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Catholic Heroes . . . Blessed Miguel Pro

December 12, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

The Cristero War in Mexico (1926-1929) was one more episode in the universal and eternal conflict between the Catholic Church and secularist governments. The seeds of the conflict were sown at the turn of the century, leading to the enactment of the Mexican constitution in 1917. Then it was enflamed when President Plutarco Elias Calles (president from 1924-1928) decided to enforce the rules of the constitution in order to eradicate the influence of the Catholic Church in Mexican society.
When the Mexican government suppressed religious celebrations, and closed Catholic hospitals, schools, and churches, a grassroots uprising began and spread rapidly. Over 500 Cristero leaders were executed, along with the more than 2,000 supporters and 40 priests who faced their deaths with heroic fortitude. One of these beloved priests — thousands were already exiled — was Fr. Miguel Pro.
This war, spurred on by President Calles, was the largest conflict in Mexican history. The famous author Graham Greene called it the “fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth,” the Queen of England (ruled from 1558-1603). With the martyrdom of Fr. Pro, the Cristeros’ resolve to defeat the repressive government increased.
Miguel Pro was born to Miguel Pro and Josefa Juarez on January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico. He was the third of eleven children. This fervent Catholic family lost four of their children in infancy. In addition to Miguel becoming a priest, two of his sisters entered the convent.
At the age of 20, Miguel entered the Jesuit novitiate in El Llano on August 15 — the date which would become the Feast of the Assumption in 1950 when Pope Pius XII issued Munificentissimus Deus.
Tragically, the Jesuits were forced to leave Mexico in 1910 when the revolution erupted. Four years later, Miguel also left Mexico, slowly making his way to Belgium. His arduous journey began when he went to Texas. After traveling there, he then went to California, Nicaragua, and finally to Spain before reaching Belgium.
After many more years of formation, Miguel was ordained in 1925 in Belgium. During this time he suffered from a severe stomach ailment. With this cross to bear even after Ordination, his Jesuit superiors decided to send him back to Mexico City despite the overt persecution of Catholics — especially priests.
The civil war provoked by President Calles’ actions held very stiff repercussions for priests. Five years in prison were awarded to any priest who criticized the government. Should a priest wear his clerical garb in public, he would be fined 500 pesos — an exorbitant amount of money in 1926.
Nevertheless, Fr. Miguel faithfully obeyed his directive to return and landed in Mexico in 1926. Within a month of his arrival, the government banned all public worship. Hence, Fr. Pro had to go to serve Catholics by traveling incognito. Sometimes he disguised himself as a postal worker, while other times he was a mechanic or a beggar. He would mount his bicycle and ride all over the bustling city to distribute Holy Communion and administer the sacraments.
In addition, he would bring clothing to the poor, food to the hungry, and comfort to the sick and sorrowing. When he was in danger of begin discovered, he used his gift of quick thinking and remarkable sense of humor to outsmart the authorities.
His situation was critical and precarious, as he wrote to a friend:
“We carry on like slaves. Jesus, help me! There isn’t time to breathe, and I am up to my eyebrows in this business of feeding those who have nothing….It doesn’t even faze me to receive such messages as: ‘The X family reports that they are twelve members and their pantry is empty. Their clothing is falling off them in pieces, three are sick in bed and there isn’t even water.’ As a rule my purse is as dry as Calles’ soul, but it isn’t worth worrying since the Procurator of Heaven is generous.”
Despite daily encounters with such hardships, suffering, and persecution, Fr. Pro maintained a jovial and teasing spirit. For example, as he and his sister Concepcion, were walking down a side street, she noticed a statue of the Blessed Virgin in a window. Concepcion commented — rather uncharitably — to Miguel on how hideous she thought it looked. To goad her, he quickly ran to the home of the display and knocked on the door.
When the door was opened, he told them how much his sister loved their statue and asked them if they would sell it to him. “Sorry,” they replied. “That Madonna is a family treasure.”
As the resistance of the people increased against the government in the Cristeros War, the economy failed and people were starving. Social unrest worsened and an attempt was made to assassinate Alvaro Obregon, a general and the former president of Mexico. Someone had thrown a bomb from a car that had been owned by Fr. Pro’s brother.
The attempt failed, but the authorities were not going to miss this opportunity to silence the priest once and for all. The police rounded up the three Pro brothers: Miguel, Humberto, and Roberto. They were taken to the Detective Inspector’s Office in Mexico City and immediately put in jail.
Roberto, the youngest, was released, but Miguel and Humberto were held with no bond and no trial. President Calles wanted to make a spectacle of these faithful Catholic men at their execution, hoping to dampen the spirits of the Catholic rebels. He was confident that Fr. Pro would break down and beg for mercy and thus bring shame to him and other Catholics.
Even in death Fr. Miguel remained joyful, brave, and witty. Two Cristero generals visited him in jail, Roberto Cruz and Palomera Lopez. He joked during his last days about Heaven: “If I meet any long-faced saints there, I will cheer them up with a Mexican hat dance!”
Rather than being a cowering weakling fearing death, Fr. Pro courageously refused the blindfold and looked the soldiers in the eye as they pointed their rifles at him. Before death he shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord Thou knowest I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”
He opened his arms wide as though on the cross with Christ and before the hail of bullets jolted his body, he again shouted out to the people, “Viva Cristo Rey!”
Although Calles forbade any public display for Pro’s funeral, more than 40,000 people lined the streets for his funeral procession and another 20,000 waited at the cemetery where no priest was allowed to pray the last prayers. The photos of his death, though intended to cower the people, became a treasured keepsake that many kept with them, giving them courage and hope to continue their fight against evil.
The Catholic Church celebrates his feast on November 23, the day he died in 1927.
Dear Fr. Pro, intercede for us that we too may courageously defend our faith and love our enemies until death. May we recognize when our faith is being challenged and faithfully proclaim God’s Truth without fear. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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