At the end of December, 2008, I was in Mexico to perform a wedding. The bride was Leticia Magaņa, daughter of Deacon Abel Magaņa. She married a fine young man, Michael Yellam. Leticia and Michael, who had been sweethearts since their days at Kennedy High School, decided to marry in Arandas, Mexico. They married at the same church where Leticia's uncle (a few times removed) Blessed Luis Magaņa married Elvira Camarena almost exactly eighty-three years ago. This was during a time of fierce persecution of the Catholic Church. Luis was part of the non-violent opposition to the government. On February 9, 1928 the authorities arrested him and stood him before a firing squad - right in front of the same church where he and Elvira married two years previously.
In other homilies I spoke about Blessed Luis Magaņa and his heroic sacrifice. But, since reading about his life, I have had questions about what happened to his wife Elvira and their two children: Gilberto who was about one year old and Maria Luisa who would be born five months after her dad's death. The books I read had stopped with Luis' martyrdom and only gave small details of subsequent family events. When I went to Arandas, I had hoped meet some of Luis' grandchildren, but I was informed that they now live in Leon, Guanajuato.
The day after the wedding, the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, allowed me to look through the parish archives. I was thrilled to find the baptism register of Blessed Luis and the record of his marriage to Elvira. But, I asked, what happened to her? Raising two children without the support of her husband (or parents - she was an orphan girl) must have been very difficult. The pastor told me that he was not sure what happened, but suggested that I go to Leon and talk to the grandchildren. I told him that, unfortunately, I did not have an extra day for that trip.
Mid-afternoon, I finished the parish archives and the pastor walked me out of the rectory. In front of the church a family was reading the plaque about Blessed Luis and showing the little children the bullet lodged in the wall. A smile came over the pastor's face and he led me to the family. "These," he said, "are Luis and Elvira's granddaughters!" It was a marvelous act of Providence. I had been praying that I would meet some of Blessed Luis' direct descendants. Two of his granddaughters had chosen that afternoon to bring their grandchildren to see the place where their great-great-grandfather had offered his life for Christ.
Thanking God in my heart, I asked if I could interview them. They said, "yes," and the pastor gave us a room apart. I spoke first to the oldest granddaughter, Juanita Garcia Magaņa. She told me about their Grandma Elvira, her struggles and her tremendous faith. As often happens, when a widowed woman has a positive experience of marriage, she desired to remarry. She eventually met a man named Juan Cruz. They had four children, so in addition to Gilberto and Maria Luisa, it was a family of six children. In 1958 the family moved to Leon in search of work - and seven years later, at the age of fifty-nine, Elvira died. Her body was brought back to Arandas where she was buried in the cemetery next to Luis. Her second husband, Juan Cruz, died in 1982.
But what about Luis and Elvira's children? What happened to one-year-old Gilberto and the unborn child, Maria Luisa? The other granddaughter, Marta, gave me the answer. Gilberto married and had four children. He died about 2002, just a few years before his father's beatification. But Maria Luisa lived to see her dad beatified. Her dad had blessed her in the womb before he went to his death - and that blessing stayed with her all her life. It must have been a powerful blessing because, when she married, she had ten children. Three live here in the United States and the other seven in Mexico. Marta - who is the ninth child - did not marry and takes care of her mom. With great emotion Marta spoke to me about the confident, cheerful and calm faith her mom transmitted to his children and grandchildren.
For me it was an enormous blessing to spend that hour conversing with Juanita and Marta, while Juanita's son and various grandchildren listened and chimed in. By hearing about the noble faith of Luis and Elvira, I felt God had given me a tiny glimpse into the mystery embedded in our cloudy human affairs. As we see in today's readings, it is a mystery geared to our salvation - no matter what our race or culture.
After the interview with Juanita and Marta, we went to the spot where their grandfather had given his heroic testimony. We read the plaque that bears his final words: Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King! Viva Santa Maria de Guadalupe! Long live Holy Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe!
Blessed Luis & Elvira's Granddaughters Juanita & Marta Garcia Magaņa with Great-Great Granddaughters
Site of Blessed Luis' Martyrdom, Great Grandson Ulises (son of Juanita)
On this spot Blessed Luis Magaņa Servin was martyred on Febuary 9, 1928. He was beatified on November 20, 2005.
Long live Christ the King! Long live Holy Mary of Guadalupe!
One of the bullets from the execution with devotional cross added
Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Arandas, Jalisco
Painting of Blessed Luis Magaņa inside church
Painting of Our Lady of Refuge (Blessed Luis used as model for eyes)
Relics of Blessed Luis
Shirt worn by Luis on day of martyrdom
Blessed Luis between Blessed Ezekiel & Salvador Huerta Gutierrez (brothers)
86 Vallarta Street - address of Luis & Elvira's home and tanning workshop
Pharmacy (in operation in the 20's)
Owner of Pharmacy - the home behind the drug store served as place for underground Masses during time of persecution
Bakery (was clothing store in time of Blessed Luis)
Site of Centenario Hotel where troops were garrisoned. Here Blessed Luis met General Martinez to ask release of his brother Delfino.
Cemetery of Carmen where Luis and Elvira were buried
Baptism record of Blessed Luis
Marta, Parish Secretary - baptismal records have been converted to digital format
Fr. Pedro, Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, retrieving records of Blessed Luis
After Mass with Fr. Pedro & Deacon Abel
Arandas Altar Servers
Billings Center of Natural Family Planning at Guadalupe Parish, Arandas
Nativity scene in Arandas
Fr. Tiberio Munari, postulator & author of books on Blessed Luis; Sair Del Toro
Homilies mentioning Blessed Luis Magaņa: