San Pedro de Jesús Maldonado (1892-1937), Mexican priest and martyr for the Holy Eucharist.
A NIGHTTIME PASCHAL AMBUSH
It was Holy Saturday and Fr. Pedro de Jesús Maldonado had just finished preaching a sermon on the sympathy that should be given to Our Lady in her sorrows. A person came looking for him, begging, "Please, Padre, come and hear the confessions of some sick people." Always eager to help souls, Father agreed to go to the little town nearby, and took with him a friend, Professor Urbina. Fr. Maldonado's enemies had gotten wind of his journey and were lying in wait to ambush him. Around midnight as Father and his friend were returning from their mission of mercy, despite it being Easter morning, they were violently attacked!
Professor Urbina relates, "The bullets were zinging past our ears and you could see the flashes from the guns in the darkness. Father sat very straight guiding the mules pulling out little coach. Very tranquilly and peacefully he turned around to me and said, using a nickname, 'Are you afraid, Urbalejito?' And I answered, 'Of course, Father, I am afraid!' And he said, 'Don't be. Nothing will happen to us.' I was shaking from head to foot since they were shooting at us from behind. I believe it was certainly a miracle that they didn't kill us because the next day my father found close to 200 burnt cartridges in the area where they had shot at us." And Father Maldonado continued his life and work as nothing unusual had happened, for he was not afraid of death nor of his enemies - knowing he could not be delivered into their hands unless God allowed it.
YOUTH AND SEMINARY
Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero was born on 8 June 1892. His parents were Apolinar Maldonado and Micaela Lucero. He had seven siblings. He grew up in an area under the patronage of Saint Nicholas. In his childhood he was a 'good boy.' The Paulist Fathers who taught him noted his piety and his dedicated to his studies. Sadly, Pedro was still quite young when his father died and his older brother had to assume charge of running the family ranch and caring for their mother and siblings. This brother eventually married and brought his wife to live at the family ranch. When their first child was born there, they named her Concepción, and this little baby "Conchita" was the delight of her Uncle Pedro, then ten or eleven years old. She was like his little toy and he loved her dearly. She lived a long life and would often tell many stories about her beloved uncle-priest and how he taught her the Faith and her catechism.
At the age of 17, Pedro began his seminary studies at the Seminary in Chihuahua (capital city of the largest state in Mexico which shares a border with Texas). He was one of the best students but was truly distinguished by his piety and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. During this time, he forged his iron purpose towards sanctity with the motto, "I desire to always have my heart in the Sanctuary and in Heaven." His seminary days were very difficult due to the agitation spread throughout the country by the Mexican Revolution. In fact, in 1914 classes were suspended on account of the revolutionary violence. Conchita tells that when he came home to visit, when it was dinner time, her mother used to send her to get her Tío, and sometimes little Conchita did not understand what was happening to him. She would return and tell her mother, "Mamá, Mamá, I called him but he is in his room kneeling down like dead. He is stiff and he doesn't answer me." He was praying so deeply, that perhaps he was in a mystical ecstasy.
ORDINATION AND PERSECUTION
Yet when at last this young man, who loved God so much, was ready to be ordained, troubles abounded. His Ordinary, Bishop Nicolás Peréz Galván of Chihuahua, was sick and detained in Mexico City; he could not ordain him. Thus, with permission, Pedro traveled to El Paso, Texas and was ordained a diocesan priest of Chihuahua by Bishop James Schuler, SJ, at St. Patrick Cathedral on the morning of 25 January 1918. Although his first Masses were said in El Paso, he said his first Solemn Sung Mass in the church of the Holy Family in Chihuahua on 11 February 1918. It was the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, to whom he had a special devotion. Father Maldonado's assignments during the following years brought him to a number of parishes. In these parishes he established many pious organizations to increase devotion to the Holy Eucharist and our Blessed Mother. He taught catechism to young and old. He served for many years as the pastor in the towns of Santa Isabel and of Jiménez. The spiritual fruit of his work was immense.
