Without a trace of fear or hesitancy, he walked to the wall, and tranquilly faced the firing squad. He stretched forth his hands in the form of a cross, refused a blindfold, and cried out: “With all my heart I forgive my enemies.” Then, just before the order to fire was given, he quietly uttered the glorious ejaculation of the Mexican martyrs: Viva Cristo Rey! “Long live Christ the King!”
Five uplifted rifles, a sharp explosion, silently ascending white smoke puffs, and the beloved Father Jose Ramon Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, S.J., idol of the Mexican people, fell dead riddled with bullets.
This sad event took place at ten thirty-eight in the morning of November 23, 1927. The victim was born thirty-six years before to Josefa and Miguel Pro on January 13, 1891, in the town of Guadalupe, Mexico.
Don Miguel and his wife were the happy parents of eleven children. Miguel, Jr., was the third born. Four died in infancy. The two eldest, Maria de la Concepcion and Maria de la Luz, became Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Two of the boys, Miguel and his younger brother Humberto, were martyred. The rest of the children, Ana Maria, Edmundo Jose, and Roberto married.
There is no way to get a total picture of the life of Father Pro without first focusing on the background against which that life was molded. Ever since the great captain, Hernando Cortez, gained possession of Mexico in 1521 in the name of Spain, the country had maintained its Catholic moorings. But there had been a succession of attempts to sever Mexico from the mother country.
The first separatist movement was organized by a parish priest named Hidalgo y Costillo in 1810. Having rallied the peasantry under the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the priest-soldier formed a formidable army and dealt several severe blows to the government forces. In the end, however, Hidalgo’s overconfident troops were disastrously defeated and he was captured and shot. His efforts were revived by another priest named Morelos, who, likewise, was snagged by the Spanish forces and put to death in 1815.
But soon afterwards the royalist general, Iturbide, renounced his allegiance to Spain, due to the liberal and Pro-Masonic turn of events in his mother country, and joined his forces with those of the separatist leader Guerrero. In no time the royalists had lost virtually all their support, and the separatists succeeded in having the independence of Mexico formally declared in 1821. Iturbide, the general, became Agustin I, the emperor, and for one year the nation was an American empire.
Though, under Agustin, the Mexicans enjoyed full religious freedom, the Masonic forces, already spilling over into the heart of their country from the United States, motivated a strong movement towards a republican system of government; which movement, in 1823, succeeded in pressuring the Emperor to abdicate and eventually to flee for his life. A year later, Iturbide, who loved his country greatly, thought that it would be safe to return from his exile in Italy, a miscalculation which cost him his life. Immediately upon entering the country he was arrested and executed. The religious freedom maintained by the unfortunate Emperor had been undone by the republicans.
Mexico would probably have remained a far less anticlerical nation had it not been for the introduction of Freemasonry by the first American consul, Joel Poinsett, who served in that post from 1825-1829. His interest in rare flowers, which immortalized his name in the plant he introduced to the United States, the red-leafed poinsettia, was a strange diversion for one who was so steeped in subversive activity.
By 1876, after much unrest and several revolutions, Porfirio Diaz gained the presidency by force, and for thirty-four years ruled as a relatively benevolent dictator. Catholics, (that is, ninety-five percent of the people), were happier in those years under Diaz; for, during his regime, all anti-religious laws, though still on the books, were held in abeyance, and the Church flourished anew. Nevertheless, Freemasonry continued its insidious campaign by cleverly manipulating its own candidates into high political positions and causing practicing Catholics to be removed from such offices.
Diaz fell from power in 1911. This was due to the military advantage and popular support the Mexican soldiers and working people gave to Francisco Madero, whose rallying cry was for social reform. Madero’s triumph, however, was short-lived. Just two years after the was elected president, a military coup, led by General Victoriano Huerta, overthrew him. Madero was treacherously slain in prison. Under Huerta the Church was more free to preach the kingdom of God than it had been under his predecessor.
After 1915, when Huerta fell, the names of Venustiano Carranza, Alvaro Obregon, and Plutarco Calles, three successive dictators who launched openly anti-Catholic policies, will forever stain the pages of Mexican history. It was under the last mentioned Calles, that a most fierce and bloody persecution of the Church ravaged the nation. In the years from 1926-1929 he was responsible for the execution of one hundred and sixty priest and hundreds of lay men and women…and even children. It was during this reign of terror that Padre Pro won the martyr’s crown.
From his tenderest years Miguel Pro’s character was a blend of deep seriousness and an irrepressible love of merriment. He was jovial and good-humored. As one who knew him remarked: “Father Pro was an actor, he could laugh one minute and cry the next; in fact, he would laugh with one side of his face and cry with the other.”
When he was a young boy, his mother once took him on her lap and told him about the martyrdom of a saintly Franciscan which had occurred many years before. Little Miguel embraced his mother and exclaimed: “Mother darling, I also would love to die a martyr’s death!”
Clasping her little son to her bosom, she replied with tears in her eyes: “May God hear you, child. But that is too great a happiness for me.”
A Narrow Escape from Death
There were two occasions when little Miguel should have been taken to the world beyond, but was miraculously saved. I will relate just one.
It happened that a certain Aztec woman, who idolized little Miguel, one time fed him a large quantity of fruit, not realizing that it was bad. As a result the small child was stricken with a very serious malady. The sickness suddenly infected the youngster’s brain. This tragic development caused the doctors to give up hope, saying that he would either die, or live on as an imbecile.
For one whole year Miguel lived on, unable to speak, scarcely recognizing his beloved parents. Finally his condition became acute and death was imminent. His father, who loved his son dearly, was beside himself with grief. Yet trusting with childlike confidence in the Mother of God, he took the lad in his arms, and kneeling down before a likeness of our Lady of Guadalupe, he held out his sick son before the image, pleading for the holy Virgin’s intercession with all his heart: “Madre mia , give me back my son.”
In the dead silence that followed, the startled witnesses saw Miguel shudder convulsively, come out of his death trance, and vomit up a quantity of blood. Such a spectacular physical manifestation reanimated the doctors, who declared that the child’s recovery was now a strong possibility. A few days later he was completely restored to health, mentally and physically.
As the future martyr grew older, the playfulness that had marked his childhood developed into a sunny, jovial, and prankish, but personable disposition. This lightheartedness of his highlighted the evenings which all the members of his family spent at home in the Mexican family tradition. In Senor Pro’s casa Miguel could always be counted on to chase away the doldrums. But he was at times also over-mischievous, and had more than once to be corrected by his father, who did not fail to use the strap.
