Miguel Augustin Pro


Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro, Priest and Martyr, SJ (Optional memorial)

Miguel Augustin Pro was born in Guadalupe de Zacatecas, Mexico, on 13 January 1891 in a large family of seven brothers and sisters. Inspired by two of his sisters entering religious life, Miguel, at the age of 20, entered the Society of Jesus at Hacienda El Llano.
It was a time of political and religious persecution in Mexico under the rule of Presidents Alvaro Obregon and then Plutarco Elias Calles, described by writer Graham Greene as the “fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of [Queen] Elizabeth”. The Pro family suffered both financial and personal hardship. Miguel and his fellow Jesuit novices were also under threat, as Catholic priests and religious were particular objects of persecution in the reign of terror. Following a raid of their religious house, the Jesuit superiors ordered Miguel and the other novices to flee Mexico. They went first to Los Gatos, California and from there to Granada, Spain (1915-19) and then Miguel did some teaching in Nicaragua from 1919 to 1922.
Because of his background with miners in Mexico and his natural ability to relate well with them, he was sent to Enghein in Belgium to study the Catholic labour movement. He was also ordained priest there on 31 August 1925. His first assignment as a priest was to work with miners in Charleroi, Belgium and he was able to win them over.
A few months after his ordination he had several operations arising from stomach ulcers. He was also distressed by the situation back home. Yet, his companions noted that when he felt the most pain, he would seem at his most cheerful.
With the hope of helping him regain his health, in 1926 he was granted his wish to return to Mexico to be closer to his family, even though the Church in Mexico was facing major challenges from an anti-Catholic government under the presidency of President Calles. Constitutional amendments and legislation had recently been passed which severely restricted public worship. Any Catholic priest daring to celebrate the Eucharist or administer any of the sacraments risked harassment, arrest, torture and even execution.
Under such circumstances Miguel played a cat and mouse game with the police as he secretly ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of the people – rich, poor, business people or labourers, even some Socialists and Communists. Getting around by bicycle and variously disguised as a mechanic, a servant or an educated person of culture he was able to give spiritual sustenance to many people. In the spirit of St Paul, he was all things to all people for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel. He won people over through prayer and his great sense of humour. While the army and police had their guns, Miguel used to say, pointing to his crucifix: “Here is my weapon. With this I do not fear anyone.”
He had also said: “I am ready to give my life for souls but I want nothing for myself. All that I want is to lead them to God. If I kept anything for myself, I should be a thief, infamous; I should no longer be a priest.”
Many of the details of his ministry come from his letters, which he signed ‘Cocol’. In October 1926, a warrant for his arrest was issued. He was arrested, released from prison the next day, but kept under surveillance.
An assassination attempt against former president, Álvaro Obregón, in November 1927 provided the state with an excuse to arrest Miguel and his brother Roberto. A young engineer who was involved and confessed his part in the assassination testified the Pro brothers were not involved but he was ignored. The authorities claimed to link the Pro brothers to the crime through an old car which had formerly belonged to one of the brothers. Even though they knew that the brothers were innocent, it was enough that they were both Catholic priests and so enemies of the regime. Simply on that basis, without due process or a trial, the two brothers were condemned to die.
On the morning of 23 November 1927, Miguel Pro was led from his cell to his place of execution. The police and military ignored the shouts of a man outside the execution area who said he had a stay of execution for the two brothers. As Miguel was led to his death, a policeman responsible for his capture asked his forgiveness which was immediately given. Minutes before his execution and declining the usual blindfold, Miguel asked to be allowed to pray. He knelt down on the ground, in front of a wall already riddled with bullets from previous executions. Like his Master, he accepted God’s will, then stood up, stretched out his arms as if on a cross. Like his Master, he forgave his executioners and, as they raised their guns, he shouted in a clear and loud voice: “Viva Cristo Rey!”. (Long live Christ the King). When the initial shots of the firing squad failed to kill him, a soldier shot him dead at close range.
Strangely, there is a detailed photographic record of the execution. This was done on the express orders of the president and they appeared on the front page of newspapers all over the country. The idea was to intimidate other rebels against the government but, not surprisingly, they had the opposite effect and are now a precious record of a martyr’s death.
Miguel Pro was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 25 September 1988.
Miguel is remembered for his happy disposition, his extraordinary dedication to the priestly ministry under the most harsh conditions, and his devotion to Christ the King. One of his companions, Fr. Pulido, said that he “had never seen such an exquisite wit, never coarse, always sparkling”.
 

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