In 1926, the terrible masonic persecution of the Church in Mexico erupted in a fevered pitch. Laws were passed which forbade all Catholic activity. A priest wearing his clerics was guilty of a capital offense. Many were arrested, tortured and killed. Churches were desecrated and religious art trampled underfoot. Father Maldonado continued his priestly work during the ups and downs of these tragic times, all through the intense persecution under the Mexican President Plutarco Calles (1924-28), and into the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (34-40). [Many have seen the movie "For Greater Glory" which deals with events occurring in Mexico at this time.] He clandestinely performed baptisms and marriages, heard confessions and offered the Holy Sacrifice. Consequently, he became the target of much persecution. On several occasions, roving bands of masons beat him up, at times even entering his church to do so.
Father Maldonado had an intense love for the Holy Eucharist. He would spend many hours prostrated before It, or praying with his arms extended in the form of a cross. Because of the persecution, there were times when he could not go out but had to stay hidden indoors. At such times, he had the opportunity to spend long hours in prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The holy priest also had a great love for Our Lady, especially under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes, and also for St. Joseph, St. Therese Little Flower, and he had a special devotion to the Infant Jesus. In fact, he always carried with him a little statue of Baby Jesus, which he had the habit of clasping to his heart while he conversed sweetly with the Infant Savior.
Father Maldonado's love for children was great as well. With love and zeal during these difficult times, he instructed them in the truths of the Faith so that they would not be deceived by the errors that could separate them from God. He was happy to hear their confession and to give them Our Lord in Holy Communion. He fought the evils that threatened these children and his people. He specially fought the evil of freemasonry, the "sex-education" of children which was already being imposed in those days [one of the spreading errors of Russia], the socialist education, the perversity of excessive drinking, and all the sins that threatened the family. Naturally, the enemies of God's holy Church had a satanic hatred against the zealous priest. They plotted to apprehend and kill him.
Father Maldonado also worked among the Tarahumaras, poor native Indians of the Chihuahua mountainous deserts and canyons. [This tribe is world famous for their world-class distance runners who run bare-foot.] He often provided the poor with money, clothing and food. He even helped raised a poor orphan. He would often visit the workers in their fields, and with a little coaxing, he would bless their crops - that they may have a good harvest and to keep away plagues and malevolent insects. Several testimonies claim his prayers would often drive away swarms of marauding locusts.
EXILE AND RETURN
In May 1934, because of his priestly activities, Fr. Maldonado was expelled from Mexico by command of the "State Priest". Police Chief Mendiola personally drove the vehicle to take Father out of the country. Several times during that trip he threatened the priest, intimating that he would execute him secretly during the lonely drive through the Chihuahuan Desert. In exile, Father Maldonado returned to El Paso, Texas. He lived and worked for several months among the Catholic faithful, which included an ever-growing number of Mexican Catholics fleeing north from the diabolical revolution devastating Mexico. Yet knowing he was ordained to serve the people of Chihuahua, Padre Maldonado longed to return to his land and people. In July of that same year he found his opportunity. He was able to re-enter Mexico secretly and take refuge on a large hacienda (ranch).
It was dangerous work. Lose tongues made it easy for the free-masonic agents to quickly learn of his return. On one occasion, Father's enemies were lying in wait for him outside of a house. When he finally emerged, the would-be assassins saw him surrounded by a crowd of children. It was impossible for them to kill him then and they left disappointingly. Yet the other people who saw him exit the home testified that he had been entirely alone. Who were the children his enemies had seen? Quite possibly, the Guardian Angels of those whom he served. Eyewitnesses testify that even in life Fr. Maldonado worked miracles. For example, he exhibited the gift of biolcation. One one occasion Father was taking Viaticum to a sick person on his deathbed. He carried the Host in a pyx that hung around his neck (a small circular case used for the purpose of transporting the Sacred Host). Half way through the journey, Father said to his companion, "Let us go back; it is no use to keep going. The person is now dead." But the pyx in which he carried the Host was, after that, empty. Later on, relatives of the dead person witnessed that the dying person had received Holy Communion from Fr. Maldonado's hands. It was determined that this miraculous event occurred just a few minutes before Father told his companion it was time to turn back.