On one such occasion, when Miguel was about five, his mother took him with her to the store. There the young boy made an awful scene, stubbornly insisting that his mother buy him a small white marble horse, even though she had already purchased other gifts for him. Senora Pro finally gave in and bought the ornament. When they arrived home, and Papa Pro heard what had happened, he not only gave Miguel the strap, but made him kneel before the family and ask pardon, In the end, the marble horse was placed on Mr. Pro’s desk. Over the years, the mere sight of it caused young Miguel much remorse, and he was once heard to say, “For this thing I made my mother weep.”
When Miguel Agustin was six, his father’s mining business took him to Monterrey. The house they had rented was close to the home of the Governor, and every morning at eight o’clock Miguel would watch the soldiers march to salute the flag. Captivated by this display of uniforms and sound of drums, he was inspired to invent a game. He would play the part of a soldier who had been wounded on the battlefield while capturing the enemy flag. Then his older sister, Concepcion, had to take the role of a Sister of Charity who would come and dress his wound. Suddenly, while she was supporting him, a devastating blast would bring them both to a tragic end. The grim drama required considerable rehearsal before such a “tear jerking” episode could be effectively enacted for the edification of their little sister. Though this was just a passing diversion, little did the young hero realize that he would one day lie riddled with bullets in a courtyard of Mexico City, slain as a soldier of Christ the King.
The following year the Pro family was on the move again. This time it was to the rude mining center, Concepcion del Oro. This privileged town was to be the place of their most permanent residence. The year was 1898.
St. Joseph’s day, March 19, was the day chosen by Miguel, Concepcion, and Maria de la Luz, for the reception of their first Holy Communion. It was also the feastday of their mother Josefina. Heaven was watching the holy spectacle with a special interest as Fr. Correa, the parish priest, brought Our Lord for the first time to these dear little children. At that time no one could possibly know the destiny of that blessed foursome. But God had planned that each of them would glorify Him in a special way. Two were marked for martyrdom: the priest, Fr. Correa, who was slain at the outset of Calles’ reign of terror; and the little boy. And two were marked as future brides of Christ.
Even as a youngster Miguel had a wonderful insight into the simple truths of the Faith. This was once brought out in an amusing manner, typical of his forthright nature. It seems that the Pros had, for a period of time, employed a Protestant woman to tutor the children. Once in a while they invited her to dine with the family. On one occasion little Miguel, the “man of the house,” insisted on leading the mealtime grace. He said the Our Father and then followed with the Hail Mary. The teacher remained silent during the second prayer. When he was finished, he abruptly declared to their guest that only the Catholic religion was complete, and asked: “What is religion without love of the Blessed Virgin?” Don Miguel and Dona Josefa looked at their son in startled silence.
In 1902, a new college was opened at Saltillo, close to the Pro’s home. Since it was highly recommended by friends, Don Miguel sent his son to this school. Previous to his decision to do so, he had been given the assurance by the rector that, although the college was not Catholic, all the boys would enjoy full freedom to practice their religion. However, on the very first Sunday after Miguel’s arrival, he was denied permission to attend Mass. And on several successive Sundays, he was compelled to be present with all the pupils in the Protestant chapel. The indignant young Catholic wrote to his father to explain his plight, but the letter was intercepted by the school authorities without his knowledge. So, as he waited in vain for his father’s reply, he stubbornly refused to attend the heretical services, and was locked up on Sundays in the school dormitory. (It is hard to believe that this could occur in a country ninety-five percent Catholic.)
One Sunday, while thus detained, he heard a band passing by. Since music always attracted him, he ran to the front door and managed to raise himself high enough to peep out. Not far away he spied a family returning from what he rightly guessed was Mass. He called out to get their attention. Hearing his cry, two small daughters came over to see what the boy wanted. He told them to please bring their mother. When the good Senora came over and heard his predicament, she was horrified and assured him that she would write to his father immediately to inform him of what was going on. Don Miguel, upon receipt of the message, hastened at once to Saltillo, and with much indignation demanded his son. There is no record of what Senor Pro actually said to the deceitful director, but we can well imagine.
The mother of the family, Josefina, was noted for her generous compassion for the sufferings of others, especially the sick and the poor. Often she used to leave the house, loaded with foods and medicines, and taking her children along with her, she would appear among the needy as an angel of mercy sent to console them. Compassion for the poor is proved by action, and such activity certainly indicates holiness. Not without sacrifice, Senora Pro also established and maintained a free hospital to care for those who could not afford treatment. Sad to say, however, once the hospital began to flourish, the mayor of Concepcion del Oro laid down such unreasonable restrictions that it was impossible for Dona Josefa to continue her holy enterprise. “Never mind, Mother darling,” her fourteen year old Miguel sympathized, “when I grow up I shall build you a hospital, and we shall care for many of the poor.”
Soon after the youngest son Roberto was born, their little daughter Josefina, who was only thirteen years old, fell desperately sick and was taken away to Paradise. Though crushed with grief, the family, whose members were so close to each other, bore their cross nobly. Throughout their sorrow, Miguel, by now really beginning to be “the man of the family,” proved a veritable angel of comfort.
But as Miguel got older, it became clearer that he was destined…for the altar? No, not for the altar. Rather for the stage. He was a perennial prankster. Once, when on a walk, he took his sister Concepcion to the house of a stranger, knocked at the door, and escorted her into the unsuspecting man’s parlor. The owner of the house, somewhat perplexed, inquired about the purpose of their visit. Pointing to a hideous picture on the wall, Miguel declared that his sister, seeing it as they passed by, was charmed by it, and wanted to procure it. The man replied that, although the picture was an original masterpiece, he would part with it for no less than five hundred dollars. The young entrepreneur pondered aristocratically over the offer; then, abruptly, he told the stranger that he must first consult his parents, and, giving a fictitious address, escorted his mortified sister to the street. That was Miguel Pro!
A Close Call
One day, returning from a hunting trip, young Pro decided to beat his companions home by taking a shortcut along the railroad tracks. As he hustled along, he slipped, and to his chagrin, he caught his foot between the rails. Suddenly, a huge freight train appeared down the line, bearing rapidly towards him. Frantically he tugged and tugged, but couldn’t free himself. Then he called upon Mary Immaculate with all his heart, promising works of sacrifice in her honor, should she deliver him from this terrible danger. Instantly, as he jerked his leg, the boot ripped off from its sole, and the grateful young man ran to safety. Later on, at home, he told everyone that he had felt the imminent approach of death, and had even imagined himself in Purgatory. “Since then,” he noted, “I made a pact with the Blessed Virgin that she would not let me go to Purgatory, and that I would ever be her faithful servant. Ever since, she is my own Lady.”
