“The purpose of the present initiative is precisely to make up for these deficiencies and to realize the goals of the Constitution in the area of public cult and external discipline.
To this effect, the various articles of the bill submitted for your
examination sanction punishments against those who do not observe the
prohibitions contained in the said Article 30, as well as against those
who do not fulfill the norms it prescribes.”
With these words were introduced the specific regulations which
violated not only the Church’s right to worship, but also the inviolable
right of every person to live his or her faith.
With these laws and regulations commenced the deplorable development
which constitutes a sad page in the story of Mexico in our century and
yet, at the same time, a glorious page in the story of Christianity. As is
well-known, these very governing regulations eventually led to the violent death of many Catholics. Faithful to Christ, those men and women deliberately ignored an unjust law and continued to live and practice
their faith clandestinely in difficult situations, hunted as they were by
the police and deprived of a fundamental right of every person — their
Among the thousands of persons who paid with their very lives for their
devotion to the Lord and the Church was a Jesuit priest, Miguel Agustín
Pro. On 23 November 1927, without benefit of a trial, he was executed by a firing squad for the simple reason that he was a zealous and actively
committed priest and, as such, hated by the government. As early as
October 1926, a warrant of arrest had been issued against him for being a “religious propagandist.” Consequently, he was being sought by the police.
His spirit and his priestly activity constituted a challenge to the
government and the regulations which it had issued.
A passage from Sacred Scripture taken from the Book of Wisdom seems to sum up the events which led to the killing of Father Pro as well as what characterized him:
The wicked said:
“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings;
reproaches us for transgressions for the law and charges us with violations of our training.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God,
he will defend him and deliver him from the hands of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words,
God will take care of him.”
(Wisdom 2: 12, 17 – 20)
It is not our intention here to describe the life and activity of Father Pro in detail, nor to enter into the particulars of his death. Our purpose is to highlight the chief features of his rich personality and give prominence to the spirit which animated him and led him to martyrdom.
However, even this is not an easy task, especially when we keep in mind what a great sense of humor he had, an expression of his candid and cheerful personality. The jokes he played, even during the years of formation he spent as a Jesuit, were proverbial. It is both fascinating
and amusing to observe his capacity for making fun even of the policemen who were looking for him and who had actually laid hands on him. We know what disguises he used to elude surveillance so he could exercise his priestly ministry. They have been amply recorded in photographs.
Hs personal gifts, the richness of his temperment, the purity of his heart and of his behavior enabled him to come into contact with people of every kind and to establish very warm relationships. The education he received in the family, his experiences with his father, a mining engineer, had refined his innate sense of goodness, of understanding and of closeness to the less fortunate. The special studies which he later did, especially when he was in Belgium, and the contacts he made with some French Jesuit Fathers, developed his sensitivity to social problems, of which he acquired a considerable knowledge and competence. the visits he made to the miners, especially in Charleroi, enabled him to see for himself more than once the miserable conditions of certain kinds of persons and sharpened in him the need to be near the suffering and exploited and to dedicate himself to their welfare.
On one occasion he had gone down with the workers into the mine tunnels and later, on returning to the surface, wanted to accompany them in the train on their way home. When the miners realized that they were in the presence of a priest, they remained silent until one of them, probably to intimidate him, asked him if he was aware that he was surrounded by socialists. Unruffled, Father Pro declared that he himself was a “socialist” and that his only worry was what they would do with the money of the rich once they had it in their hands. The worker did not know what to reply. To get himself out of trouble, he pointed out that there were also many communists among them. Father Pro reacted by saying that he himself was also a “communist.”
“Look, it is one o’clock and you are eating. Well, I’m hungry too!! Will you not share your food with me?”
Bewildered by such composure, the worker looking questioningly at his
companions. Then, he turned once again to the Father and asked him: “Are you not afraid to enter our compartment?” Whereupon Father Pro announced in mock-heroic tone that he always traveled armed. While the workers looked sidelong at one another, even more stunned by the unusual behavior of such a priest, Father Pro pulled out a crucifix from his pocket, his “arms.” Then he explained to them the love of Christ for the workers. At the first station one of them got off the train, bought a chocolate bar and shared it with him. Before taking their leave, everyone wanted to shake hands with him.