AN UNDERGROUND PRIESTLY MINISTRY
The Mexican government and the clergy arrived at a treaty in which the government would allow the clergy to offer Mass in the churches - if the priest would ask permission of the government first. All the clergy were asked to sign. Father Maldonado, however, refused to sign. Other priests were angry with him and accused him of "not collaborating for peace." Yet he asserted that in conscience, he could not sign. Not only was this a gross violation of proper Church-state relations and a betrayal of Mexico's own established traditions as a Catholic country, but it was a violation of his rights as a priest and a terrible injustice against the people. He was a missionary and when the faithful asked him for the sacraments, he would give provide them, as they were sorely needed. [It is hard for one to imagine a clearer example of a "state of emergency" for the faithful to receive the Sacraments, than when the secular powers oppose the True Faith and ecclesial leaders are unwilling to support true Church teaching and practice.] Father Maldonado was not going to ask permission from the government to be allowed to take care of his flock and to feed them. No matter how or under what sacrifices, he would continue to do the work for which God ordained him and called him to His Altar. After all, one may very well reason, in accordance with the eloquent teaching of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, that "lex iniusta non est lex" (an unjust law is no law at all). So, Father Maldonado had to go "underground.' He moved about stealthily, much like St. Padre Miguel Agustin Pro (+1927), continued to teach the faithful, and offered Masses and the sacraments in private homes, barns and so on.
FINAL ARREST AND TORTURE
On Ash Wednesday, 10 February 1937, Father offered Holy Mass in a hay barn. He had just finished Mass and had enough time to put the remaining Hosts in a pyx, when he heard that the rural police had surrounded the barn. They had come to apprehend Fr. Maldonado from the town of Santa Isabel [the masonic government has renamed that city "General Trias" as they have renamed many cities in an effort to further eradicate the glorious Catholic heritage of Mexico]. The police arrested Fr. Maldonado along with two men of the Nocturnal Adoration Society and three young ladies who were choir members and catechists.
The men were hitting the priest and screaming at him to open his hands and give them "that thing at his chest" (he had pressed to his chest the pyx containing the Most Blessed Sacrament). They yelled horrible blasphemies against the August Sacrament. Father clutched the pyx more tightly. His persecutors yelled again and again, "open your hand." By this time they had terribly maimed his body. His teeth were all broken. His left eye was destroyed and had popped out of its socket. The right arm was fractured and a leg was dislocated. Yet in all this agony, he held on tightly to protect Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
Then his tormentors decided to use a knife to cut the tendons and muscles which permit the hand to open and close. Once these tendons were severed, the hand opened by itself, the pyx fell and broke open, and several Hosts scattered about the floor. It is not entirely clear what took place at that moment, for there are conflicting reports. Some say the mayor was present and gave Father the Hosts to consume. But Conchita, Father's niece, believes that this would not have been possible on account of Father's condition. She explains that there was a man in the room who still had a shred of Catholic fear of God. Frightened over what might happen to the Hosts, he quickly picked them up and consumed them himself.
HIS HOLY DEATH
Father Maldonado's martyrdom began around noon on the tenth of February and continued until about three in the morning of the eleventh of February, when his tortures finally left him in a pool of his own blood and torn flesh. Someone called the ambulance to pick up the prisoner. When the drivers arrived and saw the condition of the priest, they refused to take him until the police signed a paper claiming responsibility for his condition. The ambulance crew feared that if Father died in their hands, the people would blame them for his death. Grudgingly the police signed the paper so that the ambulance drivers would remove the body. They took him from Santa Isabel to the civil hospital in Chihuahua used by poor people. How fitting that Fr. Maldonado who loved the poor should die in a hospital with them.