The road to sanctity for most people is seldom a straight one. Some fall and bounce back. Some fall again and again, and bounce back. Though Miguel Pro can hardly be classified as a repentant sinner in the same way that a St. Augustine could, he did, for a brief period, deviate from the narrow road. When he was eighteen years old, he went through a state of carelessness in the practice of his religion. At this time he was dating a pretty senorita who happened to be a non-Catholic. The courtship terminated in a most amusing, but embarrassing manner. Of course, what happened was all in the Providence of God.
It seems that the lad once wrote two letters – one to this mother – the other to the young lady. However, he sent them to the wrong persons. When his mother received the letter intended for the non-Catholic girl, she was overcome with grief, and became ill. The young woman, on the other hand, was conveniently “turned off,” so to speak by the detailed account that her promising caballero gave of his reflections made in a mission house where he was staying. In the letter he explained beautifully how God had touched his heart; how grace had returned to tranquilize his soul; how he was about to make a good confession and receive Holy Communion. Unfortunately for the young senorita (but fortunately for her caballero) this was not the kind of romantic dandy that she was looking for; so she curtly returned the letter to its puzzled sender along with some gifts that he had given her.
During the letter incident, Miguel was staying with two Jesuit priests, who had invited him to the mission of St. Tiburcio. He went with the idea that it was to be a holiday, but when his mother wrote to the Fathers telling them of the letter she had received, her son’s liveliness gave way to grief, and he was seen weeping bitterly because he had caused his beloved mother such sadness. Later he would call that night his noche triste (night of sorrow). And thus ended a not so very romantic episode in the life of our future hero.
It wasn’t long after his return home that Miguel’s elder sister, Maria de la Luz, entered the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Aguascalientes. That was in August, 1910. Miguel, nineteen at the time, felt her departure most keenly, though, out of respect to his parents, who were happy to give their child to God, he kept his spirits up. Then, just six months later, more heartbreaking news reached his ear. Concepcion, his closest sister and “inseparable companion,” announced to him that she was planning to enter the same Order.
He turned to her with a stunned expression and asked, “Why?”
“The will of God,” she told him gently.
To which he chokingly replied. “…What is His will for me? May I learn soon! Pray that I may, sister!”
On February 12, 1911, Concepcion joined Maria in the cloister, and Humberto, their younger brother received his first Holy Communion. At the breakfast that followed, Miguel remarked: “And why should I not also enter religion? If what I feel is a divine vocation, I consider the matter accomplished.” This was the first time in his life that Miguel Agustin Pro had ever made reference to the possibility of his own sacred calling.
Beginning to Live with God
Years after he entered the religious state, Father Pro recalled the following simple incident as a major turning point in his response to God’s invitation. He said that he had been a wayward boy, but was converted in the following manner: One day he entered a church while a sermon was being delivered on the Passion of Our Lord. The preacher struck a sensitive chord in the soul of the searching teenager who had just then wandered in, when he repeated this most obvious and yet most forgotten conclusion concerning the agony of the Crucified:
“All this, Jesus Christ did and suffered for us, ” he said, pointing to the crucifix, “and we, what are we doing for Him?”
“Yes,” thought the young Miguel, “what have I done for Him?” The challenge was like a nail deeply fastened in. He never forgot it, but kept pondering these words in his heart.
It was exactly one year after his elder sister had gone into the convent that Miguel approached his father with the news that he had decided to seek admittance into the Society of Jesus. Senor Pro now realized, as he gazed upon his beloved son, why God had spared him as a baby and miraculously restored his health. God gave him back his son so that he could one day give him back to God. but at the time don Miguel had no idea how great a sacrifice God would require of him. How could he know that not many years hence his mischief-making son, now standing in full maturity before his eyes, would be brought back to him, a bullet-ridden corpse. Quietly giving thanks to God, his father and mother gave him their permission and their blessing.
On August 10, 1911, Miguel Agustin Pro entered the Jesuit novitiate in El Lano, Michoacan. On the day of the Assumption, the fifteenth of August, he was clothed in the Jesuit habit. After the ceremony and Mass, the generous father, who alone had accompanied his first-born son, embraced him once more, and took his solitary departure from El Lano. As he passed through the gate of the Novitiate, he thought to himself: “This is no longer my son; now his Father is God.”
“When I entered the Society,” Miguel was often heard to say, “I made the sacrifice of my reputation to God.” The Divine Master provided his ardent disciple with plenty of opportunity to prove his word. For quite often the innocent jester would receive severe rebukes from his Novice Master for the most insignificant of faults, and just as often, the humbled levite would show up at the Superior’s room, asking pardon for his offences. But, with all his seriousness in ridding himself of the “old man” (that is, his vices), he never ceased to be a born comedian and mimic, a narrator of jokes, a singer of ridiculous songs.
Father Pulido, a fellow seminarian, said this of him, “Everyone…took note that here were two Pros in one piece; the one who played and the one who prayed; the one who joked, smiled, and sang, and the one of sensitive abnegation and long-suffering silence.”
After he had taken his vows in the Society, he recorded the following meditations in his spiritual notebook. The booklet was entitled My Treasure . The words speak for themselves:
“Deceitful are the ephemeral pleasures and joys of this world. Our supreme comfort in this life is to die to the world that we may live with Jesus crucified.
Let others seek gold and other earthly treasures. I already possess the immortal treasure of holy poverty on the Cross of Jesus crucified.
The angelic virtue, growing like a pure, fragrant lily in the hidden beauteous garden of the cloister, adorns the forehead with heavenly tints, for it has roots in the Cross of Jesus crucified.
A third crown completes my oblation; it is the seal of glory whereby the obedient, spotless Lamb gained victory. Obedience is the secure science of living with Jesus crucified.
With this triple treasure, I can hope to pass beyond the fleeting confines of mortal man, by living poor on this earth and rich for heaven, united with Jesus crucified.”
A Troubled Mexico
During the latter part of young Pro’s novitiate, rumblings of political disturbances had reached the peaceful home in El Lano. Huerta’s coup d’etat, and the suspicious murder of his predecessor, infuriated the Masonically motivated liberals. The anit-Huertas – as they were called – were radicals of the most debased character. Thoroughly imbued with the doctrines of the French Revolution, and consequently bitterly anti-clerical, they took the occasion of the renowned militarist’s power grab to plunge the nation into a state of anarchy by unleashing lawless brigands to terrorize the people. The man behind the scenes, rallying Huerta’s enemies, was General Carranza, governor of Coahuila.
