5/17/2023 0 Comments
The Execution of Father Miguel Pro
By Theresa Marie Moreau
All doors have been closed, except those of Heaven.
General Miguel Gregorio de la Luz Atenogenes Miramon y Tarelo (1831-67)
Crowds stirred. Heads turned. Flashbulbs popped atop leather-bellow cameras.
Forward, stepped the Jesuit. Religious garb had been outlawed in Mexico the previous year, 1926, so the 36-year-old Roman Catholic priest wore street clothing that he’d slept in while locked up the last six days: rumpled black jacket and pants, white shirt and a tie tucked into a button-down sweater vest with a horizontal zigzag pattern.
Escorted by two men wearing overcoats and fedoras, the three proceeded into a secured, wall-enclosed courtyard filled with reporters, photographers, uniformed soldiers, mounted police and even representatives of the diplomatic corps. In the center of all, stood four teams of five-man firing squads. Nearby, two Green Cross ambulances waited for the bodies.
Among the observers stood Roberto Cruz Diaz (1888-1990), chief police inspector and veteran general of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20). He dressed in a brand-new uniform for the occasion: jodhpurs and jackboots, high-collar jacket wrapped in a Sam Browne belt including shoulder strap, and a visored cap with an enamel tri-color cockade displaying the colors of the Mexican flag: green for hope, white for purity, red for bloodshed, lots of bloodshed. Relaxed, he stood casually, leaning his weight onto his left leg, as he sucked on a smoldering cigar.
Cruz admired himself, thought of himself as a cultured man, certainly not an old-fashioned, religious believer in cockamamie superstition. An apostate who turned his back on the Roman Catholic Church, he scornfully looked at the priest, who stared straight ahead as he walked by, calmly, silently. The General – tapped to oversee the executions – noticed that the blood had drained from the face of the condemned man. His dark skin appeared pale. His lips, like paper. But the face – Cruz grudgingly admitted to himself – appeared intelligent and cultured.
At the shooting range, the priest, the Alter Christus, stopped before the human silhouettes used for target practice. The lifeless figures – pockmarked with bullet hits – stood askew in front of stacked logs protecting a small section of the concrete wall that surrounded Mexico City’s Federal District General Police Inspectorate.
“Any last requests?” asked Major Torres, commander of the firing squads.
“Yes, I want to pray a little.”
Upon the earth, he kneeled, slowly crossed himself, blessing himself, and clasped his hands in prayer, reminiscent of Albrecht Durer’s pen-and-ink “Study of the Hands of an Apostle.”
Reverently, he kissed the small crucifix that he had removed from around his neck. On his knees, in front of the firing squad, he calmly pulled from his pocket a rosary and then stood with such a determined enthusiasm that it briefly softened some of the stone-hearted soldiers – his executioners – assembled in front of him.
The priest refused a blindfold, kissed the crucifix in his right hand and gripped the rosary dangling from his left, as he faced death.
“Attention!” Major Torres called to the death squad waiting orders.
“God is my witness that I am innocent of the crime you impute to me!” declared the priest.
Five snappy-uniformed soldiers stepped forward and formed a line.
“God have mercy on you all,” prayed the priest for his killers, and with his crucifix he made a large sign of the cross over the gunmen.
“Ready!” yelled the commander, raising his right arm, brandishing a sword, pointed heavenward.
“With all my heart, I forgive my enemies.”
In an act of philopassionism, the priest thrust his arms out to the side, in imitation of Christ, raised his eyes to the skies and slowly, distinctly shouted, “Viva Cristo Rey!”
“Fire!” the commander yelled, with a swift downstroke of his sword.
To the ground, the priest collapsed.
Police Medical Doctor Horacio Cazale walked over and found him still alive, but quickly remedied when a gunman, the squad’s officer, a sergeant, pointed his rifle a few inches from the right side of the priest’s head and administered the exploding coup de grace.
It was 10:30 in the morning, November 23, 1927. A Wednesday.
Forward stepped a 24-year-old man, dressed in a light-colored, three-piece business suit, with a tie tucked into his vest and a handkerchief sticking out of his jacket’s chest pocket. Escorted from his basement jail cell to the courtyard, he advanced toward the wall. As he neared the body of the priest, he stopped, respectfully bowed, and then proceeded a few more steps.
“Do you want to be blindfolded?” Torres asked him.
“No. I am ready, gentlemen,” he answered, sliding his hands into his trouser pockets, then quickly removed them, swinging them behind his back, thrusting out his chest, prepared to receive the bullets.
Silence, as Segura looked ahead, serenely.
Cruz looked at him with admiration, for his bravery, for his steel-bound acceptance of it all.
The second squad of five riflemen stepped forward.
Major Torres raised his sword.
Executioners raised their long guns to their shoulders.
“Viva Cristo Rey!” Segura yelled.
Sword dropped. Rifles fired.
From the impact of the bullets, Segura’s arms swung forward, and he fell to the ground, face forward.
As he neared his elder brother sprawled on the ground, he lovingly touched the dead priest with his foot, a final loving gesture. He stood, positioned between the bodies. His straight black hair, slicked back. Under his jacket, a white cricket sweater that would soon soak up his blood.
He, too, refused a blindfold.
The third squad stepped forward.
“Viva Cristo Rey!” yelled the 24-year-old.
He fell, on his back, near Segura.
Cruz stared at the shivering 20-year-old Tirado, an impoverished worker suffering from pneumonia. Wrapped in a blanket, he stood among the three crumpled, bloodied bodies.
Why would he want a blanket, if he is soon going to be cold, cold forever? thought Cruz.
