Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, Priest and Martyr
November 23—USA Optional Memorial
Liturgical Color: Red
The proto-martyr of the age of the image
The emaciated holocaust survivor behind the barbed wire, gazing out, bewildered, as the Allied soldiers walk up to the camp. Click. The slack body of a black man hanging from a stout limb, a thick crowd of whites gathered around. Click. A soldier shooting a young Viet Cong prisoner in the head on the frenetic streets of Saigon in 1968. Click. The President zooming through Dallas in a convertible when… Click. In the age of the image, a camera is always clicking or a device recording the action. Modern reality is experienced through images, lenses, and screens more than words. Like a red-hot iron searing a brand into a hide, a powerful image sizzles as it presses itself into our brains. The photos of the execution of today’s martyr blister the mind. There are no photos of Polycarp as the flames licked his skin, of Felicity and Perpetua stumbling as the heifer ran them down, or of Kolbe quietly offering his life for a stranger in grim Auschwitz. The indelible photos of Father Pro being shot will have to suffice for all the undepicted others. The high drama of Pro’s last moments must substitute for every Christian stuffed in the trunk, worked to death in the Siberian gulag, or burned at the stake. No last words or gestures were recorded as the terror closed in on them. For so many who were “disappeared,” there were no witnesses, no documents, no legacy, no clicks.
Miguel Pro was born into a middle-class family in North Central Mexico. His family was large, pious, and close in the best Latino tradition. Miguel received his First Holy Communion from Fr. Mateo Correa, who would be executed just a few months before Father Pro for not revealing the confessions of his fellow prisoners. A much loved sister became a nun, a Christian witness which inspired Miguel to enter a Jesuit seminary. Miguel’s seminary studies in Mexico were interrupted by the spasms of anti-Catholic violence which convulsed Mexico throughout the early twentieth century. He had to flee the country and studied in California, Nicaragua, Spain, and, finally, Belgium, where he was ordained a priest in 1925. The other men ordained with him gave their customary first priestly blessing to their parents after the ordination Mass. Father Miguel’s entire family was in Mexico, so he went back to his room, laid out all his family photos on a table, and blessed the pictures. His first apostolic labors were in Belgium among working class miners. Miguel’s health was a problem from his youth. He suffered painful bleeding ulcers, which required several marginally successful surgeries to repair. This constant physical discomfort likely hardened his will, deepened his life of prayer, and steeled his body for the heroism to come. Years of faithful attendance at the school of human suffering had braced him. He was a man in full.
In 1926 Father Pro returned to Mexico and began a clandestine priestly ministry in an atmosphere of high tension. Mexico’s lords of evil had a phobia of Catholicism and outlawed its every expression, from the wearing of priestly garb to the public celebration of the Sacraments. Pro was hunted like a bandit. In November 1927, an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the president-elect provided the pretext for punishing Pro, who was guiltless. He was discovered in his hideout. There was no trial, no evidence, no counsel, no defense, no judge, no jury, no verdict, and no sentence. There was just a squalid firing range down the street. It was November 23. A photographer was sent to capture, for propaganda purposes, Pro begging for mercy. Not a chance! Father Pro briefly knelt in prayer, declined a blindfold, kissed his crucifix, and then stood and spoke in a strong voice: “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies! Viva Cristo Rey!” He then elevated his arms like the crucified Savior, a rosary in one hand and a small crucifix in the other when…click, click, click, click. It was 10:38 a.m. Pro is frozen in time. He is forever young. He is not before or after. He is his last seconds. He is those photos. To die is to do something. Blessed Miguel Pro did it as well as anyone ever did. He was beatified in 1988 and his memorial placed one week before the feast of Christ the King.
Blessed Miguel Pro, your gripping last moments sear the mind and pierce the heart. Grant us just an ounce of your ocean of daring, fortitude, and perseverance in living and sharing the faith. Help us to be more like you!