Meet Julián Fidalgo: 19-year-old actor stars as Mexican teen martyr in new movie

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Saint José Sánchez del Río — a boy who sacrificed his life for God during the Cristero War in Mexico — is a saint for young people, according to the actor who plays him in a new film.

“He was a kid from Mexico and [while he was] only 14 years old, he already knew what were his priorities and his commitment to God,” Julián Fidalgo told Our Sunday Visitor. “I think that’s what I want people to have in mind, that even a 14-year-old already has an idea of what he wants in his life and what are his goals and his devotion to Christ.”

Fidalgo stars as Saint José Sánchez del Río in the new movie “Mirando al Cielo,” which hits theaters for one day on Tuesday, April 18. Written and directed by Antonio Peláez and produced along with his wife Laura Peláez, the film in Spanish will include English subtitles for American audiences.

A recently canonized saint

The movie comes after Pope Francis canonized Saint José Sánchez del Río a saint in 2016. Born in 1913, he lived during the Cristero War when Catholics fought to defend the faith as the Mexican government attempted to suppress the Church’s influence.

Saint José Sánchez del Río is said to have pleaded with his mother to let him join, saying, as he does in the movie, “It has never been so easy to earn Heaven.” He was later captured, tortured, and killed.

The saint and the actor who plays him, Fidalgo, share a lot in common. Both are Catholic. Both are from Mexico. And, when Fidalgo stepped into the saint’s shoes as an actor, five years ago, he was the same age as the saint when he died a martyr.

Starring as Saint José Sánchez del Río, Fidalgo said, “made me be more in touch with God and especially with [the saint].”

“I have never had that kind of connection or experience and it couldn’t be more connected than performing and acting, being in the shoes of the saint, right?” he said. “I think that’s what makes it more special.”

He most enjoyed acting in the scenes where he travels to meet the Cristero fighters, he said. His favorite parts while watching the movie were the war scenes — and the torture scenes, he added, because they allowed him to help viewers empathize with what the saint endured.

Fidalgo hoped that the film would impact viewers. The intention of the movie, he described, is to leave people thinking and reflecting on their own faith while learning about the young martyr.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Saint José Sánchez del Río’s devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe appears in the film, Fidalgo and the producer, Laura Peláez, told OSV.

Fidalgo highlighted a scene when the saint’s mother gifts him with a medal of the “Virgen de Guadalupe.”

“There are also moments in the movie where San Jose grabs his medal, when he feels he needs some protection and he feels he needs to, in a sort of way, [get] in contact with his mother,” he said, “because that medal is his connection to his mother when he’s away from her.”

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe also appears on a flag that the saint carries in the film.

Peláez recalled a scene that takes place when the saint is imprisoned. At one point, he speaks with another boy in jail, Lorenzo, asking him if he knows Our Lady of Guadalupe. When Lorenzo says yes, the saint reminds him of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s words of comfort.

“He says that Our Lady of Guadalupe said, ‘Do not be afraid. I’m here with you,'” Peláez remembered.

The film in theaters on April 18 will include additional commentary on the saint and the film, including from Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, Sr. Nancy Usselmann, F.S.P., the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, and Rafael Sánchez, the nephew of Saint José Sánchez del Río.

Katie Yoder is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.

Katie Yoder

Katie Yoder is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.