This is one of the many incidents in the life of this man who knew how
to use his sense of humor and ability to joke in order to establish a
friendly rapport which became the medium of a message of goodness and of love — one that came straight from the depths of his priestly heart.
A Tireless Priest
Upon his return to Mexico in 1926, Father Pro started a varied and profoundly vigorous pastoral activity. Thanks to his own letters, we are able to appreciate not only the richness of his apostolic commitment, but also the light of an authentic priest of Christ that shines through it. His
writings, which date back to the time of his re-entry into Mexico, are a
mine of information. They put us in contact with Father Pro who occupies himself with lorry drivers and helps to rehabilitate poor young people who have been exploited into prostitution; a Father Pro who goes from house to house according to a pre-established timetable in order to bring Holy Communion to countless persons who have requested it; a Father Pro who gives spiritual direction to university students, professionals, workers, and who gives the Spiritual Exercises to persons desirous of
deepening their devotion to Christ at a time of persecution, and perhaps
seeking to know their vocation in life.
It is he himself who informs us of this many-sided and intense activity. His style is unmistakable. The freshness of language with which he describes the situations and the surroundings in which he works enables
us almost to see him in action:
Imagine fifty automobile drivers, hefty, of a type who sport the tejano cap, with a lock of hair sliding down the corner of the eyes,
and spitting prodigiously from the corner of the mouth.
Precious types, despite their rough and filthy manners…. To my great
surprise, I realized that coarse words flowed naturally from my lips.
And after so many years, I thought I had already forgotten them; it has been no less than 16 years since I left the mines; but, by golly! It is
though I had left them only yesterday.
Needless to stress the solemnity of this conference. I held it in a
spacious makeshift courtyard, dressed as a mechanic, with a beret pulled
down over my forehead and rubbing elbows with my sympathetic audience.
God bless the drivers of the world! Giving himself totally day and night to the exercise of his priestly ministry and of charitable activities towards countless needy persons, Father Pro never lost his cheerfulness and serenity.
But, he had to do everything with the utmost care and ingenuity,
resorting at times to amusing improvisations even at the expense of his
He was well aware that he was among the priests who were targets of the police:
The revolution is worsening. Reprisals will be terrible especially in Mexico City. The first to be arrested will be those who have had a hand in religious matters; and I… I have had mine up to the elbow!
Ah! to be among the first or among the last; in any case, to be among
their number! If this happens, send your petitions to heaven: There I
will be your best provider.
As we said, since October 1926 he had become an object of totally special surveillance and a warrant of arrest had been issued against him for being guilty of carrying on religious propaganda. The state of things became further aggravated in December when, on the occasion of a big feast day, the Catholics had taken the opportunity to send off 600 balloons which were to rain down leaflets on the city. As the colored pieces of paper poured down from the sky, the crowd cheered. Calles, who was also present at the festivities, showed himself pleasantly surprised by that spectacle. But when one of the leaflets was brought to him, and he saw the religious message, he flew into a rage and ordered the arrest of the culprits.
That same evening, a strict watch was set up around the house of the
Pro family. They suspected Humberto, but it was Father Miguel who ended up in the hands of the police. He himself has given us a report of what happened:
On 4 December, the day the balloons were launched, Bandala
came to search the house. He found nothing but gave orders to arrest
anyone who entered the house. Since I was the only one who entered, I had the honor of paying a visit to the elegant palace of Santiago
Tlaltelolco (the prison).
At seven in the evening, they led me between two rows of soldiers
along with six others who had been arrested like me on account of the
balloons. The lieutenant in charge who received us at Santiago first
read an official notice of the government which declared us prisoners,
and then added laughing: ‘Tomorrow we shall have Mass.’ I was afraid
they had guessed who I was. We eyed each other from head to foot to see who it could be and he specified: ‘It is one called Miguel Agustín.’ At
that point I remonstrated and asked for an explanation. Pointing to the
word Pro after my name, he asked what it meant. It is my family name, I answered. It is P-r-o and not P-b-r-o which is am abbreviation for
“presbitero” (Spanish for ‘priest’).
