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Bl. Miguel Pro: The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail

One of the lessons of Church history is that the Church founded by Jesus Christ is resilient and will not be defeated. No matter how many attempts have been made by rulers of this earth to eradicate the Church over the past 2000 years, the Lord has always kept His promise to St. Peter that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18). An example of the Lord sustaining His Church through persecution is found in Mexico in the Twentieth Century.

An Anticlerical Constitution

Throughout its history, after gaining independence from Spain in 1821, there have been many periods of anticlericism in Mexico. With the rise and fall of various governments, the tide would change and the Church would find herself under persecution. Many times the persecution focused on the Church's property rights in order for the government to access the Church's wealth through her property.

The 1917 Constitution was a thinly-veiled attempt to essentially outlaw the Catholic Church and other denominations. In that Constitution, Church property was given to the government, the teaching of the Church was forbidden, priests were prevented from wearing clerical garb outside of the church, states were allowed to remove priests, and violators of these laws did not have the right to a trial. In 1924, with the election of President Plutarco Calles, the laws began to be strictly enforced.

Using the existing laws of the Constitution, along with other anticlerical legislation, Calles oversaw one of the most severe persecutions of the Church in Mexico. Many priests and other clergy were killed, church buildings were taken by the state for secular purposes, and the Church was forced to go underground.

In 1926, a law was passed which forbade public worship unless controlled by the state. In consultation with Pope Pius XI, the bishops of Mexico issued an extraordinary statement that as of the start date for these draconian laws, all worship requiring a priest would be suspended. The churches were not closed, but there would be no access to priests as they were essentially marked men and had to go into hiding.

In response to strict enforcement of the 1917 Constitution, armed rebellion began in what became known as the Cristero War. Over the course of the years from 1927 to 1929, thousands on both sides were killed.

Fleeing Mexico for Formation

In the midst of these times, there were many brave priests who continued to clandestinely celebrate the sacraments of the Church despite the danger. The best known of these priests is the Jesuit Fr. Miguel Pro.

At the time of the 1926 law, Fr. Pro had only been back in Mexico for several weeks. Many years ago, in 1910, he had been in the novitiate for the Society of Jesus. Persecutions had broken out against the clergy and religious orders. He and his brother novices had been ordered to flee Mexico. They spent time in Texas and California. Eventually they traveled to Cadiz, Spain where they resumed their studies and formation. Over the course of the next several years, Miguel would be sent by his superiors to spend time in Nicaragua, Barcelona, Belgium, and Cuba. In 1925, he was ordained a priest in Belgium where he was focusing his studies on serving the working class.

Throughout his life, Fr. Pro was a joyful person. Whether he was leading junior seminarians in Nicaragua, teaching catechism in Spain, or reaching out to Belgian communists, he maintained a good sense of humor and charm. His natural magnetism drew people to him, and he rewarded their trust with kindness and keeping a good spirit even in the midst of difficult times. In addition, he had musical talent which he would share through his guitar playing and singing songs from his homeland.

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The Church goes Underground

Soon after his return to Mexico, the 1926 laws went into effect. Fr. Pro was now part of the underground priesthood in the capital Mexico City. As it would soon become clear, God had equipped His priest for this type of service. In fact, Fr. Pro would have made a very good actor. He used these abilities to move around and minister to the faithful. Employing disguises, he would move past police and military who were on the lookout for priests. At times he would be dressed as a mechanic in order to minister to chauffeurs and taxi drivers. At other times, he was dolled up as a "dandy" with a fake mustache in order to avoid detection. He was even known to change disguises while riding in a taxi cab in order to exit the cab undetected by the police who had been following him.

Most of the time he used his brother's bicycle to travel around secretly in order to hear confession, give communion, perform marriages, baptize babies, and give last rites. Fr. Pro also was involved in social ministry by helping to get food and clothes to families in need. In some cases, he literally was handed babies and had to act as an adoption agency by helping to place these babies.

Fr. Pro provides Adoption Services

One of his more unusual adoption services began when he was riding in a taxi. When the taxi was stopped at one point during his ride, a man came up to the taxi and handed Fr. Pro a package. After arriving at his destination, he decided to open the package. It was only then that Fr. Pro the "package" was actually a baby swaddled in a box!

On another occasion, Fr. Pro had to learn the basics of parenting as he transported a baby to its foster parents. A bit naively, Fr. Pro had placed the baby wrapped in a shawl next to him on the seat of the cab. When the cab jolted, the wrapped baby flew off the seat. Fortunately, he acted quickly and caught the child. The rest of the trip, he firmly held the child who obliged the good Father by drenching Fr. Pro's clothes.

