Wednesday, November 23, 2011

(42) Blessed Padre Miguel Pro S.J.: 20th Century Mexican Martyr for Christ the King

       Today, just a few days after the feast of Christ the King, we celebrate the feast day of Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, a Jesuit priest. He was born in Guadalupe in the state of Zacatecas, Mexico on January 13, 1891, the third of 11 children (four died in infancy) of a mining engineer and a pious and charitable mother. Two of his sisters entered the convent. He was a high spirited and happy kid. Growing up among miners, he developed a special love for the working classes. 
  
        In his youth, Miguel contracted a life threatening brain infection. The medical prognosis was that even if he did survive, he would be almost an imbecile. His father, prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe and placed her image before him. Miraculously, he was suddenly cured. Another time, his foot got caught in a railroad track. As the speeding train thundered toward him, Miguel desperately prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico and all the Americas, to spare him from purgatory. Again Mary saved his life as he barely pulled his foot out of the shoe in the last second. God had a special mission for Miguel that continues from heaven and his story that inspires millions.

       In Mexico, a new constitution for the country had been signed.  Five articles of the 1917 Constitution of Mexico were particularly aimed at suppression of the Catholic Church. Article 3 mandated secular education in schools, prohibiting the Church from participating in primary and secondary education. Article 5 outlawed monastic religious orders. Article 24 forbade public worship outside of church buildings, while Article 27 restricted religious organizations' rights to own property. Finally, Article 130 took away basic civil rights of members of the clergy: priests and religious were prevented from wearing their habits, were denied the right to vote, and were not permitted to comment on public affairs in the press. Most of the anti-clerical provisions of the constitution were removed in 1998.

        In 1911 at the age of 20 he entered the Jesuit Novitiate. Since it is the most intellectual order of the Church, he underwent years of intense study. Because of the Mexican Revolution, anti-clericalism, and intense persecution, he and the other Jesuits fled to Los Gatos, California, where he spent the rest of his novitiate. His major studies were in Granada, Spain (1915-1919). Then he taught in Nicaragua (1919-1922), and finished his theological studies in Enghien, Belgium, where he was finally ordained in 1925. His first assignment as a priest was to work with the miners of Charleroi, Belgium. Despite the socialist and communist tendencies of the workers, he was able to win them over and preach the Gospel to them (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_Pro ).

         After three unsuccessful operations for severe stomach ulcers, his superiors allowed him to return to Mexico in 1926 in spite of religious persecution. The churches were closed and priests were in hiding. During the 1920s, Mexico was ruled by the virulently anti-Catholic President Plutarco Calles, who began what Graham Greene called “the fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth”.  During the month of October 1927, 300 Catholics were executed for publicly professing their faith. Calles once openly boasted: “I have a personal hatred for Christ”.  In 1921, a terrorist placed a bomb mixed with flowers before the venerable image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Every window in the basilica was broken, an image of St. James was destroyed, and a bronze cross was bent out of shape. But nothing happened either to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe nor the glass covering. 

        Among the many Catholic groups who most vigorously opposed the oppressive Calles regime were the Cristeros. It amounted to a civil war, referred to as the Cristero War which caused 90,000 deaths from 1926-1929.  Padre Miguel and two of his brothers were involved in the Cristero Movement in opposition. Blessed Miguel clandestinely under different disguises heroically ministered to the people.......assisting the poor of Mexico City with their temporal and spiritual needs.

                                                  
This is a rare photo of Pro, taken while he preached a conference to the chauffeurs (bus and taxi drivers) and disguised



This is a rare photo of Blessed Pro, taken while he preached a conference to the chauffeurs (bus and taxi drivers) and disguised as a mechanic.

        In his own words, "Imagine fifty noisy chauffeurs, their Tejano (Texan) cap and a lock of hair over the eye and spitting prodigiously. Fine types with their rough, unpolished manners..." (In Spanish, he called them people of "pro" which means "quality or goodness.") He continued, "Needless to stress the solemnity of the conferences in a spacious yard, surrounded with an iron grating. Disguised as a mechanic, my cap pulled over my forehead, I elbow my sympathetic congregation... (he had to keep them moving around, in his words, "like cattle", so people passing by wouldn't realize it was a religious conference where he was preaching). God bless every chauffeur in the world!" This is taken from Ann Ball's book above. You can obtain it from her web site at (http://annball.com/books/miguel.shtml)