In the preceding days, Tirado had suffered horrendous water torture between interrogations intended to coerce him to talk, to inform against others. With his mouth tightly gagged, his tormentors slipped a water hose through a slit between his lips and turned on the tap. Water gushed into his mouth, choking him as it forcefully rushed down his throat, flooding his stomach, causing sharp pains that caused his body to convulse.
But nothing. He revealed nothing, saying only that he knew nothing about the assassination attempt, that he had simply been waiting nearby for a train and was merely curious about the commotion on the street when he was captured.
Standing before the execution wall, he was asked a final question.
“Any last request?” asked Torres.
Weak from torture, he barely gasped, “I want to see my mother.”
“Impossible! Put your back to the wall!”
“Attention!” announced Torres, with sword in hand.
“I want to see my mother,” Tirado repeated.
“I want to see my mother!”
The line of gunmen fired, hit their flesh-and-blood target, spinning him around, before he fell sideways to the ground, face down.
Newspaper photographers from the national broadsheets Excelsior and El Universal rushed over to the bodies and snapped close-up shots of the four dead believers. El Universal Grafico even ran a special edition, which the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty – a Catholic group the men belonged to – quickly snapped up.
And the published photographs did what all the League-produced pamphlets and leaflets detailing the religious persecution could not do: immediately impact the faithful. Photos revealed the truth that could not be denied by Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles (birth name: Francisco Plutarco Elias Campuzano, 1877-1945), or by his Socialist government or by the Callistas, his supporters.
An old Bolshevik tactic, Calles intended to use the executions as a warning to terrorize Catholics into submission with the stark newspaper coverage. But it failed. Thoroughly. Not only did the graphic images reinforce their faith, but it also united them even more so against the violent, intolerant, anti-clerical, anti-Christian government.
Placed upon stretchers, the four bodies were removed from the execution courtyard and transferred to the Military Hospital, where autopsies were hastily performed. Both Pro brothers had five bullet holes in their chests.
Placed in caskets, their sister Ana Maria Pro Juarez (1892-1936) was finally able to see them. As she kneeled beside the wooden boxes, she heard the voice of their recently widowed father, Miguel Pro Romo: “Where are my sons? I want to see them!”
Raising the lids, he kissed the forehead of his eldest son Miguel and pulled a handkerchief from his own pocket to wipe the blood from the dead man’s face; he then kissed the forehead of Humberto.
With his daughter sobbing in his arms, he tried to reassure her, “My daughter, there is nothing to cry about.”
From the hospital, the Pro brothers were carried to their father’s home, at 5 Calle Rio Panuco, where thousands of faithful, including workers and even soldiers, flocked to see the martyrs, beginning at 5 that evening until nearly midnight. For the wake, a priest garbed illegally in vestments led the prayers, as the two executed men – wrapped in their eternal shrouds – lay in state. Upon the chest of the priest: a pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament.
On his knees beside his sons, the patriarch of the family sobbed, “The Father was an apostle; Humberto was an angel all his life, and they died for God. They are already with him in Heaven!”
Outside, the following morning, at 6 a.m., more men, women and children surrounded the home and demanded to see the brothers, martyred, each with a second baptism, the baptism of blood. Inside, pall bearers prepared the dead in their caskets and hoisted them, to transport them to their graves.
“Let the martyrs through!” shouted Miguel Palomar y Vizcarra, when the doors finally swung open, at 3 p.m.
Silence gripped everyone, but as soon as the faithful saw the caskets borne aloft through the doorway, carried by priests, cries of “Viva Cristo Rey! Via Cristo Rey! Via Cristo Rey!” rose, followed by a spontaneous outburst of cheers and applause.
Thousands and thousands surrounded the martyrs. Mourners filled the streets from sidewalk to sidewalk along the Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, which ran across the heart of Mexico City, just as the martyrs ran across the hearts of Catholics. Many genuflected to honor the men and to acknowledge their sacrifice. From the streets below and the balconies above, faithful tossed bouquets and single blossoms upon the passing caskets.
“Long live the holy martyrs! Long live the Pope! Long live our bishops and priests!” they cheered.
During the 6.2-mile-long procession to the largest cemetery in Mexico, the Panteon de Dolores, mourners sang “Salve Cristo Rey,” heard by Calles, who opened the windows of Chapultepec Castle, the presidential residence, to view the cortege.
At the cemetery, thousands more waited, despite the threatening authorities who surrounded them.
Cries of “Long live the first Jesuit martyr of Christ the King!” rose from the crowd after the priest was entombed in the Jesuit’s crypt, Plot 35. With his brother interred nearby, their father was the first to throw shovels of earth into the grave.
“We have finished,” he said solemnly, and then began the first notes of, “Te Deum Laudamus,” a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God, which the attending priests finished singing.
Amidst a great following, Tirado was laid to rest, and Segura was buried in the Panteon del Tepeyac in the Villa de Guadalupe, near the Basilica of Santa Maria of Guadalupe.
For more than 100 years, Catholics suffered at the hands of tyrannical rulers, who forced their way to power by any means necessary, often gunning down political enemies.
The bloody saga all began after Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) – excommunicated Catholic, first emperor of France, destroyer of the Holy Roman Empire – forced the abdication, in 1808, of the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII (1784-1833), and Crown over what was then the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The military genius then installed his own brother Joseph-Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1844) as Spain’s new sovereign, on May 6, 1808.
Napoleon planned to export his Revolutionary, anti-Catholic policy to the territories.
When Francisco Javier Venegas de Saavedra y Raminez de Arenzana (1754-1838) arrived ceremoniously in New Spain, on September 14, 1810, to accept his role as newly appointed viceroy, devout Catholics in the territory demanded independence rather than be ruled over by the secular French who had seized the Spanish throne.