Another adoption gave Fr. Pro the opportunity to imitate our Lord. Unable to find a home for a baby, Fr. Pro's family decided to adopt the child. They considered the child a fitting gift to receive because of the way that the Nino (Child Jesus) had protected their family throughout these troubled times.

Unfortunately, a vicious rumor about the child's father being Fr. Pro began to circulate. With full trust in Fr. Pro, his superior knew the story to be false, and he asked Fr. Pro to defend himself. In response, Fr. Pro asked not to be ordered to do so because he knew that it was a completely false rumor and he did not want to waste this opportunity to imitate our Lord's innocence and silence in the face of His accusers and their false charges.

Falsely Accused and Captured

After the Cristeros movement began, the Jesuit superiors forbade any involvement by priests in the armed resistance, and Fr. Pro along with his brothers complied with this order. His brothers, however, were involved in helping him with his ministry and the non-violent resistance to the government. Despite taking precautions, Fr. Pro and his brothers were eventually caught up in the government's dragnet to suppress resistance and eliminate priests.

On November 13, 1927, an attempt was made on President Calles' life. The perpetrators of the failed effort were arrested. In addition, the car involved in the bombing attempt was linked back to the Pro family because it had once belonged to them. The family went into hiding before attempting to leave the country. A brave woman housed Fr. Pro and his two brothers only days after the assassination attempt. For two days, they stayed in the home and Fr. Pro celebrated mass for his brothers and the members of the household. After only two days of hiding, the brothers planned to leave the next morning for the United States.

The government had learned of their location and surrounded the house the night before their planned departure. The next morning all three brothers were arrested on the false charges of having been involved in the assassination attempt. Questioned by the police about harboring the bombers, the woman replied that she had only housed a saint.

The Martyrdom of Fr. Pro

Within two weeks of their arrest, without a trial, Fr. Miguel Pro along with his brother Humberto were sentenced to be killed by a firing squad. The youngest brother Roberto was spared by the intervention of an Argentinian diplomat.

On November 27th, the government, who also killed the actual men involved with the bombing on the same day, wanted to send a message and invited the press to come to the executions and to take photographs. Pictures were indeed taken which showed the calm faith of Fr. Pro. Prior to his execution. Before being killed, he prayed for about two minutes, forgave his executors, refused the blindfold, stood before the firing squad with his arms outstretched as if on the cross, and spoke, "Vivo Cristo Rey!"

The government's efforts had backfired, the pictures were circulated and only spread the story of the martyrdom of Fr. Pro throughout Mexico and beyond. Despite being forbidden to do so, thousands came to pay their respects to Fr. Pro and to attend his funeral. In his death, Fr. Pro had shown that the Catholic Church would not be defeated by a cruel tyrant. Instead, as Jesus had said, the Church would prevail.

Although the most violent anticlerical action would wane by the middle of the Twentieth Century, it would not be until almost the end of the century when most of the formal anticlerical laws would be repealed. Throughout that time, the faithful of Mexico remembered the example of Fr. Pro and his fellow priests along with many other lay people who risked their lives for the sake of the Faith.

The Church has recognized the heroic virtue of many of these faithful Christians by beatifying Fr. Pro in 1988 and canonizing 25 of his countrymen as martyrs in 2000.

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Chaplet of Bl. Miguel Pro

Blessed Miguel, before your death, you told your friend to ask you for favors when you were in Heaven. I beg you to intercede for me and in union with Our Lady and all the angels and saints, to ask Our Lord to grant my petition, provided that it be God's Will. {mention the request}

We honor and adore the triune God. The Gloria. We ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Come Holy Ghost. We pray as Jesus taught us to pray. The Our Father. We venerate with love the Virgin Mary. Hail Mary. All you angels, bless you the Lord forever. Saint Joseph, Saint {name of your patron}, and all the saints, pray for us.

Blessed Miguel, high spirited youth, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, loving son and brother, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, patient novice, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, exile from your homeland, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, prayerful religious, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, sick and suffering, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, defender of workers, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, courageous priest in hiding, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, prisoner in jail, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, forgiver of persecutors, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.
Blessed Miguel, holy martyr, pray for us. Viva Christo Rey.

Imprimatur: Joseph A. Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston – Houston, 13 August 1995

Bl. Miguel Pro Facts

Bl. Miguel Pro (1195 - 1231)

Feast Day: November 23

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