The Message of Father Pro
       "We ought to speak, shout out against injustices, with confidence and without fear. We proclaim the principles of the Church, the reign of love, without forgetting that it is also a reign of justice." - Miguel Agustin Pro, S.J.
A Prayer of Father Pro
       "Does our life become from day to day more painful, more oppressive, more replete with afflictions? Blessed be He a thousand times who desires it so. If life be harder, love makes it also stronger, and only this love, grounded on suffering, can carry the Cross of my Lord Jesus Christ. Love without egotism, without relying on self, but enkindling in the depth of the heart an ardent thirst to love and suffer for all those around us: a thirst that neither misfortune nor contempt can extinguish... I believe, O Lord; but strengthen my faith... Heart of Jesus, I love Thee; but increase my love. Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigor to my confidence. Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee; but so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee. Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine; but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it in practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life.
                                           
                                                       
        Falsely accused of being part of a plot to assassinate the tyrannical former Mexican President Álvaro Obregón during his election campaign, Fr. Pro and his brother Humberto were wanted men and became fugitives.  Betrayed to police, they were sentenced to death without any legal process. With that as a pretext, the Calles regime rounded up a number of others for a mass execution. Below is a mug shot of Blessed Padre Miguel Pro made by the police on the day of the execution. Notice his heroic serenity, certainly a reflection of his tremendous faith.

        The Government called the Press to cover the execution of the “plotters” to intimate other Cristeros as well as the people in general and show Catholics, particularly priests as a cowardly people who would give up their faith when faced with death. Among the many photos of the execution on November 23, 1927 are the following:
                           


        One soldier apologized while taking Padre Pro from the jail to the execution site. When the Major in charge asked Blessed Miguel Padre Pro whether he wanted to express a last will. He only asked for permission to pray which was granted (above left photo). He blessed and forgave his executioners, even thanking them (for the privilege of being a martyr for Christ). Then the saintly Jesuit said: "May God have mercy on you. May God bless you." He briskly walked to the stake and bravely refused to be blind folded. Standing erect with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other (above right), the future saint raised his arms in a cruciform in an imitation of Christ, the position of our Lord and King's passion and death on the cross. Just after the command “Ready, aim”, the valiant priest cried out: “Viva Cristo Rey!”.......”Long live Christ the King”.  A split second later his body was riddled with bullets.
           The first shots of the firing squad may have failed to kill Padre Pro.  To make sure a 20th Century centurion is shown on the right shooting him point blank in the head.  The father of the two executed brothers found the corpses of his sons in the hospital and tenderly kissed each one.  He comforted his daughter: “There is nothing to weep over, my child.” How true regarding a saint in Heaven, who never had to make the stopover in purgatory.  Blessed Miguel's childhood prayer was answered.

        The strategy of making this a show execution backfired.  On the following day, thirty thousand people bravely flocked to the funeral and its procession (See photo below). As they silently drove along, flowers were strewn before the martyrs’ path and dropped down from hundreds of balconies. Then the chanting started. Before long, thousands were picking it up. And the thundering roar that shook the capital city on the day that the beloved Padre Pro was buried, was soon echoing all over Mexico: "Long live the martyrs! Long live the Mexican clergy! Long live the Catholic religion! Long live our bishops and priests! Long live the Pope! Lord, if You want martyrs, here is our blood!" (Taken from www.thesacredheart.com/sts/pro.htm)

                                                                                 

      The photos gave such eloquent testimony of his faith and courage that the regime forbade even the very possession of one of these photos.  Pictures on newspapers all over Mexico and the world embolden the Cristeros to continue on. Eventually, the persecution decreased.  However, there still were anti-clerical and anti-Catholic laws on the books that were gradually overlooked and most were repealed.  As far as I know, priests and nuns cannot wear habits or clerical garb. Private Catholic schools are still not permitted and the freedom of the Church to exercise its mission is limited.


        Blessed Padre Miguel Pro became a martyr and hero among the people.  Although better known in the United States than Mexico, the young Jesuit priest became a national and international hero. On September 25, 1988, Padre Miguel was beatified by Pope John Paul II, who then said:

      “Neither suffering nor serious illness, neither the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away. Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to him, even unto death.[8]

        Eventually he will be a canonized saint of the Catholic Church. Relics of Blessed Miguel Pro can be found in the Mary chapel of St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. More information about the life of Blessed Miguel Pro can be found at:

        For an eloquent homily by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix on Blessed Miguel Pro, go to


    The persecutions in Mexico (1920s), Spain (1930s), Nazism, Communism, radical Islamic Militancy, and Secularism are all part of a common struggle as prophetically noted by a Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1976, two years before becoming Pope:

We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church… must take up.” (Karol Cardinal Wojtyla Sept. 1976)



                                                     











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