hearts.” Silence endured for the next long 90 seconds. There was a reason for this omission of sound. All present were keenly aware of the choices that laid before them. Aguirre’s statement only served to put their concerns into concrete terms and no one liked what that implied: potential bloodshed. Mora y del Rio did not like either path. Each would have unpleasant consequences. In a steady, sonorous tone del Rio made a decision “We cannot be too hasty. We must do whatever we can do to prevent the constitution from enforcement without endangering our people. Alvaro and Venustiano were sensible men, and hopefully President Calles is not unbending in his will. I have already spoke with the Holy Father in Rome; he has told me to make a personal visit to President Calles and plead with him to reach a compromise. I leave tomorrow, with our holy father’s endorsement.” With that, the gathered men left the main room of the Cathedral and went off to their respective lodging throughout the sprawling city.

Del Mora opened the heavy, creaking door to his chambers. The room was small yet well-furnished. A comfortable bed sat in the corner. A study desk, with a bible centered on it, was in the center. More importantly, a crystal cabinet stocked with tequila, brandy, and wine was also present. Del Mora went to the liquor cabinet and carefully browsed his choices for the evening. It would be tequila. He filled his glass, gulped down the fiery liquid, then proceeded to repeat this six consecutive times. Del Mora thought out loud: “This is not going to be fun. I fear Calles is as stubborn as they come.” For now, at least, Del Mora slipped into his holy pajamas and tucked himself under the heavy, woolen blankets of his bed. He fell into a disturbed sleep, dreaming of Churches set aflame.

Del Mora woke up early, about an hour before the sun’s first rays peaked out from behind the mountains surrounding Mexico City. It would be a long, arduous day for the elderly Del Mora. He drank a cup of freshly brewed coffee, ate two fried eggs, and washed it all down with holy water. Johnny Toledo, a young yet ardent priest, walked into the Cathedral dining room to brief Del Mora on the proposed plan. “Your greatness, here is what I came up with last night”, said Toledo. “All right, let me get my cane and have someone bring around the Ford” Del Mora boomed in a voice that surprised anyone who heard it for the first time.

The Ford clugged along the two blocks it took to get to the Presidential Palace. The President’s home took up 10 blocks, gothically looming over the great, giant plaza(zocolo, as they say in Mexico.) The guards expected the visit, and parted for the entrance of the Archbishop and his small party. The hall leading into the palace’s heart was grand, rising thirty feet in the air and ten in width. A soft, light breeze swirled into the bishop’s face. A steel door appeared on the right and the guards paused, told the Bishop’s party that they had to wait a tic, and then went through the door. Shortly thereafter, the guards opened the door and President Calles awaited them with a frown in the next room.

Juan Aguirre and Johnny Toledo, along with some minor servants from the Cathedral sat in high backed, silk covered chairs against the wall. Del Mora sat at the other side of Calles’ desk. Calles was a tall man, light of skin, and his features were of the average sort. He came from the northern desert state of Sinaloa. He was a tough, stubborn, and more importantly, short-tempered man. He had little patience for anything that countered his ideas. He blurted out, irritably, “what do you want? I already have made up my mind”. Del Mora half-expected this not-so pleasant opening. Del Mora thought carefully of what he was going to say before he said it. It was paramount to try two things: 1)not to further inflame Calles’ fury and 2) convince the president it would be better for everyone if the 1917 anti-clerical were not carried out. Del Mora began in an assuaging, deferential manner, “Your highness, I’ve come only ask you to do what is best for our hurting nation. The Church does not want to interfere with the power of the State; we only want to contribute to our great Mexico…” Calles abruptly interrupted, “Enough!”. I know what your type does, all you do is make up crap and expect the people to enrich you off of their donations. If you are genuinely interested in “contributing” to the nation, then jump off a cliff.” With that, Calles reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a .45 colt revolver. He pointed it at Del Mora, chuckling to himself as the latter’s face became surprisingly white for a Mexican. Juan Aguirre, concurrently, quickly ran to get in between the Bishop and the President. “How dare you question my authority!” screamed Calles. A loud boom reverberated against the walls of the President’s office. Aguirre collapsed to the floor, clutching at his neck; pints upon pints of blood flowed out from his neck, leaving him dead within a minute. The guards rushed in to see what all the commotion was about. They saw Aguirre’s dead, bloody corpse on the floor, then looked to the President for guidance. Calles flatly declared “This bastard tried to strangle me. I had no choice but to defend my life. Get these dirty Catholics out of my office and onto the street!” The guards complied without questions and dragged the shocked clergymen onto the street. Del Mora was speechless. A mixture of anger and sadness welled up within him. They climbed back into the ford and fled to the semi-secure confines of the Cathedral. The bishop needed to let his emotions settle before he decided his next course of action. Whatever happened, the Bishop knew it would not be bloodless or without considerable danger for the Church and its followers.

