lessed Elias gives men and women of today a shining example of pastoral zeal and courageous witness to the Christian faith.
Marco Elias Nieves del Castillo was born in the Isle of San Pedro, Yuriria (Guananjuato, Mexico) on 21 September 1882. He was the son of Ramon and Rita, two humble and deeply religious farmers.
Early on he showed a great desire to become a priest but circumstances in life prevented it. At the age of twelve, a case of tuberculosis put him at the door of death and months later his father died at the hands of highwaymen. It was necessary for Elias to abandon his studies in order to be able to earn some money with which he could contribute to the support of his family.
In 1904, the Augustinian College of Yuriria had just recently reopened. Despite his scarce preparation and his adult age, he managed to be admitted. The understandable difficulties stemming from seminary studies undertaken by one who was twenty-one years of age and had just abandoned farm duties were overcome with incredible endurance and effort. As a result of the need for economic aid and his weak physical constitution he was on the verge of losing his sight, yet there was always someone to lend a hand. In recognition of help from on high at so many times during his life, upon his profession in 1911 he changed his name from Mateo Elias to Elias del Socorro.
Once ordained to the priesthood in 1916, he practiced his ministry I different localities of Bajio, until 1921 when he was named parochial vicar of La Cañada de Caracheo, a town of around 3,000 inhabitants, situated in the crevices of “Culiacán.” In this obscure center of scarce economic resources, devoid of sanitary services, public schools, and electricity, the works of Padre Nieves were not limited to the spiritual assistance of his flock. Having known all too well from his youth the meaning of manual labor and impoverishment, he was not burdened by the privations of poverty which he dealt with by way of a generous spirit, a jovial disposition, and confidence in divine providence.
It was precisely during these years that there arose the popular movement of the “cristeros.” The servant of God kept himself on the margin of the revolutionary movement that in ways barely echoed among the local population which was very distant ideologically and geographically from the socio-political problematic underlying the revolution. At the end of 1926 when persecutions of the Church broke out, despite his timid character, instead of obeying the government order to reside in the big urban centers, he established himself in a cave near the hill of La Gavia, assuring his faithful in this way of religious assistance, usually under the cover of night. In the fourteen months during which that situation lasted, someone to administer the sacraments or celebrate daily Mass was never lacking.
This clandestine effort came to an end the morning he stumbled across a posse of soldiers, whose attention was caught by what could be made out under his white peasant’s cloak as the vestments he used during his nocturnal ministry. Once interrogated he declared his status as a priest, and was arrested along with two ranchmen, the Sierra brothers, who had offered to accompany the priest. Driven to La Cañada, he opposed the ransom attempts made on part of some of his faithful. He also had the occasion to discuss religious topics with two of the officials who had custody of him, but his luck had run out.
At dawn on 10 March 1928 the military and prisoners set out in the direction of the small urban center of Cortazar upon which La Cañada depended. In his first order, the captain, facing the troops, gave the order to execute the two companions of Padre Nieves, who after going to confession to the Padre died valiantly proclaiming Christ the King as victor. At the next station which was connected to a beautifully landscaped mesquite, near the town, the captain addressed Padre Nieves, saying “Now it is your turn; let us see if dying is like saying Mass.” To which the servant of God responded, “You have spoken the truth, because to die for our religion is a pleasing sacrifice to God.” He requested a few moments to collect his thoughts, then gave over his watch to the captain, gave his blessing to the soldiers kneeling to receive it, and began to recite the creed while they prepared the guns for his execution. His last words were “Long live Christ the King.” Pope John Paul II beatified him in July 1997
The Augustinian Family celebrates his feast on 11 October.
Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000.
Blessed Elias of Socorro Nieves by Mario Ferrari, Rome, Italy.