This is the period in Mexican history when, at Carranza’s invitation, such unsavory popular heroes as Zapata and Pancho Villa made a name for themselves. Villa, a cattle rustler from Chihuahua, gathered a ruthless army of Indian cowboys, and achieved smashing victories against Huerta’s forces in the central regions. This despicable man, so often glamorized in movies and on the walls of Mexican-American restaurants as some kind of Robin Hood, terrorized half the country with his murderous robbers. Due to the deep contempt for religion that he harbored, the cowardly leader invaded the Jesuit monastery of San Juan Nepomuceno in Saltillo. First, he demanded that the Fathers give him the impossible sum of one million pesos . Then when they protested that they were unable to comply, the half-mad banditto ordered the helpless priests to be tortured by mutilation.
In his book, Men of Mexico , James A. Magner summed up the terrorist activities of these Communist revolutionaries thus: “…the unspeakable depredations and crimes of these Bolsheviks hardly harmonized with the loftier slogans of the revolution…At first Carranza’s troops were fairly moderate, but the eventual character of the movement began to reveal itself. At Durango, churches were profaned…At Guadalajara, horses were stabled in the seminary; libraries and churches were sacked, priests and religious were subjected to every indignity, and atrocious sacrileges were committed.”
It was not until May 1914, the year that the Church lost a saint in the Papacy (Pius X), and Europe was plunged into the conflagration of World War I, that the distant thunder of revolution was heard in peaceful El Lano. The Society’s Father Luis Benitez arrived at the Novitiate after a hazardous escape form the horrors of Durango. It was evident to all that the clergy were marked for extinction.
The war began in El Lano at one o’clock in the morning of August 5. None of the seminarians had as yet left the Novitiate. Twenty-two mounted Carrancistas bristling with firearms suddenly appeared at the hacienda gate. Entering the area they charged the buildings in a whirlwind gallop, shooting off their pistols in every direction, and apparently trying to frighten the padres with their threatening display. Fortunately the raiders did not attack the sacred precincts.
The Fathers, thinking of the future of the Mexican church, agreed that it would be too dangerous to keep the seminarians in the country under such conditions. Any day they might all be killed. The sad but not unanticipated news was made known to the young men. They must go into exile!
It had been on the feast of the Assumption that Miguel Agustin first entered the Society, and he was scheduled to be professed on the same feastday. But that glorious day was to bring with it great sorrow – for it was the day chosen for the beginning of their long journey into exile. All the young Jesuit levites, feeling awkward in secular attire, approached the Master of Novices. He blessed the brave soldiers who stood gallantly before him and bade them farewell.
Reunited with his Mother
After a brief stay in Zamora, Miguel and his three traveling companions went by train to Guadalajara. This station would mark the first stage in a series of moves that would take them half way around the world! It was here also, two hundred and fifty miles north of Mexico City, that the young seminarian found his mother, his sister Ana Maria, and his three younger brothers. They were living in a hut, having fled from the ravaging enemy. The single relic preserved from their home was a beautiful painting of the Sacred Heart which Josefa had managed to carry away from Saltillo. His father’s whereabouts was at that time unknown, since he was identified with the Huerta regime as agent of the Department of Mines. Being a marked man, Senor Pro was forced to flee. Little did mother and son realize that those few days of happiness they shared with each other in the family’s Guadalajaran refuge would be the last they would spend together on this earth. Miguel and his companions soon received orders to set out for the United States.
The four seminarians arrived in Los Gatos, California, on October 9, and they were welcomed with open arms. Immediately they resumed their studies, but now, “besides the ordinary problems, there was the special difficulty of their complete lack of books (in Spanish ).” One professor had to teach his classes in the library by an ad lib method of questions and answers, far from satisfactory either for the teacher or the students. Problems like this, plus the disheartening reports from home, combined to accentuate whatever it was that for many years had afflicted Miguel’s stomach, keeping him in almost constant pain.
In spite of his sufferings, Miguel still maintained his easy and jovial exterior. His relations with the California Jesuits were extremely cordial, and he had no problem in cultivating lasting friendships with them. None of them could ever forget the enlivening tales and vivid descriptions of Mexico that sprang from his gay heart in “a charmingly confused mixture of English, Latin, and Spanish words.”
Having passed a full scholastic year in California, the Mexican seminarians were shipped to Spain in June of 1915. They arrived in Granada near the end of July. Here in ancient Espana, the land of the mystics, Brother Pro would apply himself to five long years of intense study. Two years were devoted to rhetoric, which is the art of speaking well, and three to the other prescribed courses in philosophy.
Wherever he went, whether to America, to Spain, or to future destinations in Nicaragua and Belgium, Brother Pro was like a ray of sunshine to everyone he met. Three traits seemed to exhibit themselves in a very special way in the Mexican scholastic: his fraternal charity, his zeal for souls, and his buoyancy of spirit. When one was with Miguel Pro, sorrows were joys, temptations were laughed away, and it was easy to love God and neighbor. But his virtues were not acquired without incessant prayer. It was his closeness to God that made him so magnetic to men. He never failed to spend an extra hour every day, above the usual time set aside for community prayer, before the Blessed Sacrament. When a friend got overly curious once and asked Pro why he did this so faithfully, the jovial seminarian became quite serious and said, “If I don’t pray well, I shall lose my vocation.” That was that!
After two years of teaching in Nicaragua, and then back to Spain for two more years of study, this most worthy soldier of Saint Ignatius arrived in Enghien, Belgium, for his last year of theology. In just one year he would be ordained a priest. This was the final lap, for many the most difficult time of their preparation for the priesthood. If the devil ever “goeth about like a roaring lion” then surely, in this crucial interval, he goes about laying his most pernicious snares in the way of all aspiring candidates. Armed with the weapons of scrupulosity and dryness, the Prince of Darkness begins to wage his attack. And Miguel Pro suffered hard under the demon’s intensified assault. He imagined that his superiors were not going to advance him to the priesthood. He was convinced of his own unworthiness and was sure they were, too. The thought that he might not be allowed to say Mass tormented the scholastic day and night.
Very disheartened, he wrote to his old spiritual director, Fr. Portas, “Do you think my superiors will grant me the grace of priestly ordination?” Before his advisor could scribble an answer, the clouds of despondency had lifted. His superiors did grant him the grace of ordination. To the tormented seminarian the news was a triumphal victory. He quickly wrote another letter to Fr. Portas. This one was his Te Deum . “I must send this letter,” Miguel wrote in his characteristic simplicity, “to give you a little piece of news: they have conceded me the Mass: I shall say my first on August 31!”
So, on that happy day, in the year 1925, our Mexican hero was ordained a priest forever. After the ceremony, for a moment, when he saw the other newly ordained priests blessing their parents, his sensitive heart broke down. His parents were suffering persecution half way around the world; his mother was very sick, and his father was getting old. He wondered if God would ever grant them their hearts’ desire of seeing him say Mass. He quickly recovered and lovingly offered his sacrifice to God. “At last we are priests” he quickly remarked, “and that is everything.”
