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Religion

Mexican Martyrs to Be Beatified

Catholics: The two, killed by idol worshipers in 1700, will be recognized by Pope John Paul II. The event will culminate decades of effort by believers.

July 27, 2002|STEPHEN HENDERSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This may be so, but until the current papacy, some say a claim that a town in the clouds of Oaxaca had produced two saints might have fallen on deaf ears in Rome.

"If you look at all the saints in Catholicism, overwhelmingly they tend to be white European males. And mostly celibate priests, bishops and popes," said Timothy Matovina, a professor at the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at Notre Dame University.

"Yet, what is sainthood? It's anyone who has given their life for Christ. Recognizing this, John Paul II has diversified the communion of saints and lifted up local heroes in places like Japan, Vietnam and Russia."

According to Lawrence Cunningham, also a Notre Dame theology professor, in this diversification process, John Paul II has canonized more people than all the popes combined since the Reformation.

"Why is he doing this? For political--meaning public--reasons," he said. "The pope knows that in Mexico, people are hemorrhaging from the traditional Catholic Church into Protestantism. So, he wants to remind them that there is a tradition of heroic sanctity in Mexico's history."

For Gloria Hernandez of Glendale, who was born near Cajonos, the beatification of Bautista and De Los Angeles confirms what she has always believed.

"I'd heard about them from my grandmother as a child, but didn't start praying to the martyrs until I was 20," said Hernandez, 59, who is a longtime member of St. Cecilia Catholic Church south of downtown Los Angeles.

She credits their intercession for giving her mortally ill son two additional years of life and for help in retrieving a car impounded by immigration authorities at the Mexican border.

For the past several years, in addition to her day job as a house cleaner, Hernandez has organized sales of tamales to raise money for the beatification. Her voice quickens as she describes her anticipation of the ceremony.

"The martyrs are like God to me, and my heart is with them," she said. "I was nervous when I got married, but I'll be much more nervous on the day we will be in Mexico City."

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