Two days after Venegas’ assumption of power, Roman Catholic priest Father Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villasenor (1753-1811) protested the takeover and urged Catholics to defend their religion and to fight the French, anti-Catholic government, in a New World extension of the Peninsular War (1807-14) raging in the Old World’s Iberian Peninsula against its French invaders.
After celebrating Sunday Mass, in Dolores, Guanajuato, Hidalgo delivered El Grito de Dolores, the address in which he encouraged fellow Catholics to join him in a rebellion against the government usurpers, and to do so in the name of their deposed King Ferdinand VII, held captive by Emperor Napoleon I, in France’s Chateau de Valencay.
Hidalgo’s cry, on September 16, 1810, triggered the Mexican War of Independence that lasted until September 27, 1821.
From the territory’s independence, in 1821, to the presidential election, in 1920, of Alvaro Obregon Salido (1880-1928), chaos ruled supreme in the bourgeoning Mexican governing bodies that were often rabidly anti-Catholic. In 99 years, there were an estimated 84 transfers of power – often bloody – to various individuals and regencies, with some losing and regaining power, despite a head-spinning number of coups and executions to keep former leaders from re-grabbing control.
Obregon was a survivor. A wealthy garbanzo farmer and a former general in the Mexican Revolution, he nearly died when his right arm was blown off, during the 1915 Battle of Celaya, in which he dealt major blows to his former comrade in arms, Pancho Villa (born Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula, 1878-1923).
During his four years in office, Catholics were often targeted.
On November 14, 1921, Luciano Perez Carpio – an employee of the private secretariat of Obregon – planted several sticks of dynamite tucked into flowers below the altar in the Basilica of Santa Maria of Guadalupe. Only feet away from the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the ensuing blast bent a metal altar crucifix and altar candlesticks, but did no harm to the image.
A diplomatic incident occurred when Bishop Ernesto Eugenio Filippi (1879-1951), apostolic nuncio, was expelled from Mexico for conducting a religious service in ceremonial garb, in public, offending Article 33 of the 1917 Political Constitution of the United Mexican States. The bishop had officiated over the celebration of Christ proclaimed Rey de la Nacion, King of the Nation, atop the summit of Cerro del Cubilete, in Silao, Guanajuato, the approximate geographic center of Mexico, where a reported 40,000 faithful attended the national ceremony, on January 11, 1923.
As the end of Obregon’s presidency neared, he faced a mandatory office term limit. Since he could not run, he pushed as his successor Calles, who won, in 1924.
A true Revolutionary, prior to his inauguration, Calles traveled to Germany and the birthplace of Socialism: France, to study their ideology and labor movements. And not only was Calles the first leader in the Western Hemisphere to establish relations, in 1924, with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but he also went on to be one of the founders of Mexico’s National Revolutionary Party, on March 4, 1929.
With the tyrannical ascendency to the presidency of Christophobic Calles – another veteran general of the Mexican Revolution – tension between the State and the Church intensified, with frequent descensions into violence, often at the hands of Callistas, such as the Regional Mexican Workers Confederation.
Headed by Luis Morones Negrete (1890-1964), Secretary of Industry, Commerce and Labor, the labor union spearheaded the founding of the state-sponsored Mexican Catholic Apostolic Church, in February 1925, that culminated in riots between the Roman Catholics and the schismatics of the State-ruled Church of Santa Cruz and la Soledad, originally consecrated in 1792, in Mexico City.
Then in 1926, the megalomaniac Calles began the big push against Catholics. Born a bastard and orphaned at a young age, he was raised by a maternal aunt and an atheist uncle, who inculcated in him a great hatred for the Church.
During the last week of February 1926, he ordered governors to enforce the articles on religion, as written in the 1917 Constitution:
Article 3 banned religious schools and demanded secular education only;
Article 5 forbade the establishment of monastic orders;
Article 24 outlawed acts of public worship, which were ordered to be held only in churches under the strict supervision of civil, not religious, authorities;
Article 27, a continuation of the Agrarian Reform Decree of January 6, 1915, permitted the government confiscation of land owned by the Catholic Church and prohibited the Church from owning land;
And Article 130 mandated that only native-born Mexicans could be priests; that only state legislatures could determine the number of priests; that matrimony was exclusively a contract under the auspices of civil authorities; that Catholic churches were to be controlled by the Ministry of the Interior; that spoken and written criticism of the government by religious was absolutely prohibited; and that spiritual formation of priests was forbidden.
Those five articles were in conformity with the Reform Laws, anti-Catholic laws enacted between 1855 and 1863 and elevated to Constitutional status, with the Act of September 25, 1874, which outlined the separation of Church and State; mandated marriage a civil contract; prohibited any religious institution from acquiring property; repealed the religious oath; and banned the establishment of monastic orders.
On March 5, 1926, Calles delivered a speech in which he described the Revolution as an effort to build a new Mexico, as a way to break away from the old Mexico and its religious past, “that past, which I strongly wish to see liquidated,” he noted.
On April 3, he expressed revolutionary ideology: “We have to undertake today a terrible struggle, a struggle against the past, a struggle against the things which we must hope will disappear forever from the earth. Certain rich people and certain aristocrats want to obstacle our progress! It is incredible that there are still reactionaries in this country who consider it possible, in our century of social revolution, to raise the standard of religion and to provoke a new civil war. But the government is resolved to carry out its program without taking the slightest account of the grimaces of the sacristans, or of the protestations of the lazy monks.”
Then, on June 14, 1926, he signed the Law for Reforming the Penal Code – the commonly called Calles Law – that was to take effect, on July 31, 1926. Posted on all church doors, the 33 extra articles of law added, outlined and enforced restrictions targeting the Catholic Church, such as:
Article 6 immediately dissolved all religious orders;
Article 18 prohibited the wearing of religious clothing outside of churches;
And Article 22 declared all Church property to be property of the State.
