The story of the persecution of Mexican Catholics in the 1920s is being told anew, in an English translation of a book by a scholar of Mexican culture and history.
“This was a period of enormous suffering and loss of life, as the government of Mexico in the 1920s sought to all but extinguish the faith that was fervently practiced and loved by the people,” Joseph Cullen, senior communications specialist with the Knights of Columbus, told CNA July 19.
“Mexican President Plutarco Calles’ violent crackdown killed many, and many more fled north.”
The English-language edition of Jean Meyer’s book “La Cristiada: The Mexican People’s War for Religious Liberty,” published by Square One Publishers, was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus. Its author, the French-born historian Jean Meyer, has taught at the Sorbonne and at El Colegio de México.
The book tells the story of the “Cristiada,” the Cristero rebellion and uprising that lasted for three years. In the mid-1920s, a government crackdown severely restricted the freedom of the Catholic Church in Mexico, with laws banning public displays of religion and expelling foreign priests.
In July 1926, the Church reacted by suspending all religious services in Mexico.
The persecution included the summary execution of many clergy and lay Catholics. Several Knights of Columbus were martyred under the government, including six priests who were later canonized.
The violent crackdown led to further persecution, and provoked an uprising that grew into a civil war.
Some American groups such as the Knights of Columbus sought to end the persecution, while others, including the then-powerful Ku Klux Klan, favored the Mexican government’s actions.
“As bishops, priests, seminarians and lay people streamed north to escape the persecution and violence, it was, again, many American Catholics who helped open doors for these refugees and exiles, supporting their neighbors from the south,” Cullen said.
Cullen called Meyer’s book is “a fascinating piece of forgotten history,” adding that Americans don’t know more about the story because the “deep divisions” it caused in Mexico meant Mexicans did not discuss it openly for many years.
“However, in recent decades, as the Mexican government has at last rescinded many of the anti-clerical laws from this period, the story is once again coming to light,” Cullen said.
The Cristero uprising was the subject of the 2012 movie “For Greater Glory,” which starred Andy Garcia and Eva Longoria.
The foreword to the new edition of Meyer’s book was written by Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus.
Anderson said that United States citizens are “blessed to be in a country ruled by law where our differences are decided in courtrooms and voting booths.” However, Americans should not forget “that not all are so fortunate.”
“It is heartening that this forgotten chapter in North American history is finally getting the attention it deserves.”