When this unspeakable privilege of offering the Holy Sacrifice had been his for a year, he wrote to encourage a certain scholastic, who was about to be raised to the priesthood, “I have not found in all my religious life a more rapid or efficacious means of living very closely united with Jesus than the Holy Mass.”
Father Pro Meets Socialists
An amusing incident, very descriptive of Father Pro’s character, is told about his encounter with a group of Socialists while traveling on a train in Belgium. The radical group had occupied a special compartment in the train, but this did not deter the young priest form entering their car – much to their surprise! Thoroughly uninhibited, Fr. Miguel sat down and began asking innocuous questions of the fellow seated next to him.
These inquiries were net with a cool and quite irrelevant announcement: ‘But, Monsieur l’Abbe, we are all Socialists.”
“But I shall gladly travel with you,” replied Father Pro, “for I also am a Socialist.” The workers were amazed. “Yes, gentlemen,” continued the Mexican padre in the best French he could muster, “I am a Socialist, but not like you, who do not know what the word means. Which of you can tell me what exactly is a Socialist?”
They gave him various answers. One of them boldly asserted that a Socialist was one who wished to take money from the rich.
“Then are you robbers?” asked the priest, smiling. “If so, tell me, so that I may get off the train.”
They laughed at that. One of them asked if their visitor were not afraid of them.
“Afraid of you!” exclaimed their unusual guest. “Don’t you know that I carry a better weapon than a revolver?”
“Show it to us, you priest-Socialist,” they said.
Taking out a crucifix, the good priest showed it to his companions and explained: “Know, my friends, that all of you together can do nothing to me unless this Lord wishes or allows it. With Him on my side I fear nothing, and I’m sure that I cause you more fear than you do me.”
The workmen became serious. One of them uncovered his head. Then someone asked: “And what do you think of the Communists?”
“I think that they, like the Socialists, are deluded.”
“But we are also Communists!”
“So much the better for me, for it is now one o’clock, and I have nothing to eat. Since I also am a Communist, I am going to have a banquet with the meal you are carrying.”
The Communists laughed. By this time they had arrived at their destination, and wished the young foreign priest a hearty good-bye, but before the train started again, one of them returned with a bag of chocolates for the visitor who had so delightfully edified them. While we cannot know how deeply his words may have penetrated the hearts of these radicals, several of them removed their hats as the unpretentious apostle continued to hold the crucifix before their eyes.
Three Painful Operations
The stomach ailment that had so troubled Father Pro these many years by now had become very serious. His inability to eat sufficient food soon took its toll on the newly ordained priest’s physical appearance. He looked undernourished and his face was terribly drawn. Only three months after his ordination Padre Miguel was confined to a sanitarium. A humiliating routine of examinations, doctors’ consultations, dieting, and medication upon medication went on for six long months. At. last the physicians came up with the only alternative left – surgical intervention. If they didn’t operate, the young priest would die. Neither was there any guarantee that surgery would cure him. The first operation was unsuccessful.
While he was recuperating from surgery in the Saint Remi hospital in Brussels, he received word that his dear mother had passed away. This was the saddest news of his life. Upon hearing it, he was so stunned that he didn’t shed a tear; he merely listened. After a pause he said, “She is already in heaven; from there she sees me, blesses me, and cares for me; from there she will better watch over me…” Later, at night, when he was all alone, the tears fell in torrents.
Another operation had to be scheduled as soon as possible. This time the doctors informed him that they could not risk an anesthetic. Father Pro showed no signs of consternation; he only requested that, if such had to be the case, he be allowed to read his book on Canon Law while they performed whatever they deemed necessary. So into the operating room went this unusual patient with his book on Canon Law! As the surgeons cut and stitched his body he studied his lessons, showing no indication of the excruciating pain that he must have been enduring. That was Miguel Pro!
After all this, one would think that the problem would have been solved; but no, a third and final operation was deemed necessary, due to the poor results of the second. This last one, however, was more of a success and did somewhat alleviate the pain.
Homeward Bound via Lourdes
After a period of recuperation in a hospice on the French Riviera, Miguel Agustin Pro received word that he was to return to his homeland. His superiors felt that what medicines and surgery had not been able to accomplish, perhaps the familiar sight of his native soil and his loved ones would. And if not, then at least the heroic young priest would have the consolation of dying at home with his family by his side. But before he departed for Mexico he was to visit the famous shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes at the expense of a priest friend, who hoped that there he might be cured in the miraculous water. Of his visit to the grotto he said: “What one experiences here cannot be written. This has been one of the happiest days of my life. At nine o’clock I said Mass…I spent an hour in the grotto…I wept like a little child.”
The Hunted Priest
Father Miguel Agustin Pro was about to enter upon the final phase of his short but heroic life. At this point in the story one would think that, alas, the poor young padre is now about to come home to his family and to die the slow painful death that had been allotted to him, due to his incurable illness. Even if such were the case, his biography would still be a source of inspiration to all who want to be saints. But at this point we are only beginning his story. Though his time in the world is growing short, he will accomplish in the fifteen months left to him the work of a lifetime. And as he, surprisingly enough, applied himself to an awesome apostolate, the stomach ailment that for the past eight years had been slowly consuming him seemed to completely disappear.
On July 7, 1926, the homecoming Jesuit invalid set foot on his native soil for the first time in twelve years. His very entry into the country, at a time when priests and brothers belonging to religious orders were being deported or imprisoned, was a clear case of God’s Providence. At the customhouse no one even questioned who he was; no one asked to see his passport, nor did anyone even check his baggage. In no time at all he was safely on his way to Mexico City.
It had been a long time since our Mexican apostle began his lengthy exile from Guadalajara station. That was the last time he had seen his dear mother Josefa. As he sped across the country by train to the capital where his family was now residing, it must have been very difficult for him to hold back the tears. His homecoming would not be the same without Mamacita to welcome him. With emotions opposite but not contradictory, all the family that remained mingled their tears of joy and sorrow, as they embraced their long lost Miguel. His aged father had difficulty in explaining to him that Humberto, Miguel’s younger brother, was not there to greet him because he was in jail. He had been arrested for his religious zeal in playing an active role in two Catholic lay organizations that openly criticized the government’s atrocious policies. However, Father Pro was happy to learn that he would soon be released.
The reins of power in Mexico had passed in 1924 from the anti-clerical Obregon to his crony, the anti-clerical Calles. At the time of Padre Pro’s arrival, the relations between Church and state were very bad. But in just three weeks, with a new order issued by Calles that suppressed all public worship, it became impossible.