Jose Ramon Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez was born, on January 13, 1891, the eldest son of devout Catholics, Miguel Pro Romo and Maria Josefa de la Concepcion Juarez Munguia. His father, as head of the house, worked as a successful mining engineer. His mother, as heart of the house, served as a charitable role model for the children and led by example, including the founding of a hospital to treat the sick.
As a youth, Miguelito was a good boy, fun to be around, naturally witty, a prankster and popular with the girls. He was also a talented guitarist, caricaturist and multilinguist. Never had he given much thought about a religious vocation, until around the age of 16, when he attended a mission held by the Jesuits, where he participated in its meditations and contemplations, as described in the “Spiritual Exercises,” by Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who founded the Society of Jesus, in 1540.
Like others, he found the exercises inspirational, and it was then that he first heard the whisper in his heart. But he did not seriously think about the priesthood until two of his favorite sisters, Maria de la Concepcion Pro Juarez (1888-1944) and Maria de la Luz Pro Juarez (?-?), entered a cloistered convent, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
At first furious at the Jesuits, the spiritual directors of his sisters, his anger, eventually, subsided.
Why shouldn’t I do the same thing? he pondered.
Soon thereafter, at the age of 20, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus, in El Llano, Aguascalientes, on August 10, 1911. Three years later, on August 13, 1913, he declared his First Vows, the perpetual simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Holy Roman Pontiff. Promoted to scholastic, he began his preparation for the priesthood with studies that included philosophy and theology. To commemorate the day, he received a crucifix that remained with him until the day of his execution.
Prior to joining the religious community, he had not completed his secondary education, so he compensated for his lack of book knowledge by immersing himself in holy endeavors, prayers, for grace, for the perfection of his soul. His spiritual ways impressed his confreres so much so that they described him as “the brother who is convinced God wants him to be a saint.”
At that time, the Revolution, ignited in 1910, still raged through Mexico.
Revolutionary coalition rebels in the north fought under the command of the former governor of the state of Coahuila, Jose Venustiano Carranza de la Garza (1859-1920), designated as Primer Jefe, the First Boss. His men mobilized to depose Jose Victoriano Huerta Marquez (1850-1916), who had assumed the presidency after he orchestrated a coup d’etat and the assassination of Francisco Ignacio Madero Gonzalez (1873-1913), a democratically elected president.
Carranza’s men drew up a plan of attack: a three-pronged march to Mexico City. From the north, Pablo Gonzalez Garza (1879-1950) advanced southerly along the eastern railroad, Pancho Villa along the central railroad, and Obregon along the western railroad.
Along the way, Revolutionaries ransacked and plundered whatever treasures they could find to fill their pockets and to fund their Revolution. They imprisoned the rich and assassinated their political enemies – including Catholics, whom they randomly accused of supporting Huerta. Rape and torture were common torments inflicted by the Socialist soldiers, including Villa, who bragged about nailing a priest inside a coffin and leaving him inside to die.
Carranza’s search-and-destroy march, which began in April 1914, ended on August 20, 1914, when he and 18,000 of his armed forces filed triumphantly into Mexico City, having defeated Huerta, who had abdicated on July 15. The victors carried flags with slogans, including: clergy is obscurantism; freedom is light! Only six years later, Carranza would be gunned down – in bed – making way for Obregon to run for president.
But before his victory and ultimate bloody demise, Carranza ordered the pillaging and desecration of churches, convents and seminaries, including the Jesuit community, in El Llano, which was along the route of destruction.
On August 5, 1914, Revolutionaries attacked the Jesuit’s main house and burned the library, just one of the countless casualties of the Revolution. The rector ordered the seminarians to remove their cassocks, replace them with street clothing and head for a safehouse in Guadalajara. Dressed as a peasant, to pass undeterred by the rebels who were everywhere, Pro fled, on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. He arrived in the city, on September 2, to find his mother, three brothers and one of his sisters nearly destitute. Carrancistas had stripped his family of all possessions and chased them from their home, in Saltillo. His mother’s only possession: a picture of the Sacred Heart.
A few weeks later, Pro and his confreres received word to make their way to the Jesuit novitiate in Los Gatos, California, in the United States of America. After a solemn Mass and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on a First Friday, the refugees crossed the border and arrived at their destination, in October 1914. Welcomed, the exiled Catholics were offered the fourth floor of a building for their use.
Pro remained for a year before leaving with 15 confreres, on June 21, 1915, to pursue his studies in Granada, Spain, where he survived the 1917-18 Spanish Flu epidemic. Ten years after his arrival in Europe, he received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in Enghien, Belgium, on August 31, 1925, bestowed upon him by Bishop Charles-Albert-Joseph Lecomte (1867-1934), bishop of Amiens, France. That day, his ascendance unto the altar, with the priestly character imprinted on his soul by the Holy Ghost, gave birth to his divine and spiritual life.
“On the day of my ordination,” he later confided to a confrere, “I simply asked Our Lord that I be useful to souls.”
But being so far from his family for so long was difficult.
His mother wrote to him, “I am getting older every day. I am afraid that you will no longer find me here on earth when you return to Mexico. I believe that the good Lord is asking me for the sacrifice of never seeing you at the altar.”
Shortly after her death, on February 8, 1926, a few days after writing her last letter, her eldest son finally received permission to return to his homeland, nearly 12 years after his departure. On June 20, 1926, he boarded a ship in the port city of Saint-Nazaire, France, headed home, arrived in the port of Veracruz, on July 7, 1926, and settled in Mexico City, with family who had moved to the capital city.
