Priest and Martyr
Steadfast commitment to faith has brought many men, women and children throughout Christian history to offer the supreme sacrifice of their lives. Today we remember one such person who did so in the early part of the 20th Century in Mexico, Fr. Elías Nieves, an Augustinian pastor who would not leave his parishioners without the benefit of the sacraments even at the risk of his own life. Fr. Elías reminds us, by his choice, that there are some things more valuable than life itself.
Elías was born in Yuriria, Mexico of modest farming parents in 1882. While young he had a great desire to become a priest, but when he was 12 years old his father was killed by robbers and he was forced to put aside his studies in order to support his family. In 1904, at the age of 21 he was admitted to the Augustinian high school in Yuriria. Though he had to face the challenge of being much older than his fellow students, was lacking financial resources, and suffered from a weak constitution, he was determined to pursue his vocation. In gratitude for all he had received and with intense devotion to our Blessed Lady, on his profession of vows in 1911 he added to his name ‘del socorro’ - in reference to Our Lady of Help. He was ordained in 1916 and exercised his ministry in various places. In 1921 he was named associate pastor of La Cañada de Caracheo (Gto.), an extremely poor pueblo. In 1926 when there began a great persecution of the Mexican Church, priests were ordered to relocate to the cities from small towns. Despite his reticent character, Elías refused to obey and hid in a cave in the hills outside the pueblo in order to continue his ministry under cover. He did this for 14 months before he was finally discovered. He admitted that he was a priest and was arrested with two laymen who offered to stay with him. On March 10, 1928 the three were taken to the city of Cortazar. On the way the two laymen were shot. A little farther along it was the turn of Fr. Elías. The captain of the guard said to him, “Now it is your turn, let’s see if dying is like celebrating the Mass.” Elias blessed the soldiers and recited the Creed. His last words were: “Long live Christ the King”. His remains are preserved in the parish church of La Cañada. Elías was beatified with Mother Teresa Fasce on October 12, 1997.
Fidelity to vocation is a striking characteristic of Blessed Elías, first in his resolve to pursue religious life and priesthood despite multiple, difficult odds, and later in his commitment to minister to his people even at the risk of his own life. Elias stands out as a man of principle and zeal, who witnesses to the power of God’s grace to accomplish mighty deeds in the humble and the meek.