A typical non-sectarian encyclopedia, in its biographical sketch of Plutarco Calles, states merely that he ran into conflict with the Roman Catholic authorities over the state’s right to own and make use of Church property not being used by the Church. Needless to say, no state has such a right. But that is hardly a fair analysis of a crisis that saw one hundred and sixty priests shot to death. Not only did Calles want the government to own unused Church land but all Church land, including the churches on such land. As of July 31, 1926, with this new decree, the clergy were told to give up or get out. The state would allow the parish priests to continue to use the churches to administer the sacraments, but the Church would no longer own them. Henceforward even sermons would have to conform to government requirements. Furthermore, no Catholic service of any kid, such as processions, parades and the like, could be held outside the churches. In fact, the religious were forbidden even to wear their habits or any type of clerical attire outside the church grounds. (This law is still in effect today.)
But that’s not all. Every religious order was dissolved. All the Catholic schools were secularized, which means in effect that they were made atheistic; in them no mention of God was tolerated. Crucifixes were ripped off the walls and statues were smashed. Next, to stop any “Catholic propaganda,” all the religious printing houses were seized. Father Pro could hardly have chosen a better time to come home.
The Russian ambassador, Stanislas Pesthovsky, assured Calles that his anti-clerical policies were perfectly in accord with Communist procedures, and wished him every success. Also, in keeping with Communist methods of surveillance, the pro-Red dictator employed ten thousand government agents, nearly all of whom were foreigners, to canvass the country, making sure the new laws were obeyed. Where such an impoverished nation got the money to pay this hoodlum gestapo remains a mystery.
Most incriminating for our own country is the fact that Washington had been selling arms “on credit” to General Obregon, without which neither he nor Calles would have been able to sustain their bloody campaigns. Equally strange is the fact that the United States press never gave a word of news to the American people about what was really taking place in the neighboring Republic. Will Rogers, the famed humorist, toured Mexico during the height of Calles’ reign of terror as the honored guest of the government. He, too, joined the conspiracy of silence , and upon his return to the United Sates said nothing .
Upon hearing that their churches were going to be confiscated, the bishops of Mexico, after consulting with Pope Pius XI, decided to abandon all the churches in protest and leave them to the care of the people, rather than to allow the clergy to become the puppets of the state. It was a wise measure. The empty churches, they reasoned, would serve the more to inflame the people with resentment toward the government. Thus, the government of the “proletariat” would collapse without the support of the “proletariat.” Sad to say, it didn’t always work out that way.
However, the people did try measures of their own to force the state to renege. Different kinds of boycotts were organized. The oppressed citizens stopped frequenting the theaters and the cinemas. People withdrew their money from the banks, most of which were in support of the regime. Even in the marketplace, the boycott was deeply felt by those businesses that supported the government. Though the strategy was extremely effective in weakening the economy of the despotic industrialists, still the anti-clericalism continued. It seemed that the more the people resisted, the more insanely adamant the cruel Calles became.
The bishops did not order the priests to abandon the churches immediately. Between the announcement of the measure and the actual emptying of the tabernacles there would be an interval of three weeks. The interim would give the faithful time to brace themselves for the trials ahead and to get to confession.
It was almost immediately after Father Pro’s return that these measures were taken; so with hardly any rest, the convalescing padre threw himself into a most arduous apostolate. He spent practically the entire day in the confessional at the local Jesuit church, comforting, advising, admonishing, and absolving, from five in the morning until eleven, and then again from three-thirty in the afternoon until eight at night. In addition, he gave instructions and sermons, and received visitors who wished to consult him about marriage problems and other difficulties before the closing date. Of all his duties, the ordeal in the confessional was the most taxing upon his weak constitution. Twice he fainted and had to be carried out. But as soon as he revived he went back to his stuffy box to do what only a priest can do.
Then came the day of sorrow that none of the faithful in Mexico would ever forget. It was July 31, 1926. On that day the Holy Mass would be offered publicly for the last time. Everyone rushed to his parish to receive the Life of his soul in Holy Communion. This was the last time Padre Pro offered Mass in a church. Henceforward the Church in Mexico would be underground. Or as one author put it, “The ancient church of the catacombs was renewed in a modern western republic.” And Mexico would bring forth many martyrs.
While horrible martyrdoms were occurring, padre Pro was busy organizing the “counter-revolution” right in the heart of the capital. First, he established “Eucharistic Stations” throughout the city. These were houses of reliable Catholics to which he would go on such and such a day to distribute Holy Communion, and possibly to say Mass. On his own, he averaged three hundred Communions a day. He also organized a company of three hundred men to travel around the city and its suburbs as religious instructors. Among these was his brother Humberto, now released from prison. Through this instruction, young and old kept their faith alive. These classes also probed an effective substitute for the schools that normally would have provided the religious education of the children.
Laymen also, were constantly passing out religious flyers and leaflets, or sticking them on windows. Though the printing houses were closed and their Catholic owners imprisoned, somehow the religious material continued to appear. Naturally, Father Pro was in the thick of this written apostolate. He was what might be termed a “contemplative activist.” He prayed, but always seemed to be at work. The zealous padre could never be found without a good supply of religious leaflets for distribution. On one occasion, he was arrested on suspicion, and as the police car sped along to headquarters, he was secretly throwing packets of leaflets out the window, while engaging the unsuspecting driver in intimate conversation. Another time, he walked from one end of a streetcar to the other, so that the passengers could read the anti-government sticker that he himself had slapped on the back of his coat. When questioned, he played the part of being the victim of a practical joke.
There were two occasions when Padre Pro was actually imprisoned on suspicion. Of course, he was not recognized as a priest , because he wore workmen’s clothes; otherwise he would have been executed or exiled. He secured his first release by revealing the surgical scars on his stomach and thus arousing the compassion of the jailers. The second release was achieved with more difficulty. It seemed that he and six other men were thrown into jail in connection with the launching of six hundred balloons that rained upon the city thousands of religious leaflets. While the men were being held, the jailer sarcastically informed them that a Miguel Agustin was going to say Mass the next morning. Father Pro gulped, but quickly retorted, “I am Miguel Agustin, but there is as much likelihood of my saying Mass tomorrow as of my sleeping on a mattress tonight.”
The jailer must have been playing around with the name Pro , thinking perhaps that is was the Mexican word for “priest” (presbitero ), which was often abbreviated “Prbo.” The future martyr was not afraid to die, but simply used his cleverness of speech to get himself out of dangerous situations. He never denied that he was a priest, for no one actually asked him. After they had spent a cold night outside on a cement patio floor, praying the Rosary and singing hymns, the prisoners were set free.
