When I was at Junior Seminary as a boy I looked forward to Sunday mornings when we had to read a spiritual book for half and hour. The library had lots of books on lives of saints.
One book I particularly remember was the life of a young Mexican Jesuit priest who was executed in 1927. This was memorable because the book contained the first ever photographs of a martyred priest. In one photograph you see his arms outstretched. His name was Miguel Pro Juarez, known as Blessed Michael Pro.
There was great upheaval in Mexico and the Church had been virtually outlawed by the constitution of 1917; the provisions of which finally became law in 1926. The bishops retaliated by declaring a religious strike, banning all public worship. A peasant uprising in several sates against the government broke out, using the slogan ‘Long Live Christ the King’. This began the three year Cristero War.
The church didn’t condone the violence, but many priests and laypeople became members of the League for the Defence of Religious Freedom. Miguel carried out of clandestine ministry, celebrating the sacraments secretly. He and his two bothers were arrested, accused of plotting the attempted assignation of the president elect Obregón.
There was no evidence that he was in any way implicated, but General Obregón decided to frighten the Catholic opposition by executing Miguel without a trial. He wanted everyone to see this so he had it photographed and the pictures appeared in all the papers the next day.
Miguel held up his arms in a cross and shouted, ”Viva Cristo Rey” – Long live Christ the King. It is said that twenty thousand people attended his funeral. Father Miguel Pro was beatified on September 25, 1988 by Pope John Paul II as a martyr, killed in odium fidei (in hatred of the faith).
According to one of Fr. Pro’s biographers, Rec. M.D. Forrest, M.S.C., the following was composed shortly before his death:
Does our life become from day to day more painful, more oppressive, more replete with afflictions? Blessed be He a thousand times who desires it so. If life be harder, love makes it also stronger, and only this love, grounded on suffering, can carry the Cross of my Lord Jesus Christ.
Love without egotism, without relying on self, but enkindling in the depth of the heart an ardent thirst to love and suffer for all those around us: a thirst that neither misfortune nor contempt can extinguish I believe, O Lord; but strengthen my faith… Heart of Jesus, I love Thee; but increase my love.
Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigour to my confidence. Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee; but so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee. Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine; but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it in practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life.