¡ Viva Cristo Rey !: Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J.
Miguel Pro was born January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico to the mining family of Miguel and Josefa Pro. As a boy he was an outgoing, fun-loving, practical joker. At family gatherings he was the musician who played the guitar or mandolin. He wasn’t especially religious as a young man. For a while he was rather cool to his religion. But he felt called to the priesthood and when he was 20 years old, entered the Jesuit seminary.
1910 was the start of a revolution in Mexico that was especially hostile to the Catholic Church. By 1914 the fighting came close to the Jesuit seminary. Its rector decided to hide anything of value, provide all the Jesuits with street clothes, and evacuate the premises. On August 15th Miguel and his companions left town and eventually wound up in Laredo, Texas. From there they journeyed to Jesuit houses in California, Nicaragua, Spain and Belgium where he was finally ordained a priest in 1925. Miguel returned to Mexico in 1926. Within weeks the government prohibited all public church services and ordered the arrest of all priests. Father Miguel started to work undercover as a priest and secretly brought people communion.
Two of Father Miguel’s brothers were active in the resistance and belonged to the Religious Defense League. A few times Miguel was thrown into jail with his brothers but was able to be released. Finally the police issued a warrant for his arrest. Fr. Pro responded by going about in disguise. Once he dressed as a mechanic in order to preach to a group of taxi drivers. Another time, when the police were chasing him down a busy street, he ran up to a young woman, locked arms with her and whispered, “Help me, I’m a priest.” The young woman obliged and the “couple” walked away unnoticed.
The way Father Pro usually travelled around town was by bicycle. He would stop and give communion to parishioners in one place, then go off to another to hear confessions, perform marriages or visit the sick. He also distributed food and clothing to the poor.
On November 13, 1927 a car drove up alongside the car of the Mexican President General Calles and tossed a bomb at him. The General escaped without injury but was determined to punish his attackers. Police discovered that the rebels’ car at one time belonged to Miguel’s brother Humberto Pro. Though all the Pro brothers had solid alibis, they were all marked men. A couple of days after the bombing Father Pro was celebrating Mass for a group of sisters. After Mass he told the Mother Superior: “Some time ago, Sister, I offered my life to God as a sacrifice for Mexico. This morning at Mass I felt that he had accepted it.” The police soon captured the three brothers and without a trial they were sentenced to death by firing squad. In jail Father Pro counseled his brothers, the other prisoners and even the jailer.
General Calles wanted to make an example of Father Pro and his brothers. He invited the press, photographers and others to attend the execution. He hoped to portray Mexican Catholics as cowards.
Father Pro was the first prisoner led out to execution. One of the policemen who had arrested him turned, and with tears in his eyes, begged Father Pro to forgive him for what he had done. Father Pro put his arm around the policeman’s shoulders and said, “You not only have my forgiveness, you also have my thanks.” The priest also asked God’s pardon for all the police assigned to the firing squad…
Inside the prison courtyard, General Cruz granted Father Miguel Pro’s final request to have a few moments for prayer. Father Pro knelt silently for two minutes then stood up. He was offfered a blindfold but refused. Instead he stretched out his arms in the form of a cross and said in a loud voice, “Viva, Cristo Rey” (“Long live Christ the King!”) Shots rang out from the firing squad and Father Pro fell to the ground. He was still breathing, so General Cruz walked over and fired a final rifle shot to the priest’s head…
Sometime before his death, Father Pro told a friend, “If I ever get arrested and wind up in Heaven, get ready to ask me for favors.” He also joked that if he came upon any somber-looking saints in heaven, he would do a Mexican hat dance to cheer them up. At his funeral an old blind woman in the crowd who came to touch his body left with her sight restored. Others testified to his miraculous help within a week of his death…
– From a homily by Father Peter Grace, CP Saint Ann’s Basilica, Scranton, PA
Patrick Madrid: Bd. Miguel Pro, modern martyr
…Because the Church had been driven underground, Pro received permission from his superiors to return to Mexico incognito and to carry on his ministry undercover. He slipped into Mexico City and immediately began celebrating Mass and distributing the sacraments, often under imminent threat of discovery by a police force charged with the task of ferreting out hidden pockets of Catholicism.
Pro had many narrow escapes. Once, after celebrating Mass in a home, he received just enough warning to be able to slip out a side door before the police surrounded the place. With characteristic bravado, Pro changed into a police inspector’s uniform (one of the many disguises he made use of while eluding authorities) and went back to the very house where the police were busy hunting for him. Swaggering up to the policeman in charge, Pro demanded to know why they hadn’t yet succeeded in capturing “that rascal Pro.” None the wiser, the abashed officer promised to redouble the search efforts.
Another time, Pro was in a taxi being pursued through the streets of Mexico City by several police cars. Ordering the driver to slow down as he rounded a corner, Pro rolled out of the car, lit a cigar, and began strolling arm in arm with an attractive (and startled) young woman. When the police roared by, in hot pursuit of the now Pro-less taxi, they paid no attention to the romantic young couple on the sidewalk.
He became known throughout the city as the undercover priest who would show up in the middle of the night, dressed as a beggar or a street sweeper, to baptize infants, hear confessions, distribute Communion, or perform marriages. Several times, disguised as a policeman, he slipped unnoticed into the police headquarters itself to bring the sacraments to Catholic prisoners before their executions. Using clandestine meeting places, a wardrobe of disguises (including policeman, chauffeur, garage mechanic, farm laborer, and playboy), and coded messages to the underground Catholics who received his notes signed “Cocol,” Pro carried on his priestly work for the Mexican faithful under his care…
Robert Royal: Father Miguel Pro: A Mexican Hero
…Thousands of Catholics died in the same anti-Catholic wave, though few people anywhere, especially in the United States, remember their martyrdom today. President Calles was not only wrong about how Pro would die, he was wrong about Mexico as a whole. Though anti-clerical propaganda long tried to portray the Mexican clergy as corrupt, few of them, few enough to count on one hand, renounced the Faith or caved in to government pressures, even facing death. They all showed a heroic faith so deep that many, like Christ, calmly forgave their executioners before they died.
Americans who go to Mexico today rightly think of it as among the most Catholic nations on earth. Churches and religious festivals are everywhere. Most Mexicans are deeply devout and specially attached to Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is hard to believe that for several decades the Mexican people were subjected to religious outrages equal to anything that even Communism and Nazism perpetrated.
In fact, President Calles admired both the Communists and Hitler. However foolish it might seem from the outside to outlaw Catholicism in a country like Mexico, he banned Masses, expelled the whole Mexican hierarchy, and ordered massacres of simple believers who frequented churches in the absence of the clergy. The governor of the state of Tabasco, Tomas Garrido Canabal was so fanatical in his hatred of the Church that he named his children Lenin, Lucifer, and Satan. We get a good sense of what it was like for Catholics under Canabal’s reign of terror in Tabasco in Catholic novelist Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. Greene had visited Mexico and seen the situation first-hand.
Father Pro, then, knew very well what he was risking when, operating underground, he continued saying Mass, hearing confessions, and running “Communion stations” around Mexico City. Thousands came secretly to the sacraments. By a providential combination of circumstances, he was the perfect man for the job. As a young boy he had always loved plays and practical jokes. His natural talents as an actor served him well when he had to deceive the police.
Pro would dress up as a dapper young man when he spoke with women’s groups; the police didn’t expect a priest to be so stylish. If he was visiting car mechanics or drivers, he put on overalls. In one case, he was bringing the Blessed Sacrament to a house where plainclothes detectives were waiting outside. Not wishing to give them the satisfaction of stopping him, he pretended to flash an officer’s badge. The detectives saluted him as he left the house, mission accomplished.
Like many other martyrs, even in jail Pro ministered heroically to the other prisoners. He led them in prayers and songs and kept up everyone’s spirits. The night before he died, he gave his mattress to a sick prisoner while he himself slept on the cell floor.
When Pro’s body, along with his brother Humberto’s, who had also been executed, was taken back to his father’s house, the elder Pro showed the kind of family the Jesuit had sprung from. He ordered no one to mourn, because, he said, there was nothing sorrowful in such heroic deaths. Though the Mexican government had forbidden any public demonstrations, 20,000 ordinary Mexicans crowded into the streets outside the Pro’s home for the funeral.
As the coffins were brought out, someone shouted: “Make way for the martyrs.” The crowd fell silent. But as the coffins were driven through the streets, there were shouts of Viva Cristo Rey! everywhere…
Olivier Lelibre: The Cristeros: 20th Century Mexico’s Catholic Uprising