Our hero had numerous other “close calls.” There is something about Father Pro’s narrow escapes from the law that makes one think that he was a trained private eye. His calmness in the face of danger could be downright comical. The following incidents are from his “Relations,” written to his Provincial. On one occasion he was supposed to say mass at dawn at a certain home in the city. When he arrived at the residence, he saw two policemen standing outside the front door. The narration goes on:
“This time I am in the soup, ‘I said to myself. To go in was a big risk. But not to was to give way to fear; to abandon to their fate the faithful who were expecting me was, to my mind, shameful. I pulled myself together and went straight up to the gendarmes. With an important air I took down in a notebook the number of the house. Then I opened my coat as if showing them by Secret Police badge and said with an air of conviction:
“‘Something fishy going on here!…’ They gave me a military salute and let me pass, convinced that I was a Secret Police agent and that I had really shown them the badge they wear. I ran upstairs saying to myself: ‘Now there is something fishy going on here!'”
When the terrified people saw their padre, they couldn’t believe it and wanted to hide him away in some closet. Father Pro told them that there would be no danger in having the mass, but he could not convince them. “We could not be safer,” he argued, “the gendarmes are outside guarding us!” However, the feeling of the congregation prevailed and Secret Agent Pro went out as he had come in, not without receiving a handsome salute from the two gendarmes.
Then there was the time he dodged two spies who were waiting for him after a retreat he had given to some government employees.
“I noticed two individuals staring at me; they were waiting for me at the street corner. I understood at once they were spies. I said to myself: ‘This time, by boy, say good-bye to your skin.’ But I remembered the old saw – ‘He gives twice who gives first.’ I went up to them and asked for a match.
“‘You can get them at a shop,’ they answered.
“I went off; they followed me. Was it pure coincidence? I turned in one direction, then in another; they do what I do. ‘My Aunt!’ I said to myself, ‘if I only had my bicycle! Something is certainly going to happen this time!’ I took a taxi; so did they. My driver, happily, was a Catholic. Seeing in what straits I was, he put himself at my disposal.
“‘Listen, my son,’ I said to him. ‘when you come to a street corner, slow down; I will jump out. You go on as if you had not noticed.’
“I put my cap in my pocket, undid my black waistcoat, displaying a white shirt instead, and jumped. A few swift seconds later the two of them passed, so close that they scratched me with their mudguard. They certainly saw me but it did not enter their minds I was the one they were after.”
On another occasion when he perceived that he was being tagged by two agents, he turned a corner and spotted a young Catholic lady whom he knew from church. With a wink of the eye he alerted her to his predicament, took her arm, and the two “lovers” sauntered off arm in arm right past the police, who never suspected the “flirting” caballero was the priest they were after.
All the while that Padre Pro was so zealously tending to the spiritual needs of his flock he also managed, as his good mother had done before him, to look after the poor. Though he rarely had a cent in his pocket, many times without his even asking, wealthier people would give him a sum of money so that he might help a needy family…and of those the fugitive apostle had quite a list. By October, a month before he was executed, he was paying the rent for ninety-six poverty-stricken families, and feeding a good number besides.
After six months of ceaseless apostolic activity, the police got wind of the priest who was turning the capital upside down with the good fruit of his priestly labor. An official warrant went out for the arrest of Padre Pro – public enemy numero uno! This priest, Calles reasoned, simply could not be allowed freedom, or he would soon win over the entire city. For the sake of brevity, we are going to have to pass over many of the facts relating to the good padre’s numerous apostolates. But by the time this warrant was issued he had organized over three hundred active “resisters,” and was conducting retreats for teachers, chauffeurs, and even government employees. You can see why he had to be gotten rid of.
I Was in Prison and you Visited Me
One of the favorite works of “public enemy number one” was to visit those who were imprisoned for the Faith. With his peasant’s garb and his rough “un-priestly” manner – a manner he picked up while working in the mines and could turn on or off at will – he easily got passes to bring some tidbits to alleviate the hunger, and at the same time relieve the loneliness of the imprisoned. Concerning these visits he once wrote: “If the jailers knew what sort of bird I am, I would already have been captured three months ago.” The holy audacity of our hero is all the more amazing when one considers that this “simple workman,” who is calmly walking in and out of jail cells, pretending to be a close friend of the inmates, has a warrant out for his own arrest. Nor did Father Pro have the slightest fear when it came to the risk involved in secretly hearing the prisoners’ confessions, which was the principal reason for his visitations.
We’re now entering upon the final month of Father Miguel Pro’s life. It is November, 1927.
Often Our Lord gives His saints a premonition that the curtain is soon to close on their earthly pilgrimage. Back in September, when he was beginning his Mass for a community of nuns, he asked the angelic flock to pray that God would accept his life as a victim for priests and for the welfare of the Mexican Church. One of the nuns present noted that during the Mass he was totally transported and bathed in tears the whole time they were chanting. At the end of the Holy Sacrifice, he mentioned to someone in the community, “I know not whether it is mere imagination or has actually occurred; but I feel clearly that Our Lord has evidently accepted my offering.” One could almost see his mother smiling down upon him from Heaven and repeating those words she had answered him when he was a little boy, “May God hear you, child. But that is too great a happiness for me.”
The autumn of 1927 found General Alvaro Obregon campaigning for re-election. As was mentioned before, he served in the office of President previous to Calles. Now that the latter’s term was drawing to a close, he threw his support back upon his pal and predecessor. It seems that the two tyrants had agreed to a leapfrog policy of mutual support to maintain each other in power. Then, as a parting gesture, the monster Calles intensified his persecution of the Church to its bloodiest heights. One week in October, the horrified Mexicans saw three hundred of the faithful slaughtered for publicly professing their Catholic religion.
I say that Calles was a monster. Once he had openly boasted, “I have a personal hatred for Christ!” He uttered even worse blasphemies, that should not be printed. And yet, some people will laugh when you try to tell them that there is a real conspiracy against the Catholic Church.
On November 13th, as Obregon and some friends were driving out to attend the bull fights, a car with four men suddenly pulled up alongside the General’s Cadillac. One of the men tossed a homemade bomb atop the official’s vehicle. Shots were also fired. The explosion shattered the windows of the Cadillac, but left no one seriously hurt. Three of the four assailants were captured. One of the three had been mortally wounded by the return fire. However, during the investigation, it was discovered that the assailants’ car had, only three weeks before the attack, been the property of someone named Humberto Pro .
