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The Catholic Remnant of Mexico

Michael J. Matt POSTED: 9/8/11
Editor, The Remnant  

Padre Romo accepts Padre Pro's

challenge to keep Mexico Catholic Some months ago I had the pleasure of visiting a good friend and Remnant ally in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  I was invited by my host to attend a meeting and spend a couple of days with a young priest who is operating a traditional Latin Mass apostolate in Guadalajara, Mexico.  In fact, I’d met Father once before, and had actually been able to attend his ordination back in 2008.

“Come to Mexico,” my friend had written, “and get to know ‘Padre  Romo’— a young priest who’s doing great work here in the heart of Cristero country.”

“Padre Romo”—Fr. Jonathan Romanoski, FSSP—did not disappoint.  A two-fisted, man’s priest, this “gentle giant” seems to be waging something of a holy war against anti-Catholicism wherever it rears its ugly head.  Fluent in Spanish (though he grew up near Pittsburgh, I believe), Father’s spirit and enthusiasm reminded me of that of the missionaries of old, especially in his obvious affection for the Mexican people and an earnest desire to restore the Catholic Faith to them. It seemed to me that Father Romanoski would be perfectly content to spend the rest of his life hard at work in the Catholic vineyard south of the Rio Grande.

I served Father’s Mass at the chapel of Nostra Senora del Carmen, not once but twice.  This was special for me since the place harbored memories from some years ago. My wife and I had visited this little chapel on our honeymoon back in 1996.  At that time, of course, there was no chance—not even a passing thought!—of the Traditional Mass ever being offered in the heart of the tourist district of one of Mexico’s most popular resort towns.  And, yet, here we were, 15 years later—a young traditionalist priest at the altar, Mexican faithful in the pews, and curious tourists slipping through the back door to have a look at the ancient Rite of the Catholic Church.  In 1996 no one could have imagined such a thing—Catholic Tradition rising in Mexico, young priests, both from the Society of St. Pius X as well as the Fraternity of St. Peter, bringing the old Latin Mass back to the “remnant of Mexico” that has kept the Faith, as well as to so many young people, young families, who are being introduced to Catholic Tradition and coming to make it their own. Obviously, anything is possible with God!

As we walked through the crowded streets of Playa del Carmen on our way back from Mass, it was both instructive and exhilarating to see the reaction of tourists and natives alike at the sight of a strapping young priest in cassock, walking down the middle of the street like he owned the place. In a sense, he does!  Mexico was Catholic for half a millennium. A Catholic priest in cassock should never have become the anomaly in Mexico that it is, and Father Romo and his fellow priests are doing what they can to make sure it won’t be for much longer. 

The honor of being a member of Christ’s holy priesthood is manifestly obvious in this young man, even from blocks away. An American couple having lunch in an outdoor cafe saw us walking past and flagged Father down. Without hesitation, he stepped over to their table and greeted  them warmly.  They wanted a blessing, and perhaps they also wished to be sure their eyes weren’t playing tricks on them.  Anyway, Father seemed happy to oblige, even donning his purple stole right there in the street in order to bless some religious artifacts the couple had purchased.  Not something one sees in Playa del Carmen every day, I suspect.  I’ve rarely seen a priest more at home in his own skin…or his cassock!

Next day one of Mexico’s notoriously corrupt policemen pulled us over as we drove through town. From behind the wheel, my friend had just warned us of the police corruption problem.  A few moments later, there  we were, parked on the roadside, the blue light of a policeman’s motorcycle flashing in the  rearview mirror. It was a bit eerie, really, since evidently these fellows get to do pretty much whatever they want to do, including demand pay-offs euphemistically referred to as “fines”. 

The officer approached the driver side window and, after a brief discussion, demanded that my friend either pay the “fine” or come down to the station with him.

Sitting up front in the passenger’s seat, Father Romo leaned over and looked the policeman in the eye. In flawless Spanish, he asked him if he attends Mass on Sunday. 

What? I couldn’t believe my ears, and I don’t even speak Spanish! Who is this guy, Don Camillo?

“Por qué no?” Father prodded, matter-of-factly, and the two continued in that vein for several moments, after which it became obvious that the officer was still absolutely determined to exact the “fine”.

He took my friend’s driver’s license, and returned to his motorcycle.

Unperturbed, Father Romanoski opened the car door and proceeded to follow the officer back to his motorcycle.

“Oh, boy, here we go!” I muttered to my friend, who remained seated behind the wheel of the car, wallet in hand—ready to pay.

 Craning my neck, I tried to see what was happening. It was like something out of an old movie. A priest in black cassock towering over a police officer in helmet, sunglasses and snazzy uniform.  Some conversation was taking place but Father Romo looked so relaxed he might have been asking the cop for an extra doughnut. He smiled down at the little fellow, and then, to our astonishment, raised his hand in blessing over the motorcycle, before turning on his heel and returning to our vehicle.

Seconds later the officer also returned, handing  my friend’s driver’s license back through the window as he wished us all a good day. No “fine”, no ticket, no trip to the police station.

