Martyr| With God| Reunited| Operations| Final Month| Martyrs Crown| Apostle
MODERN MARTYRPadre Miguel Pro was born to Josefa 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.
On the morning of November 23, 1927 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.
Little Miguel should have been taken to the world beyond, but was miraculously saved. An 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 youngsters 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 Virgins 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 childs recovery was now a strong possibility. A few days later he was completely restored to health, mentally and physically.
BEGINNING TO LIVE WITH GOD
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 couldnt 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."
Years after he entered the religious state, Father Pro recalled the following simple incident as a major turning point in his response to Gods 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.
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."
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.
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 fathers 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 familys 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 Miguels 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.
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 priests 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, surgical intervention. If they didnt operate, the young priest would die. 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 didnt 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. 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.
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.
FINAL MONTHOften 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 latters 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 Generals Cadillac. One of the men tossed a homemade bomb atop the officials 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 martyrs 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 "Dont move, youre 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.
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.
MARTYRS CROWNOn 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 Robertos 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 fficer 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.
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."
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 nations 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 martyrs 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.
Hundreds 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 fathers 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!"