Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
|My father, Gilbert Cayetano Huesca,
age 91, about 2007, San Jose, California
The play, “Viva Cristo Rey,” was about the martyrdom of a Mexican Jesuit priest, Blessed Miguel Pro, in early 20th century Mexico. My father, who was 91 at the time, sat very still through the play, straining to hear every word and tightly pursing his lips from time to time. I sensed a certain tension in him and squeezed his hand. He squeezed mine back, his eyes never leaving the stage.
When the play ended, we lined up in the lobby to meet the cast. As my father approached the young actor who had portrayed Father Miguel Pro, he was trembling. “All of these things are true,” he began, his eyes welling with tears. “I did not see this priest, but I was a witness to that same inhumanity in [the state of] Chiapas.”
Couples who wanted to be married in the church had to marry twice – once in a civil ceremony and again by a priest. My father’s sister, María de la Luz Huesca, and her husband were married in a quiet ceremony at home by their parish priest in Veracruz State, for this reason.
People practiced their religion much like the Christians of Roman times, gathering quietly in homes for clandestine catechism, Masses, baptisms and rosaries. Families created small devotional altars with religious statues and images, photographs of loved ones, and votive candles for private prayer.
|Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J., one of the
martyrs of the Cristero rebellion against
religious persecution in Mexico
The Cristero War officially ended in 1929, but the government continued arresting clerics and persecuting people through the 1930s. After that, though public worship was still illegal, officials typically looked the other way. In 1988, Pope John Paul II began the canonization process to elevate Father Miguel Pro to sainthood, and four years later President Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s government lifted most, though not all, of the anti-religious restrictions.
As an adult, I gradually became aware of this dark chapter of oppression in Mexico’s history. Perhaps because it was not mentioned much, I did not gave serious thought to how it affected my father and his family. It was not until the evening of the play that this sad era of Mexico’s history hit home as my father’s story, which I had heard before, finally took on the gravity it deserved.
Surrounded by the actors and others in the theater lobby, my father recounted that when he was 19 years old he traveled for his family’s business to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of Chiapas. It was 1934, a year that turned out to be one of the worst in the government’s brutal persecution of the church, even though the Cristero War had officially ended five years earlier.
The square, once noisy and vibrant minutes, was now stilled by the commander’s harsh orders, and people retreated to their homes in silence. My father left for his hotel, horrified and angry.
My father would not tell us that night whether anyone fought back or lost their lives on that fateful day. All he would say was that resistance equalled death, either on the spot or at a later time by firing squad. Overcome with emotion, he left it at that, and we left the theater and went home.
The vivid barbarity of that episode left a deep scar on many, including the young witness who would someday become my father. The military continued to bully and terrorize the Mexican people for nearly another five years. Many people worked around the rules, finding ways to exercise their faith quietly. Others chose to fight back, either as soldiers or by boldly practicing their faith in public, tempting further persecution and even death. They showed that while it is possible to lose everything you have, including your right to practice what you believe, nothing – and no one – can take away what is in your mind, in your heart, in your soul.
There are many types of formative experiences in life. Most of us would not hope to view persecution as one of them. It’s hard to comprehend how terrible it must have been if you’ve never felt that kind of oppression and seen the effects it has on people.
There is a Spanish proverb that says that man proposes and God disposes. The Mexican people suffered immeasurably for their faith, but in the end it was their faith that saved them during the persecution, giving them hope and strength and solace.
As I drove my father home that night, I couldn’t help but wonder about the void in the story – the part that was too painful for him to share. I never did find out what it was. At the time, I was more concerned with the pain the play had resurrected in him that night. It took another recollection several years later, my own this time, to understand the toll that the experience had taken on his life.
Next: Wisdom Wednesday: Life’s Lessons, Part 2 – The Defining Moments
To read the other installments in this three part series, please click on the links below:
Part 2: Wisdom Wednesday – Life’s Lessons: The Defining Moments
Part 3: Thankful Thursday – Life’s Lessons: The Forces that Shape Us
Copyright © 2013 Linda Huesca Tully