By the time of his return, the stringently anti-Catholic Calles Law was set to take effect on July 31. As a result, the Mexican bishops penned a collective pastoral letter, on July 25, expressing their desire for reform of the laws and announcing the withdrawal of clergy and the Blessed Sacrament from the churches on the same day that the legislation would become law.
In response, the faithful flocked to churches to receive the Sacraments before the native priests went underground and the foreign priests were forced out of Mexico. Penitents sought the last Mass, the last Absolution, the last Blessing. Pilgrims of penance walked barefoot. Hymns and prayers filled the air.
On July 30 – the day before the clerics were to vacate the churches – Pro’s priestly assignment was to hear confessions from a long line of those seeking absolution from their sins. From 5:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and again from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., he listened and absolved the penitents, which so exhausted him, he was removed twice from the confessional.
On July 31, the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the clergy withdrew. Altars abandoned. Ciboriums wiped clean. Patens put away. Linens folded. Tabernacles emptied. Sanctuary lamps snuffed. Bells silenced.
The government remained steadfast and ignored the bishops’ request to reform the anti-Catholic laws.
On August 2, 1926, Obregon blamed the victims: “The conflict will automatically disappear when the directors of the Catholic Church in Mexico subordinate their vanity, now injured, and declare their willingness to obey the laws and the authorities in charge of ensuring compliance, and advise this course of conduct to all believers.”
The bishops refused, and Catholics continued practicing their faith.
On October 31, 1926, for the celebration of the very first Feast of Christ the King, throngs of pilgrims arrived at the Basilica, many barefoot, some with crowns of thorns atop their heads, some progressed on their knees praying the rosary. From 4 in the morning to 7:30 that night, a steady stream of faithful passed before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Even the Archbishop of Mexico, Jose Mora y del Rio (1854-1928) arrived around 4 in the afternoon, although Cruz and fists-ready firefighters tried to shut down the event.
In his day-to-day life, Pro refused to let the estimated 10,000-plus secret police agents in Mexico City intimidate him. He baptized, presided at marriages, took Viaticum to the dying, performed Extreme Unction, found homes for abandoned babies. He heard confessions of those incarcerated in jails and brought them food, money, cigars, blankets, pillows. He organized traveling confessionals and Communion Stations, where he dispensed 300 to 400 daily Holy Communions. And on First Fridays, Communions surpassed 1,000.
Unable to wear his cassock, he resorted to wearing disguises: student, shoeshine man, sometimes riding a bicycle, sometimes walking with a cane, sometimes strolling with his pet police dog at his heels. One time to give a retreat, in a courtyard surrounded by scrap metal, he concealed his priestly identity by dressing as a mechanic; his 50 retreatants were drivers, most wearing Texan cowboy hats.
And he had help, lots of help. An angel of mercy to those in need, he managed to set up food pantries in vacant houses around the city, helped along by small armies who went out – gathered beans, rice, sugar, coffee, flour, live chickens and whatever else – and returned all to the safehouses and then distributed to hungry families.
He wrote to one of his cousins: “All my personnel are reduced to half a dozen pious women and half a dozen pious men without jobs. In public, I call the former: Investigation and Supply Section! Between us, I call them: Beggars on the Lookout! They creep everywhere like rats, and every month they fill my well-flattened bags with coffee, corn, rice, sugar and fat. When the 25th or the 28th arrives, the bags no longer contain a single grain, a single crumb, although they are pressed and twisted without pity. The men, I call them in public: the Management Committee. Between us, I honor them with the pompous title of Resourceless Unemployed, because they do not miss an opportunity to beg from the first comer who presents himself, to support the royal family of God who live only on unemployment.”
And there were close calls.
One morning, at 6 a.m., in the midst of distributing the Holy Eucharist at one of the Communion Stations, he was interrupted.
“Police!” alerted a servant girl.
Terror filled the Communicants.
“Be quiet,” warned the priest dressed in a gray suit. “Hide your veils, scatter through the rooms and don’t make any noise.”
With the Blessed Sacrament hidden near his heart, he went to speak with the authorities.
“There is public worship here,” they told him.
“No, there is not,” he answered.
“But there is, Sir, there is public worship here.”
“Well, then, they have deceived you, gentlemen.”
“I saw a priest enter,” said one.
Another said, “We have orders to search the house. Follow us.”
“Well, I like that! I follow you? At whose order? Let me see my name. Go through the house, and when you find public worship, come and tell me, so that I may hear Mass.”
Through the house the authorities searched, room by room, accompanied by Pro, until, eventually, their hunt was exhausted, and they stood guard at the entrance to the house.
“If I didn’t have something else to do, I should remain with you, until you seize the bold priest who made sport of the extraordinary vigilance of such keen-sighted policemen,” he told them.
When they left, he quietly finished distributing Communion.
Another time, as he neared the home where he was to say Mass, he saw two soldiers standing guard at the entrance. Afraid to go ahead, for fear of arrest, and afraid to turn around, for fear of abandoning the faithful, which would have been shameful, he jotted down the number of the house in his notebook, gathered all his courage and continued, straight ahead, exhibiting confidence. Nearing the soldiers, he opened his vest, as if showing them his secret police badge.
“There must surely be a rat trapped here,” he said with a wink to the soldiers.
To which they responded by giving him military salutes, permitting him to pass.
Pro ran up the stairs, saying to himself, “Right now, here’s a rat trapped!”
But amidst the persecution, he felt his life had a purpose. In the first weeks of November, he celebrated Mass at a convent. During the Unbloody Sacrifice of Calvary, he prayed that God would take his life, for he believed that a true blood sacrifice, the blood of priests, his blood, was needed for the salvation of Mexico.