Del Mora surveyed his desk with growing anxiety. Now that the 1917 constitution’s articles enforcement were a certainty, the consequences had to be measured so that a prudent step of action could be taken. Events were already unfolding in other parts of the nation; in a disturbingly high frequency, the government confiscated church property(including churches) and had closed all Catholic-run schools. Monastic orders were banned. In select locales, the government even controlled what the priest must say to its parishioners. If this continued, the State would inevitably usurp the Church’s role in the peoples’ lives. A firm decision was called for. Del Mora, after consulting with the Holy Father in Rome and other top Church leaders in Mexico, canceled all church services in the entire Mexican nation. Calles’ impetuous fury had propelled the nation to yet another armed conflict.

Due to the Pope’s encyclical letter earlier on in the century, and the basic deep beliefs many Mexicans held, many Catholic based support groups sprouted up in all corners of the country. Among those groups were the ACJM, the UP, and the U. The groups basic goals: carry out the word of god, which, translated roughly, would be to contribute to the welfare of one’s fellow man. The groups were well organized with members spanning social and racial divides. Many leaders hailed form upper-middle and even aristocratic circles. The groups closely monitored the government’s actions regarding the constitutions’ anti-church provisions. Before the precipitous actions of President Calles, many minor scuffles broke out between government sponsored groups and the faith-based groups. With the ever-present 1917 articles hovering, a great tension saturated the air. Calles’ actions, along with the cancellation of church services, broke that tension, escalating the fervent catholic organizers to defend a basic core of their being: the church.

Euclidio Ortega lived in the highland state of Jalisco, where the Church is just as important as Tequila(Jalisco is famous for producing Tequila see Patron). He was leanly muscular, 30 years old, and stood at an astonishing 6’4. His dark, big brown beautiful eyes penetrated those that met his gaze. All who had the pleasure of meeting Ortega would agree he was a formidable, handsome man. Ortega’s past was a bit of a mystery. Rumors abounded that he was trained as a military commander at the famed Chapultepec school, became disillusioned, dropped out, then went on to study medicine. Other than this, everything else about Ortega remained pure conjecture.

Ortega managed to avoid fighting in the revolution; he was a well-respected doctor in the area and also had a reputation for his lethal prowess. It was well deserved. One night, a couple years ago, fierce battles raged outside of Ortega’s town, Jalaxpa. First, the revolutionaries burst through the town, ransacking houses and raping women as they went. Thirty gunmen approached Ortega’s manor and demanded the gates be opened. Ortega refused. Bullets rained upon the revolutionaries, killing half of them instantly and injuring the rest. The tattered, bleeding remains of the original thirty ran away from the manor as fast as possible. In doing so, the leader, Ignacio Diablo, informed the other revolutionary bands: “RETREAT!, THIS FEDERAL FORCES ARE TOO STRONG” The entire revolutionary contingent fled and an eerie silence fell upon blood-soaked town of Jalaxpa. Two days later, a similar incident occurred. This time, it was the Federal troops who tried to take the town. They, too, came upon the Ortega’s great manor and met the same fate as the Revolutionaries.

Ortega had no desire to join either side in the revolution; he considered both groups as vile, power hungry monsters exploiting the common men beneath them. Therefore, to achieve neutrality, Ortega bought a large arsenal, including ten gatling guns,an assortment of top quality rifles, and high-powered explosives. In the memorable attacks upon Jalaxpa, Ortega directed his twenty servants to man the gatling guns and shoot any armed persons within thirty feet of the manor. Thereafter, until the end of the revolution, Jalaxpa enjoyed a tranquility unmatched amongst towns wedged between the Revolutionaries and the Federal Government.

Understandably, Ortega was quite the local hero. The townspeople adored him, and furthermore, admired his almost daily Mass attendance. The local church was typical Mexican fare: imposing outside walls with a richly decorated interior. On a warm, sun-soaked Sunday in 1926, Mr Ortega, with three of his servants, began the 10 minute walk to to attend Mass at Church.

