I have had a vague memory of seeing a cheesy church-produced film in my youth involving two Mexican men who were executed by Emiliano Zapata’s guerrillas during the Mexican Revolution.
According to the film, these men were killed because they refused to renounce their Mormon faith. Here is the account as told in the current Book of Mormon teacher resource manual:
“A neighbor of the Monroys, fiercely opposed to their religious activities, went to the Zapata headquarters and denounced Rafael as a Carranzista and as a Mormon.
“Soldiers surrounded the Monroy house. Rafael was arrested together with Vicente, a member of the Church who happened to be visiting there. ‘Give up your arms,’ the soldiers demanded.
“Drawing from his pocket a Bible and a Book of Mormon, Rafael answered, ‘Senores, there are the only arms I ever carry. They are the arms of truth against error.’
“The two men were tortured, threatened and told to renounce their religion. ‘My religion is dearer to me than my life and I cannot forsake it,’ Rafael declared.
“He spent the afternoon in jail reading and explaining the scriptures to his fellow prisoners and to the guards. At 7 p.m. his mother brought some food. Rafael blessed it, but did not eat. ‘I am fasting today,’ he said.
“Moments later he and Vicente were marched to a large tree on the outskirts of San Marcos. They were offered their freedom if they would forsake their religion and join the Zapatistas. They refused.
“Rafael was allowed to pray. He knelt, and asked protection for his family, for the little branch. Finally, he prayed for his executioners, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’
“Rising and folding his arms, he announced, ‘Senores, I am at your service.’
“‘Never have I seen men die more courageously,’ the soldier said” (“Two Members Died Courageously for the Truth,” Church News, 12 Sept. 1959, 19).
As a boy I was deeply impressed by this story of faith. Truly these men were martyrs for the cause.
The problem is that it’s not true. According to an article by Mark Grover of BYU, the men were killed because they had been accused of being supporters of Venustiano Carranza, Zapata’s enemy, and of having a hidden cache of weapons. Further, they were known to have associated with American missionaries and businessmen, which made them suspect to the Carranzistas.
Their religion was involved only tangentially. According to Monroy’s mother:
“As the days pass we are finding out little by little that also in this town there were false witnesses that helped to condemn to death my son saying that he perverted the people and taught a kind of religion and that he was a mormon and that word that they had not before heard they interpreted as some very bad thing and hatred and ill will follow us with the stories.”
The Zapatistas had never heard of Mormons, making it unlikely that the men were told to deny their faith; and there were no witnesses to the execution other than the Zapatistas, who didn’t mention anything about renouncing faith.
So, where did this incredibly faith-promoting story come from? It was related by mission president Rey Pratt, who seems to have laid things on more thickly with each telling.
It drives me crazy that, every time I dig into these faith-promoting stories, they turn out to be completely bogus. Brigham Young transfigured into Joseph Smith? Nope. Seagull miracle? Nope. Mexican martyrs? Nope.