“What did you say to him, Father?”

“Oh, nothing really. I just offered to bless his motorcycle.  Dangerous work, this police business.”

In other words, we’ll never know what he said, and Father obviously had no wish to gloat. He seemed to regard the poor policeman as yet another one of his lost strays of Mexico—in need of a shepherd, guidance, charity, and a restored Roman Catholic Church. Whatever Padre Romo said, I suspect our friend on the motorcycle received more food for thought in those few minutes than he’d gotten in years.  After all, and as everyone knows, there’s no talking your way out of a run-in with corrupt Mexican polícia!   Evidently, you can run Mexicans out of church but you’ll never run the Church out of Mexicans.

I invited Father Romo to share a few words about his apostolate in Mexico with readers of The Remnant, in hopes that we might be able to help his apostolate.  He agreed, and the letter that follows is penned by him.  But in fact I told a little white lie. I actually wanted so share Father Romanoski and his story with Remnant readers so that they could be as inspired by him as I was.  His mission needs our help, surely, and I encourage readers to consider lending a hand.  But what hope these young priests offer us all!  Where did they come from?  How did they escape Hotel California?  How did they keep the faith? What inspired them to leave their homes, friends and families to become soldiers of Christ in faraway lands? They stand as living proof that God is still with His Church, that this thing is  far from over, and that the Catholic side will never raise the white flag.  The growing army of young priests like Father Jonathan Romanoski guarantees it! ...MJM

+ JMJ +

Dear Mr. Michael Matt and friends of the Remnant,

Greetings from Fr. Jonathan Romanoski FSSP in Guadalajara México. As you may have heard the Fraternity of St. Peter opened up its second Latin American apostolate two years ago in the “holy land” of Mexico. I say “holy land” as the area of Guadalajara, Jalisco was in many ways the heart of the Cristero movement less than a century ago, when valiant Catholics rose up, ready to shed their blood in defense of the one true faith that Christ is King of all the earth, against a Masonic government which had prohibited all public worship, and was literally hunting down priests to kill them.

I am sure that you have all heard of el niño Cristero, Bl. José Sanchez del Río, who at 14 yrs. of age, begged his mother leave to join the Catholic army, telling her that never was it so easy to gain heaven as now.

Taken captive, he was told that he would never see his parents again if he did not join the enemy’s ranks. He told them to tell his parents that they would see each other in heaven, and as they stabbed him to death he cried out “long live Christ the King, long live Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

This is the patrimony of faith of our dear Mexican people here, who boast more canonized saints from this one state, than there are in all the Americas combined. The eldest among them still have memories of the persecution when public masses were not permitted. It is a faith that inspires many vocations as well. The Archdiocese of Guadalajara boasts the highest number of vocations in the world, with well over a thousand seminarians, their minor seminaries very much in operation still.

Hence our ever wise superior general deemed it fit to plant the base of the future growth of the Fraternity of St. Peter in Latin America, here in this fertile soil. Yet as we know from the parable of Our Lord, the devil is always sewing chaff to suffocate the wheat of Christ. And the persecution is in some way worse than before, as so many now voluntarily put their faith in danger by viewing bad programs on television, listening to worldly music, and conforming to a pop-culture so poisonous to a good, holy catholic life.

Hence we have plenty of work to accomplish, and it is indeed the crucial time to salvage and foment what remains of catholic civilization, and to speak boldly against modern evils which so few pastors do. We see very much the providence of God in our apostolate here, as we introduce once again the traditional Mass, source and summit of our traditional catholic culture, to the Archdiocese while there yet remains such traditional sensibilities in the hearts of the faithful, despite the ignorance and opposition which so often accompany the first phase of the return of the traditional Mass.

But thanks be to God we were invited by a very traditional Cardinal, who neither allows communion in the hand nor girl “altar-boys.” At the visit of the Very Rev. John Berg, the Cardinal elevated us to the status of a quasi-parish, but with only two more years in the church that we use now.  And thus we embark upon an urgent fundraising project to obtain our own property for the exclusive celebration of the Mass of the ages, to continue our work in perpetuity in the land of the Cristeros, and to have one day soon a house of formation for Latin American candidates for the priesthood.  And so I beg first of all your prayers, that our Lord grants success to the work of our hands, and humbly ask that you consider in your charity a donation to this important work for the expansion of the FSSP throughout the Americas.

Donations can be sent directly to the FSSP headquarters in Scranton at the address below, noted that it is for the FSSP Mexican apostolate. If you would like more info on our apostolate down here, or if you know of any who might be interested to help us in any way in this project, please feel free to contact us, Fr. Ken Fryar FSSP, [email protected]; Fr. Jonathan Romanoski FSSP, [email protected]. An American tel. number at which one can reach us is 402-403-1783.

May God himself be your reward!

Viva Cristo Rey!

Donations FOR FSSP MEXICAN APOSTOLATE can be sent to: Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter North American District Headquarters Griffin Road, PO Box 196 Elmhurst, PA 18416

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