Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Memorial of Bl Miguel Agustín Pro

"Today we honor a remarkable man, Blessed Miguel Pro, a Jesuit priest executed in Mexico 72 years ago. His life was more interesting and exciting than any James Bond movie. Even as a toddler Miguel was anything but ordinary. Soon after learning how to crawl, little Miguel escaped everyone’s notice and crawled out onto a third-story window ledge high above a busy street. His mother rescued her little boy before it was too late. The end of Miguel Pro’s life was just as extraordinary: when he was only 36 years old he was executed by a firing squad.

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.

Meanwhile, Father Pro’s sister and an attorney were rushing to the jail with a stay of execution. The Argentine Ambassador even telephoned the jail and was able to stop the execution of Roberto Pro, the youngest of the Pro brothers. Roberto would later emigrate to the United States.

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.

We have an excellent photographic record of Father Pro’s martyrdom thanks to General Calles’ desire to make a public spectacle of the humble priest. The newspaper reports and photos of the event, instead of making a mockery of the Church, only highlighted the heroism of this dedicated man. As a result, possession of the execution photos became a crime.

That night the bodies of Miguel and Humberto Pro were taken to their father’s house where mourners streamed past the caskets all night long. One of Father Pro’s sisters was weeping bitterly as she stood by his casket. Her father comforted her by saying, "Is this how you behave in the presence of a saint?"

The next morning over five hundred cars joined in the funeral procession and thousands of people lined the streets with flowers. Although the General had outlawed any public display of emotion, the people came out in open defiance knowing that there were not enough jails in all of Mexico to hold the crowd of mourners.

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.

Father Miguel was a man of faith, courage and ingenuity. His great trust in Christ the King enabled him to be fearless in the face of intolerance, violence and even death. The life of Miguel Pro is proof that we can find great strength and courage, great love and lasting hope in Christ the King. Long live Christ the King!"

-- From a homily by Fr Peter Grace, CP, from St Anne's Basilica, Scranton, PA
(23 November 1999)
Copyright ©1999 St Ann's Media

No comments: