Humor is a gift from God. Who does not enjoy laughing? It is no coincidence then, that many of the saints attracted people to God with their good humor. Father Miguel Pro had such a gift, but he lived at a time in Mexico, where being a priest was no laughing matter. It could result in a death sentence, which it did for Father Pro.
He was born in Guadalupe, Mexico on January 12, 1891. In February of 1927, anti-Catholic Mexican President General Plutarco Elias Calles ordered every priest, wherever they were, to report immediately to Mexico City. Most went into hiding, making them criminals at risk for arrest and even death. Pro went into hiding, but an informant eventually caught up with him. He was executed by firing squad on November 23, 1927 and beatified by Pope John Paull II on September 25, 1988. His canonization still awaits approval of a final miracle attributed to his intercession.
Book on Pro’s Life
Father Miguel Pro: A Modern Mexican Martyr, a book originally published in 1969, has been republished this year by Ignatius Press, keeping Pro’s memory very much alive. The author, Brother Gerald Muller, C.S.C., detailed how Pro became a member of the Society of Jesus, overcoming physical and educational struggles. The book shares testimonies from family, friends, and seminarians, as to the thoughtfulness, hard work and gifted humor that attracted so many to Pro.
Pro was both mischievousness and deeply spiritual from an early age. He worked for the family business for a time but felt called to the priesthood. He began his studies in Mexico until 1914 when an anti-Catholicism government put harsh restrictions on Catholic worship.
Pro attended seminary in Spain in 1915 and was ordained in Belgium in 1925. Although the political situation in Mexico had deteriorated and churches were closed, Pro was granted permission to return to Mexico undercover. He celebrated Mass and administered the sacraments under the watchfulness of the police, becoming a master of disguises.
During the sixteen months of his ministry in Mexico City, Pro had to avoid arrest when he ministered to Catholics who gathered in private homes for Mass and the sacraments.
Muller explained that Father Pro once remarked to a friend: “I look so much like a student that no one can possibly guess my real profession.” He said that Father Pro was fearless and had actually prayed to be put into jail and to suffer martyrdom because he knew it would be a gift, although he still did his best to escape capture.
“On December 4, 1926, his desire to suffer for Christ was partially granted,” Muller wrote. “Members of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty released hundreds of white paper balloons that soared five hundred feet into the air. When they exploded, they released a flurry of religious pamphlets.”
Father Pro was arrested in connection to this but was let go due to a lack of evidence. Police suspected him of being a priest, but he bluffed his way out. An officer baited him, saying there would be Mass in the prison that night and accused him of being a priest. Pro laughed it off, saying: “There is just about as much chance of my saying Mass tomorrow as there is of our sleeping on a mattress tonight!”
After Father Pro’s narrow escape, superiors ordered him to stay in hiding at which point, he wrote of understanding “why the jaguar hurls itself against the railing of its cage … preferring death to captivity.”
When Father Pro was allowed to return to his active life, the police kept a close watch. At one home where he was with to administer the Eucharist, the group was warned a few minutes ahead of time by a servant girl. Everyone dispersed, and Father Pro hid the Eucharist over his heart. “There is public veneration going on here,” the police said.
“Come along now, you are mocking me?” Pro replied.
They insisted there was.
“No, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
“We have seen a priest enter this house.”
“Humbug! I’ll bet you there is no priest here.”
“We have orders to search the house. Follow us!”
Father Pro assured them that if they found public worship going on, they should inform him so that he might participate in it. After they searched the home, Father Pro bade them farewell, saying he had to meet up with his girlfriend.
Rather than show fear, it was Father Pro who often approached officers with questions or asking for a match for a cigarette. Once, he entered a house where officers stood guard so no priest could enter. He pulled out a notebook and wrote down the house address and in the dim light of dawn flipped the lapel of his coat, indicating there was a police badge in there. The two officers gave him a salute and opened the door for him. Father Pro entered the home filled with fearful people. He assured them they were safe and said Mass inside while officers stood guard outside. When Pro left out the same door he came in, lighting a cigarette, the men saluted one another.
Soon thereafter, the police finally caught up with Pro and arrested him. Without a trial, he was quickly sentenced to death. His last request was a moment to pray which he was granted. Then, with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary on the other, Pro spread out his arms as Christ did on the cross.
Although not mentioned in Muller’s book, it has been reported that Father Pro forgave his enemies and shouted, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — Long live Christ the King! — just before five bullets entered his chest, and a final one to his head. Despite government hostility, the love and courage of Pro inspired at least 10,000 people to line the streets crying “Viva Cristo Rey!”
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Copyright 2018 Patti Maguire Armstrong