To help enforce the law, Calles seized church property, expelled all foreign priests, and closed the monasteries, convents and religious schools. In response to these measures, Catholic organizations began to intensify their resistance.
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The most important of these groups was the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, founded in This was joined by the Mexican Association of Catholic Youth founded and the Popular Union, a Catholic political party founded in On 11 July , Catholic bishops voted to suspend all public worship in response to the Calles Law.
This suspension was to take effect on 1 August. On 14 July they endorsed plans for an economic boycott against the government, which was particularly effective in west-central Mexico the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, and Zacatecas. Catholics in these areas stopped attending movies and plays and using public transportation, and Catholic teachers stopped teaching in secular schools. The bishops worked to have the offending articles of the Constitution amended.
Pope Pius XI explicitly approved this plan. The Calles government considered the bishops' activism sedition and had many more churches closed. In September the episcopate submitted a proposal for the amendment of the constitution, but Congress rejected it on 22 September They were involved in a shootout with federal troops and surrendered only when they ran out of ammunition. According to U. The priest and his vicar were killed in the ensuing violence. This execution caused a band of ranchers, led by Pedro Quintanar, to seize the local treasury and declare themselves in rebellion.
At the height of their rebellion they held a region including the entire northern part of Jalisco. His men were defeated by federal troops in the open land around the town but retreated into the mountains, where they continued as guerrillas. This was followed by an uprising in Durango led by Trinidad Mora on 29 September, and a 4 October rebellion in southern Guanajuato, led by former Gen. Rodolfo Gallegos. Both of these rebel leaders adopted guerrilla tactics, as they were no match for the federal troops and air force on open ground.
Meanwhile, the rebels in Jalisco particularly the region northeast of Guadalajara quietly began gathering forces. This declared that "the hour of battle has sounded" and "the hour of victory belongs to God". With the declaration, the state of Jalisco, which had seemed to be quiet since the Guadalajara church uprising, exploded.
Bands of rebels moving in the " Los Altos" region northeast of Guadalajara began seizing villages, often armed with only ancient muskets and clubs. Long live Christ the King! Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe! The rebels had scarce logistical supplies and relied heavily on the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc, raids on towns, trains and ranches in order to supply themselves with money, horses, ammunition and food.
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By contrast, later in the war the Calles government was supplied with arms and ammunition by the US government. In at least one battle, American pilots provided air support for the federal army against the Cristero rebels. The Calles government did not take the threat seriously at first.
The rebels did well against the agraristas a rural militia recruited throughout Mexico and the Social Defense forces local militia , but—at first—were always defeated by the federal troops who guarded the important cities. At this time the federal army numbered 79, men.
When Jalisco federal commander Gen.
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However, these rebels, who had little or no previous military experience for the most part, planned their battles well. Reyes Vega was renowned and Cardinal Davila, deemed him a "black-hearted assassin". At least five priests took up arms, while many others supported them in various ways.
The Mexican episcopate never officially supported the rebellion, but the rebels had some indications that their cause was legitimate. However, they quickly began to lose in the face of superior federal forces, and retreated into remote areas, constantly fleeing federal soldiers. Reyes Vega remained. The media and government declared victory and plans were made for a re-education campaign in the areas that had rebelled. The raid was a success, but Reyes Vega's brother was killed in the fighting.
The "concentration" policy, rather than suppressing the revolt, gave it new life, as thousands of men began to aid and join the rebels in resentment of the cruel treatment of the Federation. When the rains came the peasants were allowed to return to the harvest, and there was now more support than ever for the Cristeros.
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By August they had consolidated their movement and were constantly attacking federal troops garrisoned in their towns. Soon they would be joined by Enrique Gorostieta, a retired general hired by the National League for Religious Liberty. Although Gorostieta was himself a liberal and a skeptic, he would eventually wear a cross around his neck and speak openly of his reliance on God. Fathers Reyes Vega and Pedroza were born soldiers. Pedroza was rigidly moral and faithful to his priestly vows.
However, the fact that the two took up arms at all is problematic from the point of view of Catholic sacramental theology. On 21 June the first brigade of female Cristeros was formed in Zapopan. Joan of Arc.
The brigade began with 17 women, but soon grew to members. Its mission was to obtain money, weapons, provisions and information for the combatant men; they also cared for the wounded. By March there were some 10, women involved.
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Many smuggled weapons into the combat zones by carrying them in carts filled with grain or cement. By the end of the war, they numbered some 25, The de la Torre family, who had close ties to the Catholic Church and clergy, was instrumental in bringing the Cristero Movement to northern Mexico. They moved again to Tampico for economic reasons and finally to Nogales—both the Mexican city and its similarly named sister city across the border in Arizona—to escape persecution from authorities because of their involvement in the Church and the movement.
The Cristeros maintained the upper hand throughout , and in the federal government faced a new crisis: a revolt within army ranks, led by Arnulfo R. The Cristeros tried to take advantage of this with an attack on Guadalajara in late March. Father Vega was killed in that battle.
The military rebellion was met with equal force and the Cristeros were soon facing divisions within their own ranks. On 2 June Gorostieta was killed in an ambush by a federal patrol.