After Mass, he shared with the Mother Superior, “I feel that my offering was accepted.”
After presidential term limits were repealed, in 1926, Obregon announced his intention to run again, in 1928, and formally began his campaign, in May 1927. In November, an assassination attempt was made upon his life.
Immediately, the propaganda arm of the regime’s Socialist machine blamed Catholics, even presenting detailed confessions, veracity uncertain.
They accused devout Catholic Luis Segura Vilchis (1903-27), created a police report about him as a ringleader who concocted a plan to kill Obregon and detailed how he recruited three men to help him carry out his scheme: Nahum Lamberto Ruiz, Juan Antonio Tirado Arias (1907-27) and Jose Gonzalez.
Authorities reported the following took place:
“Boys, we are going to try to execute Obregon to save our country. Are you willing to carry out this great work?” Segura asked.
“Yes, we are,” his cohorts affirmed.
“We are going to risk our lives, companeros,” he added. “The fate that one runs, we will all run. Do we swear to Christ?”
“Yes, by Christ, we swear it.”
“Come on, then. The time has come.”
It was November 13, 1927, a Sunday.
From the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, the group borrowed a car, an Essex, with a long body, square passenger cabin and wide running boards. Purchased by the priest’s brother Roberto Pro Juarez (1905-41) under a pseudonym. The car had been assigned to another brother, Humberto Pro Juarez (1903-27), to use for the activities of the League’s Advertisement Committee.
The four young men piled into the Essex, driven by Gonzalez. Segura sat shotgun, with Lamberto and Tirado in the back. They arrived at the Colonia Station and surveilled Obregon. When he traveled to his home, on 185 Avenida Jalisco, they tagged behind at a safe distance and waited while he ate. They continued to follow him when he left, escorted by bodyguards in two other cars that drove toward the Chapultepec Forest, where the presidential candidate wanted to take a walk before going to the bullfights.
As Obregon rode along the Calzada de los Filosofos, the Essex caught up to the general’s brand new, 1927 Cadillac. Segura threw a bomb that landed between two tires and broke several windows, but failed to kill the General.
The Essex fled, and Obregon’s bodyguards chased the getaway car, following close behind and firing shots.
“Don’t stick your heads out, boys, to avoid getting hit!” Segura warned during the ensuing pursuit and shootout as they drove along Avenida Chapultepec.
When the car turned onto Avenida de los Insurgentes, Lamberto stuck his head out the window and fired back, emptying the rounds in his pistol, just as a bullet pierced through one of his ears and into his brain, causing immediate loss of his eyesight.
“They got me,” he moaned, as he collapsed onto the floorboard.
When the Essex crashed into a pole, Segura yelled, “Whoever can, save yourself!” as he, Gonzalez and Tirado jumped out and escaped through the curious crowd that began to gather.
Gonzalez, quickly disappeared.
Tirado, soon caught.
Lamberto, pulled from the wreckage and transported to the Hospital Juarez de Mexico.
Segura, with a ticket in his pocket, headed for the bullfights at the Plaza de Toros de la Condesa, the 1907 Colosseum-esque, round, steel-and-cement bullring. Once there, he spotted and sat near Obregon – who had dusted himself off after the bombing and returned home for a quick change before continuing on to the arena. Obregon would later attest to seeing Segura during the bullfight.
In the aftermath of the attempted assassination, a police inspection officer informed Cruz, the chief police inspector, about the attack. Immediately, he began work on the case. That afternoon, he arrived at the Chapultepec Castle for instructions from Calles.
“I want a quick and thorough investigation,” the president said without even greeting Cruz.
Authorities reportedly got lucky.
Lamberto, one of the accused, blinded during the shootout, lay in his hospital bed, surrounded by a security detail.
A police agent went to his bedside and pretended to be a friend, speaking softly, whispering, as if it were dangerous if overheard; however, it was so that his voice would not be identified as a stranger’s.
On his deathbed, he naively confessed and innocently gave the names of those involved, begging his “friend” to get word to the priest and to Segura: “They need to hide, right away,” said Lamberto, who succumbed to his wounds, on November 20, 1927.
However, it was reported later by sources independent of the government that after the bullet penetrated Lamberto’s brain, he never regained consciousness.
On the night of the attempted assassination, two Pro brothers – Humberto and Roberto – read about the attack and decided to go into hiding. Their eldest brother, the priest, decided to go with them. Together, they found refuge in a Catholic home.
Three days after the assassination attempt, police received a tip about illegal religious ceremonies and raided the home leased to Josefina Montes de Oca, niece of Bishop Jose Maria Ignacio Montes de Oca y Obregon (1840-1921). They arrested Montes and searched the house, at 44 Calle Jose Antonio Alzate, in the suburb neighborhood of Santa Maria la Ribera. There authorities found a small, dark brown briefcase – a Mass kit with Hosts, oils, vials – that they linked to Pro, who had been boarding in the home for several months.
Authorities learned of the whereabouts of the Jesuit priest and his brothers and surrounded the house, at 22 Calle Londres, owned by Maria Valdes. At 4 a.m., police forced their way inside and searched for their suspects.
Detective Alvaro Basail Calero (1895-?) – agent with the Security Commission of the Federal District General Police Inspectorate and known for his hatred of the Church – opened a door and found the three brothers asleep in the same room.
“Don’t move!” he shouted, pointing his revolver at the men.
Scrambling out of their beds, Humberto told his brother, “I want to confess,” insisting on making a Confession, receiving the Sacrament of Penance, before they left, in custody.
“Not allowed!” Basail said.
“He will confess, all the same,” the priest said, taking his brother to the back of the room, where the penitent received absolution.
