Blessed Elias del Soccorro Nieves - 11th October

Mexico’s history is replete with light and shadows, and insofar as the life of the Church in Mexico is concerned, there are most beautiful pages – like the appearance of Our Lady at Guadalupe – and others stained with the redness of the blood of innocents. Amongst the latter we find the story of the Augustinian martyr Elias del Socorro Nieves, member of the Augustinian Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentino of Michoacan. The war known as the “Cristeros” war, in the latter years of the XX century raged over a great part of the country with a fierce persecution against the Catholic Church which shocked the lives of a large number of Christians, bishops, priests, female and male religious, catechists, and even children.

It was a severe war where the prosecutor lost all form of reason and was overcome by an angry quest for Christian blood. Mateo Elias was born in 1882 in the city of Yuriria-Pundaro, Guanajuato, Mexico .... a city with a secular tradition of the Augustinians with a most beautiful convent that evidenced the humanistic and religious contribution given by the religious of St. Augustine amongst the local people way back from the XVI century. He came from a poor family, lacking economic means, but strong and sound as regards faith. Although he did not have much opportunity for study, he entered the Augustinian seminary in his city of birth at the age of 22. He encountered many difficulties until he finished his studies and his necessary formation but, with the help of his colleagues, he reached the end. His was of poor health and there was a time when there was the danger of losing his sight. However, his love for Our Mother Mary, that was engendered in him by his mother, gave him the power to persist until he made his solemn profession in 1911 when he changed his name to Elija del Socorro, in honour of the Mother of Supplication, one of the oldest Marian devotions of the Augustinian Order.

A few years later he received his priestly ordination.  He was a person most inclined towards pastoral work, and his superiors appointed him vice-Parish Priest at Cañada de Caracheo, a very poor parish far away from the capital city. There he had no means whatsoever, but his formation from the hard and zealous life that he had received at home, helped him to build from nothing a Christian community, not only from a spiritual aspect, but also materially, and he helped the population to make great progress. During these years the country was in great turmoil at war and in 1926 this had already transformed itself into a true and proper persecution of the Church and its ministers. The blindness of the persecuting government was that all priests should find themselves in the cities, but Elias, because of his wish to remain with the people entrusted to his care, remained living in a cave at La Gavia, thereby continuing his ministry, especially that of confession and communion.

He carried on this style of life for fourteen months, cut off even from his fellow religious, friars who probably did not even know where he was. One day whilst he was on his way to carry out his sacerdotal duties, he came across a contingent of soldiers. He was dressed as a farmer, but the soldiers noticed that under his white shirt he wore darker clothes, the apparel he used when carrying out his ministry at night amongst Christian families. Elias del Socorro immediately declared that he was a priest and an Augustinian religious, which led to his immediate arrest. There were with him two farmers who offered to accompany him. On 10 March 1928 on their way to Cortazar, the first to be killed were these two who accompanied him; they died by shooting after being given absolution by Fr. Elias. Nearer the city the soldiers’ captain suddenly turned to Fr. Elias and coldly told him that it was his turn. The Augustinian asked for a short time of recollection so as to prepare his soul for such an important moment, when he engrossed himself with prayer.

The last thing he did was to bless the soldiers who were were ready to shoot him and he recited the Creed as a clear sign of his faith whilst they were loading their rifles. As soon as they were ready he shouted the words: “Hail Christ the King!” His life ended at that moment, whist it started in Christ’s embrace, who gave him the palm of martyrdom. Devotion towards this Christ’s martyr spread widely, Indeed, in Malta we find his prayer cards with a prayer in Maltese produced only one year after his death. Pope St. John Paul II beatified him in 1997 and on that occasion said: “The utmost faith in God and in the Mother of Supplication, to whom he was so devoted, carachterised the entire life and priestly ministry of Elia del Socorro Nieves... this Augustinian religious chose to exemplify hope in Christ and in his Divine Providence. Notwithstanding the risks he was encuntering, with his life and martyrdom, it is a fact that Fr. Nieves wanted in no way to abandon his Christian community. This in itself is an invitation for us to renew our faith in God for whom nothing is impossible. He faced death wiht integrity, whilst he blessed his killers, at the same time demonstrating his faith in Christ ..... his Augustinian brethren now have another example to imitate in their eternal search for God, in communion with and in the service of God’s People”.

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