Friday, December 30, 2011

The Martyrdom of Blessed Elias Nieves

Painting of Blessed Elias Nieves,
taken from Blessed Elia del Soccorso (Matteo Nieves), March 10

(The following is excerpted from Chapter III of "Mexican Martyrdom," by Father Wilfrid Parsons, S.J., reprinted in 1987 by TAN Books.)

"...Father Elias Nieves, an Augustinian...stuck to his post as parish priest [in the town of La Cañada de Caracheo]...he moved out of the rectory to the hut of a native. On March 8 [1928] a company of soldiers arrived and asked for the priest. His house [the rectory] was locked and silent. They began to break down the door. The news spread like wildfire in the vicinity and in no time a crowd...had made a solid phalanx around the church, for fear it, too, would be destroyed....someone tipped off the soldiers....and Father Nieves was dragged forth. Two...made a hopeless effort to protect him, and they, too, were taken along....The Captain [Manuel Marquez Cervantes]...offered the two...their liberty, even urged it upon them. They stolidly refused to leave their pastor, and the Captain shrugged his shoulders...."

"Father Nieves and the others were called early [the morning of March 10], and the troops kept the villagers cowed. The two...knelt down for Confession and absolution, and they stepped forward together. 'We are ready,' they announced. One after the other they took the hail of bullets without flinching."

"It was the priest's turn. As he walked to the wall beside the two motionless bodies, he turned and asked for a few moments to recollect himself. He knelt a long while, and then standing, said: 'I am ready.' But at the moment that the soldiers lifted their rifles, he raised his hand."

"'Kneel down,' he said, 'I will give you the blessing of a priest - and along with it my pardon for what you are about to do.'"

"Every one of the simple soldiers knelt down and piously received the blessing of the priest, making the Sign of the Cross on their bodies. The Captain laughed."

"'Even for you there is a blessing and my pardon,' said Father Nieves. For answer the Captain drew his revolver and shot him dead. [Another account of the martyrdom adds that "The Father had time to shout too, clearly: 'Long live Christ the King!'" Of course, that slogan is ¡Viva Cristo Rey! in Spanish.] Then, to make sure, he stepped forward and gave him the coup de grace in the temple, blowing his brains out."

"His funeral the next day was a triumph for the countryside, and his body was laid beside those of his two faithful companions."

[Father Nieves was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 12 October 1997.]

Every priest who preaches the Word of God in times of persecution has no escape; he will die like Jesus on the Cross, with arms tied. -Blessed Elias Nieves


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