“From this moment on, let us offer our lives to God, for the Church in Mexico, and let us do it, all three, in such a way that God may accept the sacrifice,” he told his younger brothers.
Leaving the house, a woman saw the Jesuit and said, “I will go see you, right away.”
“No, daughter,” he answered. “I will see you in Heaven.”
Upon their arrival in the basement jail of the Inspectorate, Humberto was placed in a cell with Montes, arrested the prior evening. Miguel and Roberto shared a cell across the room.
While in custody, each day the eldest brother led prayers, recited the rosary, bestowed blessings. On Sunday, after the Holy Mass was observed as best as could be, the incarcerated faithful sang the Jesuit anthem, “Noble Knight: Saint Ignatius of Loyola.”
Continuing to stitch together their narrative against the Catholics, authorities reported the following occurred:
The Monday after the assassination attempt on Obregon, Segura went to work as usual at the Mexican Light and Power Company, on Ghent Street, in the Hydraulic Department, where he was a Technical Engineer.
On Thursday, November 17, he received a visitor.
“Are you Engineer Luis Segura?” asked the visitor, Detective Basail.
“Yes, sir, to serve you.”
“I come, Engineer, with a problem; I am an agent of the General Police Inspectorate,” he said, staring at Segura, who nodded slightly. “Mr. General Cruz has entrusted me to beg you to come see him for an important matter.”
“I will gladly go, if those are the wishes of Mr. General Cruz,” he answered, smiling. “I’ll accompany you right now.”
“There is no need, Mr. Engineer; the General told me that he could wait for you until the time you wanted.”
“No, I don’t want to keep General Cruz waiting. I can leave here at any time I want, and I will go right now. I have never been in trouble with the law.”
“If you can’t go right now, Engineer, tell me what time we expect you.”
“I’m going with you right away,” he said, tidying papers on his desk before he pulled on his jacket and left with Basail.
Riding down the elevator from the third floor, Basail asked, “Are you nervous, Engineer? I’m sorry, but I’m a little shaky.”
“Yes, I always go down the stairs, because the elevator, with its rapid descent makes me a little nervous,” he answered.
At the General Police Inspectorate, Segura was introduced to Cruz.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Engineer. Sit down, Engineer, I’ve allowed myself to bother you to ask you some questions,” Cruz said.
“Yes, General. I am at your service.”
“Engineer, what do you know about the attack on General Obregon?”
“What the press says, General.”
“Nothing else, Mr. General.”
“And could you tell me what you did [Sunday]?”
“I won’t be able to do it in great detail, because I don’t think it could be of any use to me, but, you see, in the morning, I went to Mass.”
“Yes, sir, to Mass.”
“General, you are going to allow me to keep the secret, because I know the penalty incurred by the people in whose homes where Mass is said.”
“Very well, but tell me, are you Catholic?”
“Yes, sir, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman.”
“After Mass, I went home to eat, and around 2 in the afternoon I went to the bullfights. You’ll see, because here I have the ticket stub.”
He dug around in all the pockets of his jacket, until he pulled out the stub.
“The bullfight was monumental! I was close to General Obregon. I remember that they dedicated a bull to him. After the bullfight, I went to eat at a nearby restaurant, then I went home, and in the night to the theater. So, broadly speaking, that’s all.”
“And when did you find out about the attack on General Obregon?”
“Today, in the morning.”
Segura exuded confidence so much so that Cruz was convinced of his innocence. Even Obregon was certain of his innocence, and, as such, the cell door was opened. He was free to go.
But then, while leaving, he reportedly spotted Tirado and the Pro brothers. He hesitated.
“General Cruz, you gave me your word of honor that only those responsible for the attempt to kill Obregon will be sacrificed, and that the other prisoners – who did not take part in it but are accused of being the authors and executors of it – will be released. What if I tell you the truth about this matter?”
“Yes, Engineer,” replied Cruz.
“Well, General,” Luis began, standing, “the author, director and executor of the attempted execution of General Obregon, carried out on the 13th day, is me. Nahum Lamberto Ruiz and Juan Antonio Tirado Arias helped me carry out the plan. The Pro Juarez brothers had nothing to do with this matter, since they did not know what was going to be done, nor did they take any part in what was done.”
“You make fun of me, Engineer. Your innocence is fully proven and General Obregon himself has testified in your favor. What you want is for the Pros to go free for lack of merit. You intend to save them by assuming all the responsibility yourself, so that after they are saved, you will argue that you are innocent, as it is, and also go free.”
“No, General, I do not intend to make fun of you. Yes, I want to save the Pros, because it is my duty to do so, since they have no responsibility in the attempt to execute Obregon. This is not a maneuver of mine to save them and then claim my innocence to be released. I know that my confession will cost me my life, but it is a duty of conscience for me, which surely you do not understand, to proceed like this. If you kill the Pros after you have been shown that they are innocent, then it will be your crime, and I will have no responsibility, as I would have if I did not speak. And I am serious, General, and with the truth on my lips, I’m going to show you that what I just said is absolutely true.”
Cruz asked, “But why did you try to kill my General Obregon?”
“Because he is a hypocritical persecutor of my faith, a murderer of Catholics, a traitor to the country he intends to destroy.”
“So, you don’t regret, Engineer, having tried to kill the only presidential candidate?”
“If Obregon had 20 lives, I would take 20 to save the country from such ominous oppression.”
“Go back to your prison cell!”
“Do not forget that I am the only one responsible in this matter and that I claim all the consequences for myself.” Segura said before locked up.
Obregon had many enemies, many political enemies. Even he believed that the attack on his life had not been by the accused Catholics, but had been conspired and carried out by political enemies.