We spent the night under the stars because they had received orders
to make life difficult for us. Well, they laid out for us a large
mattress of cement and for pillows, the walls, and as blankets, the air
currents. All seven of us huddled together against each other because it
was really exceptionally cold. The next day they would have liked to
rouse us with buckets of water, but because we were not asleep, we
started to run at the first approach of the buckets amidst the hoots and
laughter of the soldiers.
Our purse contained the moderate sum of three pesos and 10 centavos,
enough to pay for a pot of boiled orange leaves without sugar, but for
us it seemed like nectar fallen from heaven, after the cold had made us
rigid as drumskins. At noon I left the prison.
This vivid, accurate, and humorous account written in his own handwriting is one of the many which have come down to us. They are occasional writings, written in great haste during the few free moments he had. They reveal the humorous side of his character, but at the same time his profound seriousness, his love for God and for men and women, as well as his awareness of the danger he was constantly running because of the courage with which he lived his priesthood.
Although he was set free, the police never again let him out of their
And yet his zeal urged him on. Fearlessly, he continued to exercise his
priestly ministry. The Pauline phrase Caritas Christi urget nos (2
Cor. 5, 14) describes Father Pro himself very well and reveals the force
which animated him:
The work has increased because as far as my strength allows,
I have taken charge of the Holy Family parish. Before things changed for the worse, I had my ‘Communion Centers,’ where I went every day to bring Holy Communion to between three and four hundred people. On the first Fridays of the month the number almost trebled and they increased every month: 900, 1300, 1500 communions.
It will be easy for you to imagine what this means for a poor parish
priest unaccustomed to hear confessions.
Very elegantly, I rode through the streets of God on my brother’s
bicycle, because the drivers of Mexico are very cheeky. I have lost
track of my other ministries. Sick calls have been my favorite
occupation besides bringing Viaticum and giving Extreme Unction.
Baptisms and marriages galore, especially among the working class. I
mention in particular the baptism of two young girls of
twenty-five and twenty-eight who had foolishly received communion
several times before they had been baptized. Then there was the
conversion of some socialists and of a heretic, and very many First
Appointed chief lecturer by the League, I organized 150 young men for
a lecturing campaign which at first had excellent results. but
subsequent arrests clipped our wings and brought down our elaborate
In the poor quarters, pushed about by the vortex of persons of my kind, I seemed to have found myself in my element. I talked, shouted, bellowed before that audience in shirt sleeves. Hundreds came to our conferences, braving the gendarmes and the policemen. Poor people! So much good can be done among them!
As the situation worsened, superiors considered it
wise to order him to go into hiding. During that time he wrote these
Confined now to a small room, without any view except the
neighbor’s yard, I am prohibited from allowing myself to be seen often.
If you could send me books, I would be grateful to you.
In prayer and in silence he obeyed what was asked of him. As a good Jesuit he accepted the will of his Father Provincial and, as a good Jesuit, he did not hesitate to manifest to him all that he had in his heart. So from his hiding-place he continued:
Obedience is better than sacrifice, so I have not moved from
I really do not want to complain or to blame anyone. But allow me to say this: The situation is very delicate, dangers surround us, and yet has not the good God said: ‘Help yourself, that heaven may help you?’
The people are in dire need of spiritual help. Every day I hear of various persons dying without the sacraments. Priests are no longer ready to court danger; they have retreated out of fear or out of obedience. If I could do my little bit, I would certainly be exposing myself to danger if I were to do it as before; but to do it with discretion and moderation does not seem reckless to me. Father Carlos is much too afraid; between two solutions he infallibly chooses the more
pessimistic one. It seems to me that between recklessness and fear there is a third choice, just as between excessive prudence and audacity.
I have presented all these reasons to Father Carlos; he fears for my life! But what is my life anyway? To list it for my brothers and sisters: Is that not perhaps equal to saving it? Of course I should not lose it foolishly. but when the sons of Loyola have to fight, are they to turn their backs at the first gunshot? I speak, of course, in general because there are those who will be of great use tomorrow, and it is wise to watch with care over their lives. But a character like me!
