by Fr. Matthias
I can almost see him as a little boy, clothes stained with dirt and sweat from working in the fields with his dad sewing beans and corn. He drops his bicycle on the cobblestone, then scuffles up the steps to the front door of the church. The wood creaks as the door opens to dim light and the smell of burning candles. He drops his right knee to the floor, then stands and turns to a corner of the church behind the pews, where votive lights flicker flames of soft red and white.
He is standing before the remains of one of the heroes of his hometown, a padrino of his cousin who had given his life in defense of the faith during the government persecution a decade prior, a Cristero who shouted “Viva Cristo Rey!” as bullets from a firing squad tore through his chest.
He makes the sign of the cross, kisses his hand, then bows his head to pray. I want to be courageous as you in defending Christ from his enemies. I want to be a hero like you.
I knock at the door, then swing it open.
I nod to a young, bearded fellow seated in the corner chair, then speak to his father. “Mr. Moreno, it has been a long time.”
I reach for his hand on the bed and he responds with a firm shake.
“Padre, I thought you forgot about me.”
The words cut to the quick. “Of course not. I was just trying to follow the guidelines I had received to take care of your health.”
He chuckles. “Well, as you can see I’m in the hospital. My guidelines are that you come by more often.”
His son shakes his head.
“I wish I could say those were the only guidelines. But you would be amazed at how the churches are being shuttered by the long arm of government these days.”
“Sit down son, and let me tell you about government overreach.”
Mr. Moreno uses the control panel beneath his hand to raise the head of his hospital bed.
“Padre, life in my little pueblito revolved around the Church. It was the center of everything, our jewel and crown. About 5 years before I was born, the government decided that God did not exist and that the Church had too much power. They tried to eradicate the faith and even turned our church into a livestock barn!” He grits his teeth. “Can you imagine the horror, the shock? Some of the people my dad grew up with cowed to the intimidation. But not my tios, and especially not the godfather of my primo. In a few short months, they beat them back out of town, after much blood was shed. They got the church back. They fought for what became my jewel and crown. I was married there 55 years ago.” He nods to his mijo.
“They were a part of the Cristeros?”
“Some were martyred as Cristeros. Their blood watered a whole new generation of believers like me.”
I look at his recently amputated leg, taken like the other from diabetes complications.
“I wonder what will happen in this country.”
“Padre, you just tell me where I need to go and when I need to be there and I will stand by you and fight.”
He lifts his torso up on his clenched fists, replete with scars from his life as a welder, and raises his chin.
“But let’s get to the point of your coming. You have the Eucharist don’t you? Soldier’s gotta eat.”
A smile breaks across my face. “Viva Cristo Rey.”
He makes the sign of the cross and bows his head to pray.
I bow my head and add my own prayer in silence: Lord, make me courageous. Make me brave. Make me like him.