James Murphy

The Martyrdom of Saint Toribio Romo

Chronicles the life of Toribio Romo, a victim of persecution of the Church in Mexico in the 20th century. He was murdered in 1920, and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. This booklet reconstructs the world in which he lived and examines the tumultuous relationship between church and state in Mexico at that time. It is a story of courage in the face of terrorism and an example of how persecution usually makes the Church stronger.
From the author:
Imagine going to church on Sunday morning and finding the building locked and nobody around. You drive to another church and find the same thing: no priest, no Masses, no weddings, only fear in the hearts of people that they might be caught practicing their religion.
That is what it was like in Mexico some 80 years ago during the Cristero war, when the official policy of the state was to stamp out Catholicism from the land forever. State governors went around confiscating church property, forbidding the teaching of religion, and doing whatever they could to terrorize “the dismal Catholic clergy” and their “fanatical followers.” In some places, agents of the government burned statues and religious works of art in the streets, and then danced around the fire while wearing Mass vestments they found in the sacristy. Priests were sometimes hunted down and killed on the spot.
The Martyrdom of Saint Toribio Romo describes those turbulent years in Mexican history, as seen through the eyes of a simple country priest who lived through it and became one of its victims: Fr. Toribio Romo of Jalisco. The story begins in the tiny rural community of Santa Ana where Toribio was born and grew up, and traces his journey from poverty to priesthood in the Archdiocese of Guadalajara.
It describes his struggle to get schooling in a place that had no schools and everyone was illiterate, his interest in Pope Leo Xlll's encyclical Rerum Novarum and the trouble that got him into with conservative pastors and wealthy parishioners, his experience as a parish priest during the Cristero war when catechists were being hung from telegraph poles and his bishop was running the archdiocese from a hideout in the hills, his brutal murder by federal troops in February 1928 in a remote canyon outside the town of Tequila where he was ministering to the people in hiding. Fr. Romo was canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul ll in 2000.
This booklet is an interesting read for anyone who is unaware of what Mexican Catholics suffered south of our border not so many years ago. It is of particular interest to Northern California Catholics because some 300 of the saint's relatives live in the Sacramento area, and a relic of the saint is enshrined in the altar of the newly restored Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament--the only such example in the U.S.
Saint Toribio is already well known to Mexican immigrants across the U.S., many of whom see him as their savior at a time when increased security has made smuggling immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border more deadly. In 2002, The New York Times reported on the numerous stories circulating in the underground immigrant trail about a mysterious figure dressed in dark clothing guiding famished souls safely across the border to a new life in the U.S. The only payment this stranger asked was a visit to him in Santa Ana, Jalisco, someday.
When many of these immigrants finally did make it to Santa Ana to thank him, the lore goes, they were stunned to recognize the face of the stranger in the photo of Saint Toribio in the chapel there. As stories like these increase, so do the thousands who visit Toribio's shrine in Santa Ana--and so do the calls to have him officially declared the patron saint of immigrants.
40 printed pages
Original publication


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