Ortega noticed something amiss as he approached the Church entrance; the doors were closed and no sound emitted from the usually boisterous Sunday service. The church was positioned at the north side of Jalaxpa’s main plaza. The other three sides were walled with residences and government buildings. Ortega saw a group of about fifty people, half men, the rest women and children, gathered in the Plaza center. A rotund gentlemen of about 40 years stood in front of the group, making a speech inaudible to Ortega’s ears. Ortega was genuinely confused and asked his servants: “Do you have any idea why the Church is closed”? The most senior, Gilberto, replied: “I’m not sure, sir, but there is what appears to be a written notice nailed onto the Church doors”. Ortega walked to the door and read the following message:


Ortega mulled this over for approximately 30 seconds. “This is peculiar. I’ve got to see who is behind this mischief. Maybe there is some misunderstanding. Let’s go ask those nice people over there”, Ortega said to his servants. Glass shattered nearby. Ortega, along with everyone else in the plaza, looked towards the source of the broken glass. What they saw shocked the conscience: A noose and rope, tied onto something inside the broken window, dangled against the outside wall of the government building. At the end of the noose, Aurelio Acevedo, the local priest, struggled frantically remove the suffocating rope out from under his neck. With great effort, Acevedo succeeded. Unfortunately, the window from which he was hung was four stories high. Acevedo landed with a loud clunk. Ortega quickly bounded the 100 yards to the side of Acevedo. The two had been close. Acevedo murmured: “Our country is doomed. They broke into the church, after the order from up high to cease all mass services, and destroyed everything in the church. They pissed and shat all over the pews. I tried to intervene, but they told me I was not allowed in my own church! They beat me and bound my arms and said all clergy would be killed for treason…” Gunshots erupted from the Government building. Before Ortega could look up, a boot slammed across his face. A bullish, barrel chested man with a rough hewn face stood above Ortega. He was wore the uniform of the federal army. Behind him, 100 more soldiers in stood at attention. The big man condescendingly snapped: “I am General Huerta. Go home. The Churchs’ days are over, and anyone who thinks otherwise will be sorry”, as he gestured towards Acevedo. Huerta went on, speaking directly at Ortega, “And who the fuck do you think you are to get in my way? I should shackle your arms and legs and bring you in front of our great President Calles, for him to skin you alive.” He kicked Ortega twice more, in the ribs and the groin. Huerta attempted another kick, but Ortega’s servants tackled him to the ground. Huerta quickly threw the three men off of him, then ordered three soldiers to hold them down. The General pulled out his revolver and fired three successive shots into the Servants’ unfortunate heads. Huerta was furious, but more excited because he genuinely enjoyed righteous bloodshed. He yelled out “Hold this man(Ortega) and make him watch this.” Huerta directed his still-warm revolver at the priest’s head and pulled the trigger. While all this was going on, the troops and formed a circle surrounding those gathered. Everyone had witnessed the murders. After the execution of Acevedo, Huerta kicked Ortega one more time, yelling at everyone “see what will happen if you break our new republic’s rule against the church? Good.” He then went back into the building from whence he came.

When the troops filed back into the building, the villagers gathered in the square rushed back to their homes, fearing further danger. Ortega lay there, by himself, spitting out blood and dust. He sat up, glanced around him to ascertain he was alone, then said softly “Dear god, forgive me for what I will do, but it is in your defense; if we do not act quickly, your presence among our people may all but vanish”. Ortega stood up and hobbled back to the sanctuary of his home, shedding quiet tears in memory of those just passed.

Humberto and Jose knew something had gone horribly wrong as their master, tears in his eyes, his shirt soaked with blood, walked through the entrance into the manor. The two servants quickly sped to the aid of their master, only to have Ortega brush them off. “What happened?” exclaimed Humberto. All Ortega said was: “Get your weapons ready. We may be in imminent danger”.

Humberto and Jose coordinated the fifteen men and women to strategic, spread out locations throughout the manor. Ortega still was not thinking straight. The shock of losing four very important people to him reverberated within his soul. To add to this stress, he was not sure whether General Huerta would attack; if the general found out about Ortega’s sizable weapons cache, it could not be ruled out. Ortega called for Jose, his most senior servant, to discuss what had just happened.

Word of the mini massacre spread fast amongst Jalaxpa’s inhabitants. Outrage and fear were the warring emotions felt by the villagers. The rotund man who had earlier been speaking in the town square was Jalaxpa’s representative for the UP(Union Popular), a catholic activist group. His name was Miguel Pizarro. Pizarro had been planning a protest of the government’s actions towards the church. Obviously, that protest did not get very far; in fact, General Huerta planned in advance so that the beginning of the protest coincided with the death of the priest. The General wanted demoralize the protestors and strike fear so deep into their hearts so that no one would act against the government.

