Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Viva Cristo Rey! Armando Valladares Recalls the Beginnings of True Faith

This brief excerpt from Armando Valladares' compelling memoir of his 22 years in a Castro prison, Against All Hope, tells of the development of his Christian faith while facing those first horrible months in La Cabana prison...

...Every night there were firing squads.

When I heard discharges of the rifles, I would be seized with horror, and I embraced Christ in desperation. I had come to prison with some religious feeling; my beliefs were genuine but no doubt superficial at that time, since they had never been submitted to hard trial. I held to the religion I had learned at home and at school, but it was very much like a man who has acquired good manners or who carries along the lessons of the things he first learns to read, without examining them. But very quickly I began to experience a substantial change in the nature of my beliefs.

At first no doubt I embraced Christ out of the fear of losing my life – since I was certainly in danger of being shot at any time. But that path I took in approaching Him, however human it was, still seemed unsatisfactory and incomplete, merely utilitarian, to me. There came a moment when, seeing those young men full of courage depart to die before the firing squad and shout “Viva Cristo Rey!” at the fateful instant, I not only understood instantly, as though by a sudden revelation, that Christ was indeed there for me at the moments when I prayed not to be killed, but realized as well that He served to give my life, and my death if it came to that, ethical meaning. Both my life and my death would be dignified by my belief in Him.

It was at that moment, I am sure, and not before, that Christianity became, more than a religious faith, a way of life for me. Because of my situation, it seemed my life would necessarily be a life of resista
nce, but I would be sustained in it by a soul filled with love and hope.

Those cries of the executed patriots – “Long live Christ the King! Down with Communism!” – had awakened me to a new life as they echoed through the two-hundred-year-old moats of the fortress. The cries became such a potent and stirring symbol that by 1963 the men condemned to death were gagged before being carried down to be shot. The jailers feared those shouts. They could not afford to allow even that last courageous cry from those about to die.

That rebellious, defiant gesture at the supreme moment, that show of bravery and integrity by those who were about to die, could easily become a bad example for the soldiers. It might even make them think about what they are doing...

To find out find out more about Armando Valladeres, this article is a good start. You can order the revised edition of Against All Hope here at (You might also like to read through this excellent review of Against All Hope by Dr. Rafael E. Saumell, an Associate Professor of Spanish at Sam Houston State University. Dr. Saumell is also Cuban and a former political prisoner.)