At first, he suspected vengeful comrades of snuffed-out revolutionary generals Francisco Roque Serrano Barbeytia (1889-1927) and Arnulfo R. Gomez (1890-1927). Serrano had been assassinated on October 3, and Gomez had been executed on November 4. Obregon was suspected of ordering the hits.
Then his mind wandered to Calles and Morones. The idea that they had been behind the assassination attempt seeped inside his brain and fermented.
In an effort to uncover the truth, he sent his attorney, Arturo Orci, to visit Cruz to order a trial.
Appearing at the office of Cruz – unavailable at the time – Orci spoke with the General’s secretary, Benito Guerra Leal (1897-1960).
Requesting the official arrest report of the suspects, Guerra presented him with some papers.
After looking through the document, Orci said, “There’s no indictment on this paper. It’s just your police report.
“That’s all we have,” Guerra said.
“And what does the chief of police think about the guilt of the prisoners?” Orci asked.
“The Pro brothers have in no way admitted any complicity in the conspiracy; no such complicity has ever been proven against them.” Guerra answered, slowly and clearly, promising that a public trial would take place the next day.
On the eve of the execution, Calles and Cruz met in the Castle’s presidential office, seated across from one another.
“All ready?” Calles asked.
“Yes, sir. Here is the file against the alleged perpetrators of the dynamite attack.”
Silence as Calles read through the file, page by page, while Cruz thumbed through an illustrated magazine.
After 25 minutes, Calles said, “Then the guilt of these individuals has been proven, and of the priest, who was the mastermind.”
Another silence as Calles stared at Cruz.
“Does it not seem more convenient for us to consign them to the judicial authorities, to a court?” Cruz asked, suggesting that the case should go to trial, to keep up legal appearances.
“No,” Calles answered crisply. “One must stop the evil in time, General Cruz. Execute them, and as soon as the order is fulfilled, come and give me an account of it.”
In the basement of the Police Inspectorate, the Pro brothers awaited their fates.
Earlier in the day, Cruz brought an Excelsior reporter to see the arrestees.
The priest told the reporter, “I am grateful for the attention that I have received from those who arrested me, but I am an absolute stranger to the case of the attack against Obregon. I am a friend of order, I am in peace, and I hope that justice will shine in the light of day. I deny, unequivocally, to have taken any part in the conspiracy.”
Later in the evening, of November 22, he tried to comfort his brothers: “Now, I think that we have finished the statements, I suppose that they will name a competent court and that we will be consigned to it.”
But his thinking soon changed, when, starting around 9 p.m., a changing of the guard occurred every 30 minutes. To calm themselves, the brothers prayed five decades of the rosary, and after the last decade, the priest asked for the salvation of Calles. Roberto confessed to his brother, who absolved him.
Then, all three were searched and photographed.
“Now, things have gotten serious. I don’t know what’s coming, gentlemen, but I fear nothing good. Let’s ask God for resignation and strength for what may be, and let us resign ourselves to what will happen,” the priest said.
The men suffered a restless night and woke around 6 the next morning.
“I cannot explain why, I feel that today anything can happen, but it doesn’t scare me, because God will help us in anything. Let us ask Him for His grace,” the priest said.
After mounted police assembled around the building, at 8 a.m., he warned, “This morning all three of us are going to be shot. Don’t worry. Rather, let us thank God that we have been chosen. Let us renew our offering, and let us pardon our enemies.”
Around 9:30 that morning, the brothers heard the call of bugles and hustle of troops. When a police officer later arrived to retrieve the priest, he found all of them, surprisingly, in good humor.
The priest heard his name called and started to leave without his sweater vest, until the officer ordered:
“Put on your vest, and follow me.”
Roberto helped him put his sweater vest on, and the priest gave his brother’s hand an emotional squeeze, walked through the door and was approached by one of the police officers who had arrested him.
“I ask your forgiveness,” he begged of the priest.
“Not only do I forgive you, but I will pray for you. I thank you for the great favor you are doing me today.”
Roberto – who received a last-minute reprieve from execution – walked to the small window in his cell that peeked into the courtyard. Although boarded up, through a crack, he watched his brother walk by, escorted by two men in overcoats and fedoras.
A cry from the courtyard: “Viva Cristo Rey!”
And then, a fusillade of gunshots.
Calles did not want the case to go to trial for a reason.
Obregon was eventually assassinated, on July 17, 1928, and Calles lived on to become the Jefe Maximo, the Top Boss, during the Maximoto (1928-34), the period immediately after his presidency, when he was the real power behind the office.
Miscellanea and facts were pulled from the following:
“Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ,” www.jesuit.org.sg/nov-miguel-pro-sj/.
“Calles Believed About to Renew War on Church: Blaming Catholics for attack on Obregon thought to Preface Another Religious Persecution Outburst,” by Catholic News Service.
“El gesto, el cuerpo y la memoria: los ecos históricos de la ejecución de Miguel Pro,” by Marisol Lopez Menendez.
“El Indio que Mato al Padre Pro,” by Julio Scherer Garcia.
“Martyr, Blessed and Saint? Father Pro,” by Pablo Serrano Alvarez.
“Mexican Martyrdom,” by Wilfrid Parsons, SJ.
“Miguel Agustin Pro, Martir de la Fe,” by Enrique Mendoza Delgado.
“The Myth of Father Pro,” by Carlos Martinez Assad.
Theresa Marie Moreau, an award-winning reporter, is the author of Martyrs in Red China; An Unbelievable Life: 29 Years in Laogai; Misery & Virtue; and Blood of the Martyrs: Trappist Monks in Communist China. Theresa may be contacted at TMMoreau@yahoo.com.
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THERESA MARIE MOREAU is an award-winning reporter who covers Catholicism and Communism.