While Ortega’s men posted watch over the manor, Miguel Pizarro, in the ink black Jalaxpa night, went from house to house, gently rapping on doors and giving each person who answered a small, important kernel of information: “at 2 a.m. meet inside Ortega’s manor.” Pizarro had already been in contact with Ortega. The two men had come to an agreement on a course of action. It was risky, but well worth it.

Three hundred men stood packed together in the spacious manor. All were angry and excited. Angry for the sacrilege inflicted upon their Church; angry for the deaths of Aurelio Acevedo and Euclidio’s Servants. Now, with their genuine belief in the God, those gathered were excited to defend the highest power. It did not hurt to have the mythical Ortega’s support. A plan was hatched…

General Huerta woke up to a loud, roaring wave of men yelling. He pulled up the window shade an inch, and did not like what he saw. A fire blazed at the center of the zocalo. Hundreds of villagers wielding axes, pitchforks, swords, and rifles encircled the fire, chanting “Viva Cristo Rey”(Long Live Jesus Christ). This was the opposite turn of events he hoped would result from the Priest’s execution. “Gather our men in the courtyard.” Huerta said to Lieutenant Gonazales.

“These bastards dare to disturb my sleep.” Huerta screamed. He went on “I do not want to kill all the peasants out there, but we will show them how firm our resolve is in ridding our great nation of the damned church’s influence. Just as important, I cannot have any further disturbances. We will go outside, and all of us will fire one shot into the crowd. If this does not disperse the crowd, kill them all. If someone disagrees with our actions, we’ll just say that our lives were in danger.” Huerta opened the creaking, towering doors to the zocalo and the 100 troops filed out.

The night air simmered with a boiling tension. Ashes swirled through the air, stunting the visibility of those in the Zocalo. In the dark four corners of the plaza, Ortega and his men stood ready, with their gatling guns focused on the emerging federal soldiers. There was no doubt, in Ortega’s mind, what had to be done: complete elimination. The sins sown by Huerta and his minions could not go unanswered. A loud rapport sounded, and several dozen villagers fell to their deaths. Immediately thereafter, Ortega and his men initiated an immense firestorm. The thud, thud, thud, of automatic fire created a barbarous symphony in the Zocalo. Amongst the gunfire, shouts of !Viva Cristo Rey! emitted from the mouths of the several hundred present villagers.

Huerta and his men had no idea what was going on. It felt like an entire army contingent, greater than their own, had been unleashed upon them. “Shoot at the outskirts, the fire is coming from the corners”, Huerta ordered. Unfortunately, in the initial bursts of enemy fire, Huerta had lost half his men. The remaining soldiers hunkered down behind their former brothers’ limp bodies, shooting blindly at the bright fire in the Zocalo’s corners. The green-clad men fell in clumps, unable to avoid the relentless showers of bullets raining down upon them. Huerta felt an unfamiliar emotion: fear. In the midst of the dense smoke pervading the plaza, the villagers stood still, awaiting the outcome. They were also afraid.

After a short five minutes of ear splitting noise, a soft silence descended upon Jalaxpa. During the fighting, Huerta had suffered several wounds, none fatal. He sat there, looked around, and saw none of his men still stood. A handful of them lay injured on the bloody ground, pitifully moaning: “ahh, please help me”. Huerta grunted “Don’t let them get the satisfaction, it’s bad enough that we were beat this bad”. The smoke slowly faded into the atmosphere, revealing to Ortega and the villagers the extent of their victory.The victors loudly declared !VIVA CRISTO REY! !VIVA CRISTO REY! as they walked towards the fallen federal troops.

Ortega, decked in dress typical of a cowboy, walked at the head of the moving mass of humanity. With a playful smile on his face, Ortega stood over Huerta and said: “How do you feel?”. Huerta responded: “Great, soon reinforcements will be sent and you and your heathens will be smelling the sweet scents of fresh soil.” Ortega still held his smile, and boomed in his tenor voice: “I respectfully disagree, General Huerta. God is on our side, and we will prevail over whatever that damned Calles can throw at us. In fact, I am so confident in our imminent victory, I shall make use of you in the interests of peace and prosperity for all. Go back to Mexico City and tell President Calles to abolish all anti-clerical provisions in the constitution. If he refuses, inform him that we will fight until he and his government meet their mortal end and Christ regains his rightul place in Mexico.” Ortega then gathered his servants, and directed them to tend to Huerta’s wounds.

Copyright 2009 Bryan Johnson ⓒ


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