Cristero martyr now popular patron of Mexican migrants headed to US

The road signs leading to this hamlet of 292 souls in the dry highlands northeast of Guadalajara read “Santo Toribio Romo.”

The hamlet’s proper name, Santa Ana de Guadalupe, is seldom spotted — perhaps because of the popular appeal of its native son, St. Toribio Romo Gonzalez, patron saint of migrants and the most famous of the canonized 25 martyrs of the 1920s Cristero Rebellion.

“None of the saints was especially well-known,” says Father Antonio Gutierrez, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Guadalajara.

But with time, St. Toribio became known throughout the region and in migrant communities on both sides of the border — something Father Gutierrez called “a phenomenon that no one expected.”

Catholics in the Los Altos region of Jalisco state rebelled against the anti-clerical policies of the central government between 1926 and 1929 in a conflict that left church and state at odds for much of the last century.

The conflict remains contentious in some political and intellectual circles, but times have progressed to the point that signage on public roads can signal the birth place of a Cristero martyr, and the road itself might be known as the Cristero Trail.

Victor Ramos Cortes, a former seminarian and church observer, said the signs changed as St. Toribio became better known and pilgrims plied the highways leading to Santa Ana in ever bigger numbers.

The saint’s popularity corresponds with a tendency that observers like Ramos call “religion popular,” or the people’s religion, in which people worship in their own way and adapt Catholicism and saints — including some not recognized by the church — to suit their purposes.

St. Toribio was born in 1900 and became a priest at age 21. He was murdered by soldiers in 1928 near the town of Tequila during height of the Cristero Rebellion, and his remains were brought back to the parish in Santa Ana. [More]