This past Sunday we celebrated the feast of Christ the King, the culmination of the Church’s entire liturgical year, and on Nov. 23 we remember the martyrdom of Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J. whose death came only two short years after the very first Feast of Christ the King.
Blessed Miguel Pro was a Mexican priest in a time of great revolt and religious persecution. Consequently, it was also a time of anti-clerical hounding based on a militant enforced atheism. This turmoil left many religious and priests with no option but to flee Mexico’s borders or take the Church underground. Fr. Miguel Pro S.J., only 36 years-old, fearlessly continued serving the poor, the destitute and the oppressed. As he biked from town to town, it was only a matter of time before he was eventually identified as a Roman Catholic priest and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Fr. Pro was able to evade authorities for nearly a year as he continued his ministry, but on Nov. 23, 1927 he was caught and immediately sentenced to death without trial.
Mexican dictator, Plutarco Calles, sought to use the priest’s death as a public example of the fate of any Christian and ordered that a professional photographer document the event. He wanted every countryman to see the gruesome death he too could face for proclaiming faith in God.
A firing squad and crowds were efficiently assembled and as his last request, Fr. Pro was brought before the people to pray in silence for two minutes. Upon rising, he said to the firing squad, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, You know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”
He was offered a blindfold, but declined. Instead, with a rosary in one hand and a crucifix in the other, he outstretched his arms as Jesus on the cross and said in a firm, unshaken voice, “Viva Christo Rey!” “Long live, Christ the King!”
The next day, as the priest’s lifeless body was carried to the cemetery, nearly 10 thousand Mexicans risked their own lives to accompany it, courageously passing in front of the dictator's house. They chanted Fr. Pro’s words throughout the somber walk. “Viva Christo Rey! Viva Christo Rey!”
Copies of the execution photo with Fr. Pro’s arms outstretched spread madly across the country and were immediately banned. People everywhere knew the power of his words and the power of his witness.