When they heard the story, Miguel and his two brothers went immediately into hiding. Since the names of Padre Pro and Humberto were already on the proscription list, this latest development, of which they were entirely innocent, would make it impossible for them to appear in public. Upon advice, they hid in the house of a Maria Valdes. Senora Valdes was honored to take care of the brothers. She and her servants both attested to a very unusual phenomenon they had witnessed when attending the future martyr’s Mass in her home. In the words of Dona Valdes: “At the moment of the Elevation, I saw Padre Miguel seemingly transformed into a white silhouette and plainly raised above the level of the floor . I became aware of great happiness…”
After intense questioning and threats the police discovered the whereabouts of the fugitives. At 4 A.M. they invaded the house and found the three brothers sleeping soundly. These were awakened by the shout of “Don’t move, you’re under arrest!” Thinking he was going to be shot on the spot, Humberto said, “I want to go to confession.” The policeman refused permission, but proved powerless to enforce his decision when Padre Miguel calmly took his brother into a private room to absolve him. Robert likewise confessed. They were then escorted triumphantly – like a prize catch – to the station and promptly jailed.
Some reporters were allowed to question Father Pro in the presence of a police officer:
“Are you a priest?”, they asked him.
“Yes, sir, a Jesuit priest…I desire to make no declaration. All I shall say is that I am grateful for the attention shown me by those who arrested me. I am absolutely innocent of this affair, because I believe in right order. I am perfectly tranquil, and I hope that justice will shine forth. I deny unequivocally having taken part in the plot.”
Humberto Pro likewise protested his own innocence. Everyone knew that the Pros were incapable of such an assault. Even Obregon himself positively admitted they were not guilty. Furthermore, three of the assailants were already in custody. That left only one at large. Of the guilty men, a handsome twenty-four year old businessman, Luis Segura Vilchis, who had peacefully turned himself over to the police upon hearing that the Pros were under suspicion, assured the authorities that the good padre and his brothers had nothing to do with the affair.
But the authorities, or I should say Calles, cared nothing for proper evidence. He had his man, Miguel Pro, and there was no way that he was going to let him go. Even a restraining order issued by a judge, and sent to the police on the morning of the martyrs’ execution, was conveniently ignored. The fate of this Jesuit was sealed… He must die. “I do not want forms, but the deed!” shouted the half-mad dictator when the Inspector General of the Police, Robert Cruz, advised him to give the Pro brothers some semblance of a trial for the sake of a legal pretext.
So, with no chance for a hearing, four men were sentenced to die before the firing squad for attempting to assassinate the incoming President. Two of the men were guilty and admitted it. And the other two were innocent. But unjust sentences must be carried out in a hurry, while the public conscience is in a state of stunned paralysis.
The Martyr’s Crown
On the morning of November 23, a guard appeared at the cell door and called for Father Pro. Uncertain of what was awaiting him, the brave son of Saint Ignatius got up from the game that he was enjoying with the other inmates, squeezed his brother Roberto’s hand, and then turning to the other prisoners exclaimed, “Good-bye, brothers, till we meet in Heaven!”
The policeman who escorted him out was filled with remorse over the whole affair, and asked his charge to forgive him for his part in this injustice. Father Pro, by now easily guessing his fate, threw his arms around the officer and said, “Not only do I pardon you, but I am grateful to you, and I shall pray for you.”
The thirty-six-year-old Jesuit was led onto the firing range. He was still squinting, having come from a dark cell into the morning sunlight. But he could see from the outlines before him where he was.
The major asked him, in a matter-of-fact way, whether he wished to express any last will. The humble padre answered firmly, “Permit me to pray.” The holy priest then knelt down, totally oblivious to the fact that he was on film and was having his picture snapped repeatedly. He very slowly blessed himself for the last time, kissed the crucifix that he held tightly in his right hand, and with his left hand clenching his Rosary, crossed his arms over his chest. While in this posture he moved his lips in inaudible prayer.
“Such fanaticism!” the officers thought. “Why don’t these stupid priests just give in and let the state run their little churches? Then they wouldn’t have to die like this. But no, they have to break the law!”
Yes, faithless executioners, they have to break your law in order to honor a higher Law, by which you yourselves will be judged… the Law of Almighty God!
Then refusing a blindfold, the prisoner stood erect, and said calmly, “Lord, Thou knowest that I am innocent.” As a last priestly gesture, he raised his consecrated hand, and with it made the Sign of the Cross over the spectators. Then, addressing himself to those who were about to kill him, he said, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you.”
Thereupon he walked briskly to the wall, faced the rifles, held out his arms so as to perfectly resemble the Crucified, and exclaimed, “With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” Then just before the order to fire rang out, he quietly, though not provokingly, spoke the immortal ejaculation of the Mexican martyrs, Viva Cristo Rey! The guns sounded, and the cruciform figure of the nation’s greatest contemporary hero, fell dead, riddled with bullets. To make sure that the victim was no longer living, some modern-day centurion fired a shot at close range into the martyr’s head…just to make sure.
Humberto Pro was also executed, along with Luis Segura, and his accomplice Antonio Tirado. Roberto Pro was released but was sent into exile with his father and his sister.
Ana Maria Pro was the only one of her family present at her brothers’ execution. Though she had tried repeatedly to get into the jail to see them, she was roughly pushed outside. When she heard the shots, all she could do was stand beyond the fence and weep, like Our Lady beneath the Cross.
An Apostle and an Angel
Hundred of spectators knelt down in the road as the martyrs’ remains passed by in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. When the bodies were laid out for view Ana Maria was the first to venerate them. Crowds of mourners immediately gathered outside the hospital. Suddenly, an aged man, the father of the martyred brothers, was seen ascending the hospital steps and heard murmuring to himself, “Donde, donde estan mis hijos? Quiero verlos. ” (“Where, where are my sons? I want to see them.”)
Leaning over the cold remains of his priest son, the stricken father tenderly pressed his lips to the silent face, and dipped his handkerchief in the blood that still flowed from his head wound. Next, he came to the gallant Humberto, and, bending over him, likewise kissed him. Ana Maria could control her grief no longer and, flinging herself into her father’s arms, wept pathetically. Disengaging her, he gazed affectionately upon his tender little child, for so she appeared to him now, and said with gentle affirmation, “Nada de llorar, hija mia. ” (“There is nothing to weep over, my child.”)
That night the bodies were taken to the Pro home, where lines of mourners waited, even in the street, to pay their respects. Don Miguel, alone, knelt for hours between the caskets, with his arms outstretched, and one hand resting on each corpse. There was no bitterness in his heart, as one might have expected. Rather he had an air of peaceful resignation about him. “Michael was an apostle,” he softly remarked, “and Humberto was an angel.”
On the following day, thirty thousand people swelled the funeral procession. 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!”