It’s not that easy to be a Catholic saint. The martyrdom requirement alone tends to turn most people off. So, when we Catholics get ourselves a modern-day saint, we tend to go all out.
Such is the case with Father Elias Nieves, beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997.
Father Nieves grew up poor in rural Mexico and, when he was 12-years old, he saw thieves kill his father. Despite both financial and physical challenges, he became a priest and earned an assignment to a small, extremely poor parish.
In 1926 the Mexican government ordered all priest and religious people to leave their rural communities and come to the cities, where they could be monitored more closely. The timid Fr. Nieves became an unlikely hero to his congregation and later the world by refusing this edict. He spent evenings hiding in caves and his days ministering to his people. This brave arrangement lasted 14 months until soldiers discovered and arrested him.
He prayed for the soldiers who were about to kill him, and said his last words, “Long live Christ the King!”
Blessed as we are at St. Therese Parish with a large contingent of Mexican immigrants, we celebrate Father Nieves each year on the anniversary of his death. Because the big day coincides every year with Appleton North’s spring musical, I have always missed the mass, the dancing, the festivities and the food.
Fortunately this year, my daughter Katherine popped in and looked on in amazement. “Mom, we’re at St. Therese and it’s totally a blog,” she texted me.
I told her to take pictures, which she did.
Later she texted me again as I toiled away, hungry and jealous of the members of my family who I knew were munching on enchiladas and enjoying the festivities.
“Tacos in the fridge for you,” she said.
God bless Father Nieves!
Here’s a little clip of last year’s celebration: