A Patron Saint for the Falsely Accused

On the morning of July 31, 1926, for the first time in the 400-year history of Catholic Mexico, no priest mounted the steps of an altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By order of the Mexican bishops, and with the approval of Pope Pius XI, the celebration of Mass, the administration of the sacraments, and the day-to-day cycle of devotional exercises were suspended in every cathedral, church, chapel and shrine throughout the country. It was not an interdict; it was a church strike.
For 11 years the Church in Mexico had tried to reach some type of reasonable accord with Mexico's aggressively anti-Catholic government, but without any success. Mexico's president, Plutarco Elías Calles, encouraged the state governors to enact the most stringent laws against the Church in their own districts. In Tabasco, Governor Tomás Garrido Canabal sponsored new legislation that ordered all Catholic priests to marry and outlawed any priest who remained celibate. In other parts of the country priests who offered Mass and administered the sacraments, nuns who kept their vows, laity who sheltered priests or concealed the Blessed Sacrament in their homes did so at the risk of their lives.
At this critical moment in the life of the faith, Father Miguel Augustin Pro, S.J., came home to Mexico from his studies in Belgium. Immediately Father Pro began to practice a clandestine ministry in Mexico City. Disguised as a mechanic, or a student, or a man taking his dog for a walk, Father Pro went from house to house, hearing confessions, baptizing infants, blessing marriages, giving last rites to the dying.
When Father Pro was finally arrested it was an accident. Three radicals plotted to assassinate a Mexican general. By chance one of them had bought a used car from Father Pro's brother Humberto. The murder plot failed, the would-be assassins were captured, and their car was traced to the Pros. At the family's home the police arrested Humberto and Father Pro, accusing them of conspiracy to commit murder. The charge was false but that didn't matter, especially after Humberto admitted that he was active in Catholic organizations and Miguel revealed that he was a Catholic priest. With the explicit approval of Mexico's president both brothers were sentenced to summary executions.
In the courtyard of the police station Father Pro made the Sign of the Cross over the firing squad and the spectators. "May God have mercy on you," he said. "May God bless you." Then, extending his arms like Christ on the cross, Father Pro cried out, "Viva Cristo Rey!" Long live Christ the King! The soldiers fired and Father Pro fell dead. A few minutes later his brother Humberto met the same fate.
The authorities returned the bodies of Father Pro and his brother to the Pro family, who gave them a joint funeral. As the coffins of the two brothers were carried through the streets of Mexico City people threw flowers from their balconies and thousands joined the procession. Many in the crowd surged forward to touch Father Pro's coffin. Once the committal prayers were finished and the coffins had been lowered into their graves, the martyrs' father approached the two priests who had conducted the funeral and asked them to intone the Te Deum. And so the funeral of the martyrs concluded with a hymn of triumph.

Craughwell is the author of Saints Behaving Badly (Doubleday, 2006), Patron Saint Catholic Cardlinks (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004), and Saints for Every Occasion (Stampley Enterprises, 2001).

Copyright (c) 2006 Arlington Catholic Herald

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