Very few people in the United States are familiar with the Cristera Rebellion, an armed conflict between the Mexican federal government and the Roman Catholic Church that took place from 1924 to 1928, during the presidency of Plutarco Elias Calles. Although presented by the Church as a persecution, it was in fact a political stance by the Mexican government to limit the Church’s power and influence over the rights and privileges that duly belonged to the State.
A vocal figure in the conflict was Father David Uribe Velasco, a native son of Buenavista de Cuellar, in the state of Guerrero, where I have lived since relocating from North Carolina.
The seventh of eleven children, St. David Uribe Velasco was born December 29, 1888, and baptized on January 6 of the following year. He was the son of Juan Uribe Ayala and Victoriana Velasco Gutierrez, a humble married couple of few material resources but with proven and exemplary virtues.
St. David enrolled in the Seminary of Chilapa in 1903 and in 1909 received Minor Orders. In 1910 and 1911, respectively, he became sub-deacon and deacon. On March 2, 1913, he was ordained to the priesthood by D. Francisco Campos, Bishop of Chilapa.
Returning to his hometown after ordination, Fr. David became the parish priest not only for his native town but also for Teloloapan and Iguala de la Independencia in Guerrero and celebrated his first mass on March 12, 1913. Fr. David had a great and profound love for the Eucharist and for the Virgin of Tepeyac. In his speeches and sermons, he extolled Mexico’s devotion to her Queen and the hope that this devotion would be preserved. Sometime later, he left to become personal secretary to His Excellency Antonio Hernandez Rodriguez, Bishop of Tabasco.
A conflict between the Mexican federal government and the Roman Catholic Church had been brewing steadily in the early decades of the 1900’s in Mexico and tensions eventually found their way to the State of Tabasco. Father David Uribe and his Bishop received orders to move to the city of Chilapa, Guerrero. Sometime later, Father David became the parish priest for Zirandaro, where he began his pastoral ministry with zeal and prudence, but was forced, however, to return to Chilapa because of the continuous Zapatista uprisings in the region.
During the Calle’s presidency, there was a great sense of nationalism. Reforms were enacted and certain religious regulations that were added to the Mexican Constitution of 1917 were enforced. Tensions finally reached a boiling point and an armed conflict erupted between the federal government and groups loyal to the Roman Church.
As a result of the increase in nationalism, some Roman Catholic clergy established a Mexican Apostolic Catholic Church, independent of foreign influence from Rome. They sought and initially received support from the federal government. This led to increased bloodshed.
The Mexican government ordered the expulsion of some 200 foreign clergy from the country and closed many Roman Catholic religious information centers, convents and church-run schools. In protest, on July 30, 1926, by order of the Mexican Bishops and with the approval of the Roman Pontiff, all public worship was stopped and the churches closed. Father David submissively obeyed the order from the Mexican Bishops and recommended that the faithful maintain calm and prudent.
On April 7, 1927, Fr. David was taken prisoner while traveling on the train from Buenavista to Iguala by the Mexican army and later held incommunicado in the city of Cuernavaca. Although he was offered a position in the forming Mexican Apostolic Catholic Church and was even given several opportunities to escape, he refused both. Writing his Last Will and Testament on April 11, he was taken the following day in the early morning hours by Mexican soldiers to a place close to San Jose Vidal, in the State of Morelos, where he would be shot in the head.
Fr. David had hardly gotten out of the car when he knelt down and from the depths of his soul begged God for forgiveness for his sins and for the salvation of Mexico and her Church. Rising slowly, he addressed the soldiers, “Brothers, kneel down so that I may bless you. With all my heart I forgive you and I only ask that you pray to God for my soul. As for me, I will not forget you when I am before Him.” Raising his right hand, he traced the sign of the Cross and then divided among them his watch, his rosary, a crucifix and other objects.
In June 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized 25 Mexicans considered martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church for their defense of Rome, among them Father David Uribe Velaso. The feast day for all of the Cristera Martyrs is May 21.
St. David’s skeletal remains rest in open view in the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua in his native town of Buenavista de Cuellar.
Bishop Tom Shortell, OSFC, D.Min. is the Bishop Ordinary for Mexico for the United American Catholic Church and currently resides in Guerrero, Mexico.