by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Shouts of “Viva Cristo Rey!” echoed across the parking lot at Church of the Holy Cross here on Oct. 16 as parishioners prepared to celebrate the canonization of Jose Sanchez del Rio.
It was those same words the now-saint spoke at 14 years old as he was tortured, stabbed and shot to death in 1928 for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith.
To honor the young saint, the parish held a procession around the church parking lot, followed by a Spanish Mass and veneration of a first-class relic.
“I think he’s such an important saint — not just because of his story and his heroism, his virtue and youth,” said Father Anthony Saiki, associate pastor of Holy Cross, “but because he was fighting for religious freedom, and that’s such a prevalent topic for us today.”
Father Saiki came up with the idea to commemorate the saint in a big way after receiving the relic as a gift.
“It was actually upon receiving it that I thought we had to do something massive to celebrate him since he’s here — not just spiritually, but even physically with us,” he said.
Because Holy Cross has a large Hispanic community, Father Saiki and the parish staff hoped for a good turnout.
Claudia Bustos, the parish’s bilingual assistant and receptionist, helped organize the event and did so with “lots of prayer.”
“I think as soon as [parishioners] captured the message during one of Father Saiki’s homilies, it wasn’t hard to bring people together for this,” she said.
As a multitude of attendees arrived on the parish grounds, they began to lift up reverent prayers and passionate shouts of “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King”), with particular enthusiasm exuded by families originally from St. Jose’s home state in Mexico.
“It is a very proud moment for all of the Hispanic community here at Holy Cross, all of the Mexican community, but really the whole church,” said Father Saiki.
During his homily, Father Saiki shared his overwhelming joy with those in attendance.
“Not only do we have a heavenly friend and brother, but a teacher,” he said.
“He teaches us how we can get to heaven by uniting all we have to our Lord,” he added, “and never risking the tremendous gift that has been given us by him in our Catholic faith.
“I hope with all my heart, with all my being, that we consider St. Jose Luis a patron of our community, a constant intercessor, a perpetual light, an eternal example to us now as we move forward to fight for holiness.”
Father Saiki also read a letter from Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who could not be there.
“Today, we celebrate the courageous witness of a young man, no more than 14 years old, who chose Christ, the church and the truth over anything that this world had to offer, even over his own comfort, his own freedom and his own life,” the archbishop wrote.
“Please be assured of the joy I share with you on this great occasion in the life of the church!” he said.
At the end of Mass, Father Saiki gave a special blessing to the youth.
“[Jose] faced physical oppression and physical persecution for his beliefs,” he said later. “Many of our young people are facing a sort of persecution on an emotional level and on an ideological level with secularism in the world.
“Even with the advance of social media and communications, it’s difficult to profess the faith, to witness the faith.”
Events like this, said Bustos, would not be possible without Father Saiki’s support.
“I truly appreciate all the effort he puts into our community,” she said.
“If it wasn’t for his hard work, dedication and appreciation of our culture and people, I don’t think things would be going as well as they are right now,” she said.
Father Saiki is just grateful for the chance to reach out to his parishioners through a celebration like this.
“I hope that my people, my parishioners, my parish family — that they do see [St. Jose] as an example,” he said. “And like he said at every moment of temptation and trial, ‘Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Christ the King!’”