What motivates me, Father, is not a desire that comes from a false sense of humility for from an air of courage. On the one hand I am convinced before God of my uselessness and of my little value, and on the other hand I know that I can be useful to a large number of persons, both priests and lay people, if I remain among them these days, when these poor brethren have so much need of the help of the Church.
The most that those fellows can do to me is kill me; but this
will not happen except on the day and the hour that the good God chooses.
Besides it seems that the persecution will last for quite a while, and there are few, very few pastors who are taking care of the flock of Christ….
Well do I know that I am doing more for the Church by remaining buried, out of obedience, in a poor room, than if I were to keep myself out of the fray of my own free will. But I also know that it is not disobedience to ask my superiors permission to do something, when I can do it without exposing myself top danger.
The Father Provincial was so impressed by this letter
that he gave him permission to resume his activity, but with the advice that he do so with utmost prudence. Father Pro took up his apostolic labors again with great enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the situation worsened and he manifested this to Father Provincial in a letter dated 15 May 1927:
Here things are going pretty badly. One can’t see the point
when the horizon will clear up. Without the direct intervention of God Our Lord, human means cannot remedy the evil. Blessed is he who thus disposes things and gives us the grace to live this life, which is no longer a life! The lack of priests is serious. People die without the sacraments and the few priests who are left are not enough for the task.
Those who are left? O my! If each one would do his part, things would not go so badly; but not all are masters of their fear….
I observe the precautions which you suggested and nothing has happened to me. The alarms…remain on the level of alarm and they help me, spiritually and materially, to throw myself with confidence into the arms of a loving Providence of God our Father. When the danger has passed, we have the time of our life because the disguised life we lead is that of a perfect comedian.
With regard to ministries, I am kept busy especially with confessions and preparations for death. I wish I could multiply myself a hundred times so I could be present to everyone. God will accept my goodwill.
I commend myself in a most special way to your prayers. The dangers among which we live are terrible. Terrible if we look at them with the eyes of the body, but not so if we look at them with the eyes of the soul.
These excerpts from his writings need no comment.
They are enough to help us capture and appreciate the personality of
Father Pro and his spirit. So inspired, he continued on his way, following
with passionate love his Lord to whom he had given his life in the Society
“He told me to desire physical and moral martyrdom,”
testified a confidant of his, Father Alfredo Méndez Medina, “and when I asked him what he meant by a moral martyrdom, he replied that he wanted to die dishonored like Christ.”
The idea which St. Ignatius proposes to those who want to follow Christ in the Society of Jesus is that to which Father Pro sincerely aspired. It was in these terms that the founder of the Order expressed himself:
So those who are progressing in the spiritual life and truly
following Christ our Lord love and intensely desire…. to clothe
themselves with the same clothing and uniform of their Lord…. ready to
accept and suffer with patience, through the help of God’s grace, any
such injuries, mockeries, and affronts entailed by the wearing of this
uniform of Christ our Lord.
All of this was to become reality in the life of the Jesuit, Miguel Agustín Pro.
Arrest and Martyrdom
An assassination attempt against General Obregon became the occasion for following a trail that led to the arrest of Pro and his brothers Humberto and Roberto. From their arrest, they were brought to the cells in the basement of the Detective Inspector’s Office in Mexico City. The
proceedings of their investigation that were written there reveal without
any ambiguity that the Pro brothers were innocent and that they had
absolutely nothing to do with the attempt, either with its actual
execution or its conception and planning.
Then, after the proposal to have a formal trial was rejected, came the
order to have the priest shot and, together with him, his brother
Till the very last moment, Pro and his brothers were convinced that
within a short time they would be set free, such was their confident
innocence. But the unyielding fury against the Church, and especially
against this exemplary priest of hers, brought him to that ignominious
death with which the authorities sought, vainly, to place on him the
infamy of the attempt of which he was entirely innocent and even
There is no way more eloquent to summarize what happened in those last moments of his life than to go back to what Roberto Pro had solemnly given as sworn evidence. He was released after he had shared those days in prison with his brother Miguel and Humberto, and was present at the last moments of their lives. And so we have a first class testimony which also enables us to further appreciate the mind and heart of Father Pro:
I saw my brother Miguel when they brought him out to shoot
him, and this is how…., but so you may understand my narrative, let me
go back to the day before he was shot. On 22 November 1927 my brother Miguel made his last deposition towards 7 or 8 p. m. I remember him
saying more or less these words to me: ‘Now I think they have finished
with our depositions. I suppose they will appoint a competent tribunal
and turn us over to it. The Lord will provide. From that it seemed clear
what his impression was at the end of the depositions, but the
impression was altered when we both noticed the unusual movements of the troops and of the guards assigned to us. Our guard was changed every half hour from around 9 p.m. of the 22nd. The first thing we both did without communicating the fear which we felt, was to recite the rosary.
After that we remained silent, because neither one of us dared to
communicate to the other what he was thinking. But something happened to stir us form our silence. Towards 11 p.m. or midnight, Generals Roberto Cruz and Palomera Lopez came down to the basement of the police office. The latter was an immoral and bloody man; he had turned into an executioner of Catholics and of anyone who opposed the plans of the government. They were accompanied by various colonels whose names I do not know, but I know that they were the adjutants or seconds of the said generals. Moreover, there were various photographers. I don’t know whether they were official or belonged to the newspapers. The two
generals commanded my brothers Miguel and Humberto, Engineer Luis Segura Vilchis, Juan Tirado and myself to come out to the corridor of the
basement. When all five of us were lined up, General Cruz, accompanied
by General Lopez, identified each one of us by name so that General
Palomera Lopez could inspect us closely from head to foot without saying
a word. Immediately thereafter, he ordered the photographers present to take a picture of each of us. Those were the photographs which were
published in the newspapers of Mexico. They are the ones where the three of us brothers are wearing sweaters. The inspection over, orders were given that no one was to speak with anyone. For this reason the guards were changed for the evident fear they had that we might subvert our guards. Next them made us return to the basement where we had come from, without saying one word to us. Back in the basement, Miguel and I could not hide the great uneasiness and fear which the visit of Palomera Lopez and companions left in us. I remember Miguel saying to me: ‘Now things are really getting serious. Who knows what these gentlemen want to do. I am afraid they are up to no good. Let us ask God for resignation and strength for what He has in store for us and let us resign ourselves to what will happen.’ I remember that afterwards we prayed again. I made my confession to Miguel and he gave me absolution. We passed a rather uneasy night, what with the sound of arms, the voices giving orders and, above all, the frame of mind we were in. The next morning, more or less towards six, Miguel who woke up with a severe headache, took an aspirin tablet or something equivalent, and I remember that he said more or less these words to me: ‘I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel that today something is going to happen to us. Let us ask for His grace.’ After praying, we set to playing as cheerfully as we possibly could by performing juggling feats to keep ourselves warm. I do not recall if we had breakfast or not. But I definitely recall that towards 9:30 a.m. we heard the squeals of clarions, troop movements and general commotion all over the police headquarters. At 10:20 a.m., the chief of agents, Mazcorro by name, appeared and with a commanding voice that we all could hear, called Engineer Luis Segura Vilchis. Eight or ten minutes afterwards, we heard a volley of rifle shots and a few seconds after, a single shot. For or five minutes passed before Mazcorro came again. With the same commanding voice he called my brother Miguel who was with me in the basement. As I said, he did not have his coat on. Mazcorro told him to put it on and as he was putting it on, he took and shook my hands and then left accompanied by Mazcorro. I went to a small window which was blocked by tables and faced the courtyard of the headquarters. I saw Miguel pass escorted by Mazcorro, an official, and some soldiers. I could not see anything after that. I only heard another loud volley of rifle-shots, as before, and a moment after, a single shot. This was the way he received the notice of execution which had not even been communicated to him. I want to declare that I cannot state for sure what Miguel’s impression was when he heard the volley that killed Engineer Luis Segura Vilchis because all these things happened one after another in a few minutes. They were terrible minutes for me and I do not want to risk reporting a fact of which I am not completely sure. I said that I saw him go out, and his step was natural and serene as usual.