At the hospital, a nurse recognized the poor priest and called the Bishop, Monseñor Espino. By now it was 4 am. Immediately His excellency sent a Fr. Gutierrez to care for him and report his condition. Fr. Gutierrez gave him absolution, Extreme Unction, and the Papal Blessing. Fr. Maldonado's injuries were so severe that all knew he was dying. Some thought the unconscious priest was already dead. Bishop Espino had ordered, "Do not touch him, let him die peacefully; he is a saint." And so they did not disturb him or remove his clothes.
Dr. Alberto Enriquez, an attending physician was puzzled. He wondered how the priest could still be alive with such terrible injuries. Just to be certain, he applied his stethoscope and discovered a beating heart. So he called the bishop again. This time Bishop Espino came himself to see Fr. Maldonado. They began to open his garments. Upon removing his shirt they found a single Host had slipped down his sleeve and was stuck to the skin and blood on his left arm. The Bishop carefully removed the Host.
And at that very moment, Fr. Maldonado smiled lightly and died. Dr. Enriquez applied the stethoscope again and confirmed that his heart had stopped beating. It was 6 am on 11 February 1937. It was the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes whom Fr. Maldonado loved so tenderly. It was the seventh-ninth anniversary of her first apparition and the nineteenth anniversary of his first Mass. She must have smiled upon her martyred priest-son and received him tenderly in Heaven, for he had so valiantly defended the Most Holy Sacrament of her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
It was the Holy Eucharist that gave Fr. Maldonado the strength to suffer so much and to die defending It as best he could form those who hated God. Like St. Tarcisius of old, Fr. Maldonado is a modern martyr of the Eucharist.
To Fr. Maldonado's burial there came a multitude of people that filled the broad streets of Chihuahua for ten blocks. The men who bore the martyr priest's coffin felt it was the greatest honor of their life and carried it for some four kilometers to the Dolores Cemetery. In the old photos of the funeral procession, it is hard to even see the coffin, borne aloft as on a wave, surrounded by such a sea of people. Like Our Lord Who was given a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, Fr. Maldonado had no tomb and so he was given a resting place by another. Dr. Enriquez have him his own burial place.
Fr. Maldonado's martyrdom stirred courage and love of God in the hearts of the people. They asked the police for a public manifestation on Sunday in honor of their beloved priest. According to the masonic law that ruled the land, it was forbidden to gather even a few people for any religious demonstration. Naturally permission was denied. The chief of police wanted to make sure his refusal was obeyed. Hence he called out a large force of armed men and mounted police to intimidate the people and prevent any possible demonstration. His efforts were futile. At 10 am, the march started. The multitude swelled to an estimated 100,000 people who came from all over the area. That day the bells of the cathedral rang again. They had been silenced for three years by government order. In defiance of the masonic anti-Catholic government, a group of young men climbed the cathedral towers and set the bells pealing in protest of the murder of Fr. Maldonado! We can imagine how they rang out, proclaiming the glory of a martyred priest of God Most High. Viva Cristo Rey! Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
He was canonized in 2000 AD, along with twenty-five priests who were martyred during the Mexican Revolution and its Masonic aftermath. He is the first saint and first martyr canonized from Chihuahua. His relics are in a beautiful chapel in Chihuahua's Cathedral. The church of Santa Isabel has the confessional in which he spent so many hours. The Priestly Society of St. Pius X has a chapel in Chihuahua dedicated to St. Joseph where they keep a cloth stained by his blood (first class relic). That cloth had been used to cover his body when he was in his dying throes at the civic hospital. In 2005, a nave at St. Patrick's Cathedral in El Paso was dedicated to his memory.
[The majority of this story was reproduced from an article written by Irene Denke and Mary E. Gentges in the 1989 AUG/SEP issue of the periodical Crusade. They personally knew Conchita, Fr. Maldonado's niece. Many thanks to all of them for preserving this story of our faith.]