Father Atilano Cruz Alvarado was ordained during the Cristero War (1926–29), a civil revolt by the Cristeros (Soldiers of Christ) against the anti-Catholic policies pushed by Plutarco Elías Calles, who enforced the anti-clerical articles of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, which sought to eliminate the power of the Catholic Church.
A a few months after his ordination, he was assigned to replace Father Toribio Romo Gonzalez, who had been executed by federal soldiers for being a Catholic priest.
On June 29, 1928, Father Atilano Cruz Alvarado traveled to the nearby Las Cruces ranch to meet with his pastor, Father Justino Orona Madrigal.
Two days later, July 1, at dawn, federal soldiers swarmed the ranch and executed Father Justino Orona Madrigal. Hearing the gunshots, Father Atilano Cruz Alvarado kneeled to pray, waiting until the soldiers found and executed him.