Blessed Juan Bautista and Blessed Jacinto de los Ángeles
Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Ángeles were men from the Zapotec tribe in Mexico and lay Catholic catechists. They were brutally murdered with clubs and machetes by a local mob in retaliation for disrupting a ritual where people were worshiping idols to celebrate the harvest.
Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Ángeles were both born the same year, in 1660, in the town of San Francisco Cajonos in Oaxaca, Mexico. The boys grew up together in their Zapotec tribal community with de los Ángeles descending from a long line of tribal chiefs. The boys were raised Catholic and were altar servers in their youth. Both married, had children, and actively participated in their Catholic faiths.
During the centuries that Spanish missionaries were spreading Catholicism in the Americas, and when Spain was actively trying to subjugate Mexico, Catholic missionary priests would appoint local converts as moral authorities in their communities. These deputized fiscales, or marshals, were tasked with upholding both civil and religious laws and reporting information back to the priests and bishops. Indigenous men were banned at the time from becoming priests themselves due to the Spaniards’ inability to incorporate the natives’ culture into the strict life habits of the Spanish friars. Thus, the highest religious position that a native man could be appointed at the time was that of fiscales. Both Bautista and de los Ángeles were appointed fiscales and revered in their communities as lay catechists, often also aiding the local priests in church affairs.
In 1700 when both were about 40 years old, while doing their rounds as fiscales, they learned that a local man named José Flores would be holding a ritual featuring native idols in his home. The men alerted the Dominican priests to whom they reported and were instructed by the priests to intervene. During the ceremony, Bautista, de los Ángeles, and some of the Dominicans disrupted the ritual and surprised those participating. As the men were well known in the community, many of the participants covered their faces and ran from the home, not wanting to be identified. The fiscales and Dominican priests confiscated the idols and other items used in the ritual.
The next day word of retaliation against Bautista and de los Ángeles caused them to seek refuge and hide in the Dominican friary. That evening, a mob of angry men covering their faces with cloth stormed the church with weapons and threatened to kill everyone inside if the two men weren’t handed over to them. When the Dominican priests refused, the mob burnt down Bautista’s nearby home and threatened to burn down the entire church and friary with everyone inside if their demands were not met.
Both men decided to give themselves over to the mob to end the brutality and save the lives of everyone else. Before leaving they asked the priests to hear their confessions and administer the Eucharist to them. They then went out to confront the mob and were abducted while yelling back to the priests “Fathers — commend us to God!”
The angry mob brutalized the men and demanded that they denounce their faith. Despite the torture, neither did. The following day, the mob took them to a large hill near the village, beat them with clubs, cut them down with machetes, and threw their bodies down the hill. Upon their deaths, their chests were cut open and their hearts were fed to the dogs.
The Dominicans recovered their bodies and buried them at Villa Alta. In 1889 both men’s bodies were moved to the Oaxaca Archdiocesan cathedral. In 2001, theologians confirmed that Bautista and de los Ángeles were murdered in hatred of the faith and Saint Pope John Paul II approved their cause and beatification on August 1, 2002, during his apostolic visit to Mexico.
“The two blesseds are an example of how, without regarding one’s ancestral customs as myths, one can reach God without renouncing one’s own culture but letting oneself be enlightened by the light of Christ, which renews the religious spirit of the best popular traditions.” –St. Pope John Paul II.
Lord, may we strive to be as brave as Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Ángeles during times of persecution for our beliefs. As we yearn for strong spiritual friendships like theirs and to follow Jesus like them, may we never waver in our faith and stand strong as Catholics our whole lives long. Blessed Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Ángeles, indigenous martyrs of Mexico, pray for us. Amen.