November 23, 1927. The dirty walls of the place of execution resounded with the shout, “Viva Cristo Rey! Long Live Christ the King!” And Blessed Miguel Pro completed his life, his arms held out wide in the form of a cross. His shout was the defiant cry of the Cristeros, the Catholics of Mexico who were determined to restore the reign of Jesus Christ in a land that was suffering the most intense anti-Catholic persecution since the time of Elizabeth I of England.
Miguel Pro was born to a family of miners in Guadelupe, Mexico in 1891. He was a very spiritual child. He was adventurous. He was witty. He was intelligent. He was called “Cocol” because as a child when he almost killed himself on one of his adventures, he regained consciousness with his frantic parents and relatives praying around him, and said, “I want Cocol,” a sweet bread. Cocol would become the endearing name his family would call him, and his clandestine name when he became a priest.
At 20 years old Miguel embraced his passion to live for Kingdom of Jesus Christ. He renounced the world and entered the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in El Llano, Mexico. By that time it was dangerous to be a Catholic in Mexico, even more dangerous to be a priest. By 1914 the seminary was closed and the seminarians fled to Texas and New Mexico, where Miguel continued his education, eventually being sent to study in Spain and in Belgium. Meanwhile, back in Mexico, a new constitution made it illegal for Catholics to practice their faith outside of a few designated churches. The country continually looked for ways to destroy the faith. Its prime method was to eliminate priests.
Miguel was ordained a priest in Belgium in 1925. He had numerous stomach ailments and operations. It looked like his life would come to an early end. Perhaps he used this to convince his superiors to allow him to return to Mexico to see his family once more. Once he arrived he joined the fight for Christ in his homeland. The situation in Mexico was grave. The new president, Calles, declared that he had a personal hatred for Jesus Christ and vigorously enforced anti-Catholic measures throughout the country. In Miguel’s home state of Tabasco, the governor, Canabal, closed all Churches and forced the priests whom he did not kill into hiding.
Fr. Miguel Pro found ways to reach out to the people. Catholics in a village would receive a letter saying that Cocol was coming. He would come in the middle of the night dressed as a beggar and baptize infants, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. He would appear in a jail dressed as a police office and bring communion to condemned Catholics. He would go into the rich neighborhoods to procure funds for the poor of Mexico City dressed as a fashionable businessman, complete with a fresh flower on his lapel. He very quickly became a hero for the faith among the Catholics of Mexico. The government learned about him and sought out ways to discredit him while looking to arrest him. He was accused of involvement in an assassination attempt on the former president; caught, arrested and quickly sent to the firing squad. President Calles had the scene meticulously photographed and published on the front pages of all of the newspapers of Mexico in order to scare the Catholics into submission. He even allowed a funeral convinced that no one would come and giving him the opportunity to say that the faith, like Miguel Pro, was dead. Instead 20,000 to 30,000 people came. Throughout the funeral they shouted Fr. Pro’s last words, “Viva Cristo Rey.”
Sixty one year later, on September 25, 1988, Miguel Pro was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II as an American martyr. Today is His feast day, the anniversary of his death, November 23rd.
“Viva Cristo Rey!” Our commitment also is to Christ the King. Like Blessed Miguel Pro, we cannot allow anything to destroy the passion within us for the One whose death showed us the way to life. We need to fight for the Kingdom. This means standing up against the materialistic forces of evil seeking to destroy to world. This means seeking out those who are longing for the presence of the Lord. This means serving the presence of the Lord in those who call out to us in pain, the hungry and thirsty, naked and sick, the stranger and imprisoned, and all those who are reduced to the lowest levels in our society.
“Viva Cristo Rey!” Governments rise and fall, countries rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is forever. We are the soldiers of this Kingdom. We are the soldiers of Jesus Christ. We fight His battles in our homes and in our hearts. We keep both, home and heart, pure for Him. We fight on the streets reaching out to the lowly of the Gospel reading. We fight in our workplaces and in our schools, proclaiming our faith with voices that resound off the walls of hearts of those who would wish us dead. We die for Jesus Christ. We live for Jesus Christ. Viva Cristo Rey!
At Miguel Pro’s beatification, John Paul, II said, “Neither suffering nor serious illness, neither the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which Blessed Miguel Pro brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away. Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love
for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to him, even in death.”
Blessed Miguel Pro is one of the millions of our predecessors who shout out to us that life only has meaning when that life is the life of Jesus Christ. We live for Jesus Christ. We are members of His Kingdom. We are his soldiers.
Viva Cristo Rey!