What Roberto Pro did not see and was not included in his
account is supplied for us in the deposition made by Jose de Jesús
Olivares, a Mexican priest who was himself detained in the basement of the Detective Inspector’s Office. He was able to follow the movements of
persons in the very courtyard where Father Pro was shot.
On 23 November, I saw from a window of my cell that soldiers had arrived in the courtyard of the Inspector’s Office. They were personnel of the Office and other persons who were to witness the execution.
Towards 10:30 a.m., I saw Father Pro arrive in the same courtyard. He was escorted by four soldiers who let him up to the place of execution. Then I saw the commanding officer of the firing-squad approach Father Pro to ask him a question which I could not hear because of the distance from where I was, but from the gestures I gathered that Father Pro asked
for a few moments to recollect himself in prayer. Then he knelt down, took out a rosary from his pocket and a crucifix which he kissed. He remained in prayer for some time, raising his eyes to heaven. Shortly after, he stood up and turning to the firing-squad, he once more kissed the crucifix which he had in his right hand while in his left he held the rosary. Then he stretched his arms in the form of a cross, and giving a nod he got ready to receive the volley of shots.
Not very long before these tragic events, a friend of Father Miguel Pro, Engineer Jorge Nuñez Prida, had asked him “what he would do if he were condemned to death.” His reply was this:
I would ask for three things: that I may be permitted
- to kneel down to make an act of contrition;
- to put my arms in the form of a cross to receive the shots;
- to shout: ‘Long Live Christ the King!’
All this happened. Miguel Agustín Pro ended his life with the name of Christ the King on his lips. His life was completely dedicated to the good of men and women because it was animated by the spirit of Christ.
No wonder, then, that the present Superior General of the Society of
Jesus, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, following the example of his
predecessors and particularly of the one who was superior general at the
time of his martyrdom of Father Pro, wrote a letter to all Jesuits,
holding up this fellow Jesuit as a model worthy of imitation. Focusing on
the special attributes, he wrote:
The tireless activity of Father Pro had attracted the attention of the authorities. It was strictly priestly activity and in no way political, but the law at that time considered it illegal. Even in his youth, along with his father, a mining engineer, Miguel learned something of the conditions in which the poor miners lived and he devoted himself to their service. This had a considerable influence on him and consequently on his vocation. To be a priest of Christ in order to be close to those suffering and in need; to spread the Kingdom of charity without neglecting that of justice. It was this priestly spirit and this ‘social solicitude’ of the Church that were the target of the execution squad when Father Pro was shot, with his arms spread open in the form of a cross and his lips repeating, ‘Long Live Christ the King!’
In this article which we have based principally on the writings of Father Pro himself, we have tried to bring into relief the characteristic traits of his personality and spirit. Yet we would not be doing him justice if we omitted to mention the prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows which he wrote ten days before his death, when he instinctively sensed what was going to happen:
Let me live beside you, my Mother,
to keep you company in your
solitude and your deepest grief!
Let me feel again in my soul
the sadness of your eyes and the abandonment of your heart!
On the road of my life I do not want
to taste the joy of Bethlehem, adoring
the infant Jesus in your virginal arms.
I do not want to enjoy the dear
presence of Jesus Christ
in your humble house of Nazareth.
Nor do I wish to unite myself
with the choir of angels
in your glorious Assumption!
In my life I want the jeers and the derision of Calvary;
I want the slow agony of your Son,
the contempt, the ignominy, the infamy of the Cross.
My wish, O Sorrowful Virgin, is to stand beside you,
to strengthen my spirit through your tears,
to consume my sacrifice through your martyrdom,
to sustain my heart with your solitude,
to love my God and your God
through the immolation of my whole being.
Translator’s Note: Miguel Agustín Pro was beatified by Pope John Paul II at the Piazza San Pietro on Sunday morning, 25 September 1988.
This text, originally titled Il Beato Michele Agostino Pro, Martire della Fede and published in La Civiltà Cattolica, 1988, IV, 128-140, was written by Paolo Molinari, S.J. and translated by José María Fuentes, S.J. for the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Manila Philippines. This text has been graciously provided for electronic use by the Jesuit Office of Vocations, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Manila, Philippines.