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Revolution recalled in Mexico

Courageous saints near Mexico City suffered abuse, death in difficult era

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — As the 20th century dawned, Mexico found itself once again facing the challenges of war.

By this time however, the Church had gained a foothold in Mexico. Some 4,000 members lived in the colonies, and missionary efforts in the republic during the 1880s had brought more than 300 baptisms, mostly in the area around Mexico City.

Among the converts were the Paez, Perez, Zuniga and Lara families, who had gained testimonies and who aspired to live the gospel as it had been taught to them.

While much has been written of the exodus of members from the Mormon Colonies, little is known of the struggles that the Mexican saints faced during that period. Their lives remain as valuable examples of courage and devotion.

In observing the 90th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, the privately owned Museum of Mormon History — Museo de Historia del Mormonismo en Mexico — opened a new exhibit about the challenges that local Mexican saints endured during the revolution and their efforts to keep the gospel alive.

During the opening weekend of the exhibit Oct. 27, more than 300 people were made aware of the struggles of these early Mexican saints. A DVD presentation was shown and several descendants of martyr Rafael Monroy were in attendance, including Rafael and Amelia Monroy Espejel.

The event was concluded with folk songs by the Coral Mexicano from the Institute of Bellas Artes, directed by Maria Elena Perez, who is not a member, and Pablo Regino Lopez. Many of the singers are not members.

As shown in the museum exhibits, by 1910, conditions became desperate for the local members and missionaries with the resignation of Mexico's President Porfirio Diaz. The situation continued to deteriorate. Four of the brethren of the branch at Cuautla, Morelos, were taken prisoners by the federal soldiers who were stationed there. The brethren were Camilo Ramos, Modesto Ramos, Leandro Linares and Regino Garcia. They were falsely accused of being Zapatistas and were locked up in the barracks at Mexico City.

Then-President Rey L. Pratt visited the brethren and several officials including the Secretary of War, but needed proof that the brethren had nothing to do with the Zapatista movement. Sister Sabina Linares, wife of Leandro Linares, returned to Cuautla to obtain such proof. She accordingly left Mexico City on May 24 going by train as far as Ozumba and then walked and caught rides with travelers along the road with mules and burros, a distance of 30 miles, to Cuautla. There she was successful in getting a passport for each of the brethren from officers of the federal army, who had commanded the "plaza" of Cuautla in times before. She also secured for each of the prisoners a letter signed by 10 of the leading men of Cuautla, all certified as being genuine by the president of the city. With these proofs, she, in company with Sister Rita Ramos, wife of Brother Camilo Ramos, started back on foot for Ozumba on Monday the 26th. After suffering and hardship, they arrived at Ozumba. Sister Rita had her little son and also a nursing baby along and it can be well imagined that their walk was not an easy one.

Despite the conclusive proofs of the innocence of the men in question, nothing was done and the poor fellows were drafted into the army. One, Camilo Ramos, contracted an incurable disease and died in a hospital in 1913. Before he died, he sent $10 to President Pratt to give to his wife, but because of revolutionary conditions, six years passed before President Pratt could deliver the badly needed funds.

On the night of Sunday, July 6, 1913, a young woman, Sister Elena Rojas, was dragged from her home in Tecalco, a neighboring town, by two bandits to take her off with them to their camp in the hills. But her mother would not leave and together they were pushed and dragged by the bandits to the edge of the town. There the girl refused to go further with them, though they tried every means to make her do so. She fought them like a young tigress and was able to stand them off from midnight till 4 in the morning, at which hour, seeing that it would soon be daylight and that they must make their getaway, they placed their guns on her breast, telling her they would kill her if she did not go with them. When they did this the mother of the girl stepped up close behind her daughter and they both told the bandits to shoot, as they preferred death to dishonor. The bandits shot twice into the air, thinking to scare them, but they did not scare, so the bandits turned them loose.

Another member, Sister Julie Olivares of the San Pablo Branch, was denounced as a Zapatista and despite all the efforts of branch members and President Pratt, was taken to Quintana Roo to a slave camp where she died or was executed.

Before leaving Mexico City in 1913, President Pratt spoke with recent convert Rafael Monroy from San Marcos, in the State of Hidalgo, who had just accepted the gospel in June.

As the people who had been converted in the State of Hidalgo would be left without anyone to hold meetings, it was thought best to ordain Bro. Monroy an elder and set him apart to preside over the members in the town of San Marcos and hold meeting with them; Pres. Pratt officiated in the ordination.

During that period that followed, the local saints suffered terribly.

Pres. Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales were later executed in San Marcos, an account well-known among Latter-day saints.

President Pratt and the missionaries left the country in 1913. When President Pratt returned in March of 1921 he wrote: "Only those who have experienced it know the joy of meeting these dear people after so long an absence. Their faithfulness through seven long years that the elders have not been with them, and during which time they have passed through a veritable hell of war, is wonderful."

Despite the terrible conditions that existed in Mexico for those years and the consequent suffering and hardships that the native saints have had to pass through, the branch presidents in most of the branches have been able to keep up their meetings and Sunday schools and the work of the local teachers and home missionaries among the branches. And the saints of the branches have been faithful in attending their meetings and in payment of their tithes and offerings, stated the mission history.

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