Blessed Fr. Miguel Pro was a Jesuit priest who was executed by a firing squad in Mexico for exercising his priestly ministry during the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico during the presidency of Elias Plutarco Calles.
Fr. Pro was born into a mining family in Guadalupe, Zacatecas on January 13, 1891. He was the third of eleven children, four of whom had died as infants or young children. Two of his sisters joined a convent.
He was known for his great charity and for being a playful and prayerful man. He was known for the long periods he spent in the chapel. He was known for his great joy and love, even as he suffered from years of stomach illness that resulted in having to have multiple stomach surgeries.
Pro studied in Mexico until 1914 when a massive wave of governmental anti-Catholicism forced the novitiate to dissolve and the Jesuits to flee to Los Gatos, California, in the United States. He then went to study in Granada, Spain (1915–19), and from 1919 to 1922 taught in Nicaragua.
Sadly, in Mexico, beginning in 1917, anti-Catholic laws were passed that did not allow priests to minister publicly, or even to wear clothing that identified them as priests in public. People had to be ministered to in their homes and in an underground manner. During this time the League for the Defense of Religious Liberty began to fight back against the oppression. They came to be known as the cristeros or Soldiers of Christ.
Fr. Pro took on many disguises in order to minister secretly to the persecuted Church and avoid being captured by the federales for carrying out ministry illegally. He was known to dress as a ‘dandy’ on the streets of Mexico City. He even disguised himself as a mechanic in order to give a conference to a group of cab and bus drivers.
Fr. Pro was also known for his great works of charity. The poverty level in Mexico at the time was so extreme that Fr. Pro, in addition to carrying out his spiritual duties, had an active ministry providing the poor with food, clothing, and shelter.
A failed attempt to assassinate Álvaro Obregón in November 1927, provided the state with a pretext for arresting Pro, this time with his brothers Humberto and Roberto. A young engineer who confessed his part in the assassination testified that the Pro brothers were not involved. However, President Calles gave orders to have Pro and his brother Humberto executed for the assassination attempt.
On November 23, 1927, as Fr. Pro walked from his cell to the courtyard and the firing squad, he blessed the soldiers, knelt, and briefly prayed quietly. Declining a blindfold, he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and held his arms out in imitation of the crucified Christ and shouted out,
“May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, Thou knowest that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!”
Before the firing squad was ordered to shoot, Pro raised his arms in imitation of Christ and shouted,
“Viva Cristo Rey!” – “Long live Christ the King!”.
Miguel Pro’s last request was to be allowed to kneel and pray.
On the 23 November 1927, Miguel Agustin Pro, Mexican Jesuit, is executed by a firing squad (in Mexico City).
Miguel Pro’s funeral procession or approximately 40,000 people, with an additional 20,000 waiting at the cemetery.
Calles had the execution photographed, and the newspapers throughout the country carried photos on the front page the following day. Presumably, Calles thought that the sight of the pictures would frighten the Cristero rebels who were fighting against his troops, particularly in the state of Jalisco. However, they had the opposite effect.
Over 40,000 people lined Pro’s funeral procession. Another 20,000 waited at the cemetery where he was buried without a priest present, his father saying the final words. The Cristeros became more animated and fought with renewed enthusiasm, many of them carrying the newspaper photo of Pro before the firing squad.
Neither suffering nor serious illness, nor 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.
Bl. Miguel Pro, Pray for us!
¡Viva Cristo Rey!