Latin America

The child martyrs of Tlaxcala, an example of evangelization

Omnes-October 1, 2017-Reading time: 5 minutes

On October 15, Pope Francis will canonize in Rome the Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala (Mexico): Cristobal, Antonio and Juan. Twenty-five years after their beatification by St. John Paul II, they will be proposed once again to the world as models of holiness, as they witnessed to their faith in the task of evangelization to the point of giving their lives.

TEXT. Gabriel Alcantarilla Sánchez, Mexico City

President of the Diocesan Pro-Canonization Commission

Rubén Rodríguez Balderas

Mexican Society of Ecclesiastical History

The child martyrs of Txacala (Mexico), protomartyrs of America and with great popular veneration, will be proposed to the world by Pope Francis as a model and example of witness of evangelizing faith and holiness, even to the point of giving their lives for Jesus Christ. The canonization ceremony will take place in Rome, after they were beatified in May 1990 by St. John Paul II in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in Mexico.

The Pope's approval for the canonization of the child martyrs took place in April, during an ordinary consistory of cardinals. The new Mexican saints will be canonized together with Blessed André de Soveral and Ambrosio Francisco Ferro, priests, and Mateus Moreira and 27 other companions, martyred in 1645 in Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil). Faustino Miguez, a Piarist priest and founder of the Calasanctian Institute of the Daughters of the Divine Shepherdess, and Angelo de Acri, a priest of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, will also be raised to the altars.

Evangelizers: martyrdom

The first martyrs of evangelization in Mexico are three children, Cristobal, Antonio and Juan, aged between 12 and 13. They converted to Christianity after hearing the Gospel preached by Franciscan and Dominican friars.

Cristobal was born in the town of Atlihuetzía around 1514. At the age of 13 he converted to the Catholic faith, and when the boy told his father, the cacique Axotécatl, that he should stop his bad behavior and become a Christian, he was beaten and thrown into the fire in 1527. His mother Tlapaxilotzin rescues him and Cristobal spends the whole night in agony. The next morning, his father returns and the boy tells him: "O father, do not think that I am angry with you; I am very glad because you have done me more honor than by inheriting your lordship to me!".

Antonio (grandson of Xicoténcatl, chief cacique of Tlaxcala) and his page Juan, were born in the town of Tizatlán in 1516. In 1529 they offered to go as missionaries to evangelize Oaxaca, and when Fray Martin de Valencia told them that it was too dangerous, they responded: "And if God wanted the sacrifice of our life, why should we not sacrifice it for Him? Did they not kill St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Bartholomew for God? Why should we not die for Him, if it were His will?". A few days later they were beaten to death when they were destroying idols in the town of Cuauhtinchan, in 1529.

Blessed in 1990

In 1541, the Franciscan friar Toribio de Benavente (known as Motolinía) wrote an account of the martyrdom of the children in his History of the Indians of New Spaintreatise III, chapter IV. Throughout almost five centuries the memory of the holy children has been preserved in more than 80 written works, almost all in Spanish, but also in Nahuatl, Italian, English and French, and recently in Portuguese and Polish. His effigy is chiseled on a silver cross made in New Spain in the 16th century, which is currently in the cathedral of Palencia, Spain.

In 1982, the first bishop of Tlaxcala, Bishop Luis Munive y Escobar, introduced the cause for their beatification. They were beatified by St. John Paul II during his second trip to Mexico, on May 6, 1990, in the Basilica of Guadalupe. Since that year, the diocesan feast is celebrated on September 23. In 2012, in the City of Guanajuato, Pope Benedict XVI proposed them as models of Christian life for all the children of Mexico.

Numerous favors

In 2013, the third bishop of Tlaxcala, Bishop Francisco Moreno Barrón, reinforced the work of the Diocesan Pro-Canonization Commission, putting at its head the priest Gabriel Alcantarilla Sánchez, one of the signatories of this article. Thus began the diocesan phase of the canonization process.

During this phase, more than 2,000 favors requested from God through the intercession of the children were collected, and more than 50 were granted, including 13 cures considered extraordinary. Of particular note was the case of two young sisters who fell from a height of 15 meters.

In September 2014, Bishop Barrón erected the Shrine of the Child Martyrs and decreed a jubilee year to celebrate the V Centenary of their birth. Initiatives to make the Children better known and venerated multiplied in the more than 70 parishes and the 7 deaneries of the diocese. In that year more than 30,000 pilgrims came to his Shrine.

10,000 copies of the book are published in 2015. Blessed Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala, Cristobal, Antonio and Juan, Protomartyrs of America, and 100,000 copies of a polydiptych with the same title. The solemn closing of the Jubilee Year was attended by more than 40 Mexican bishops. Pope Francis sent his affectionate congratulations. There are already three hymns composed in his honor.

In November 2015, the Mexican Episcopal Conference declared them Patrons of Mexican Children. In May of the following year, the patronage is confirmed by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

Roman phase

Once the diocesan phase of the canonization process was concluded, the Roman phase began. The Bishop of Tlaxcala appointed Fr. Giovangiussepe Califano O.F.M. as postulator in Rome and Rubén Rodríguez Balderas, a priest of the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, also the author of this article, as vice-postulator of the Cause in Mexico. In turn, Father Califano appointed as vice-postulator in Rome, Father Luis Martín Rodríguez Muñoz O.F.M.

Thus began 14 months of arduous work, in order to send to the postulator the most important of the abundant information gathered in Mexico: the historicity of the martyrdom of Cristobal, Antonio and Juan; the devotion of the people of God to the children; their abundant iconography; the thousands of favors requested to God through their intercession and the hundreds of favors granted, among them 13 extraordinary ones; the transcendence that the children have had in the civil life of Tlaxcala and in the academic life of the country; and their knowledge and devotion in other American, European and African countries.

All this information was used to prepare in Rome the Positio super CanonizationeThe 400-plus-page document, which was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in January 2017, to be thoroughly studied by the commission of cardinals, who would communicate their conclusions to Pope Francis.

On March 21, in an ordinary session, the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints evaluated the Positio super canonizatione of the Child Martyrs and their judgment was positive. This was communicated to Pope Francis, who was able to ratify the decision and authorize the canonization.

The long-awaited pontifical declaration arrived on Thursday, March 23 of this year. The news immediately spread throughout the world. On Thursday, April 20, in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis presided over the ordinary public consistory in which the canonization of the Blessed was announced in St. Peter's Square on October 15.

On Friday, April 28, during the CIII Assembly of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, Bishop Francisco Moreno Barrón, now Archbishop of Tijuana, communicated the news to all the bishops of Mexico.

Impact on families

The upcoming canonization of the Tlaxcala child martyrs "could have a profound impact on families."Moreno Barrón, who was until just half a year ago bishop of Tlaxcala, and who has led the effort to reach the end of this cause of canonization during the last few years.

In his opinion, the canonization of the Mexican child martyrs "it is a moment of grace, of blessing for the Church universal", and a call for "value the family as a gift from God". The Archbishop of Tijuana has also manifested: "I hope that in other countries, such as Peru, the United States, wherever, they will also be promoted as patrons of children in these difficult times in which children are beaten, abused, in which there is a lack of respect and promotion for them in the Church and in society.

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