It is the 23rd of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today, we remember a modern Martyr- that kind of Christian servant that has thankfully been uncommon in the modern West; we remember a martyr from a notable time in Mexico in the last century.
To understand early 20th-century Mexico, we do well to zoom out to 19th-century Latin America. It was a busy time, from Revolutions to New Countries being born and a new place in the global economy. The rest of the world caught on to the exports of silver, copper, and nitrates. New technologies and speed led to the growth of Coffee and Beef as a promised export and the place of Latin America integrated into the world economy. With this came urbanization, the growth of workers' parties, and trade unions coming into conflict with multinational juggernauts and large landowners.
Revolutions led to Civil Wars, and, as always, the church- primarily Roman Catholic since the 16th century- had to decide which side to support. And with the threat of Godless Bolshevism attaching itself to the Socialist and Communist parties, the Revolutionaries became increasingly anti-clerical. This was the case in Mexico when the 1917 Constitution attempted to make inroads with the Revolutionaries by taking church-owned land, forbidding Catholic education, and banning any public manifestation of the faith.
Enter into this fray a young man from Guadalupe- Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, known primarily as Miguel Pro. Pro had decided, from a young age, to enter the priesthood. In 1911, he entered as a novice in Michoacan. But pressure on the church, pre-1917, plagued his studies, and he left for California in 1915. From there, he would follow other seminarians to Spain as in California; they couldn’t find sufficient materials published in Spanish. He would travel to Argentina to teach and then complete his final years of study in Belgium. He was ordained abroad in 1925 and in 1926 made the decision to go back to his homeland. He arrived on July 7th of that year, and by the end of the month, the Catholic Church, in conjunction with the Pope, had decided to hold their last public masses. A circular letter was read at all churches on July 31st, 1926, declaring the church to be leaving the buildings and going underground.
It was illegal to wear a priest's collar in public, and thus, the new priest in town had to go about secretly discerning who would still want to take the Lord’s Supper secretly. Miguel would dress as a workman- hear confessions behind newspapers on public benches and set up eucharistic stations at homes of Catholics who used their homes for clandestine church services.
The young priest was known for his jovial demeanor and would often use humor and misdirection to being caught- stories range from him pretending to flirt with a female friend to evade police who suspected he was a priest to a story about him dressing up as a police officer, sneaking out his window, and berating other officers to “keep looking for the priest” as he snuck off. As a martyr, there are numerous stories told about the young priest, and we do well to remember the possible place of exaggeration. Marisol López-Menéndez has sifted through the stories in her “Miguel Pro: Martyrdom, Politics, and Society in Mid-Century Mexico”.
An assassination attempt on General Obregon gave the police the cover they needed to arrest Miguel. A bomb had been thrown onto Obregon’s car from another, and the failed attempt led to the arrest of the men in the car. But it was also discovered that this car had previously belonged to Miguel’s brother, Humberto. Humberto and Miguel were arrested. In order to threaten other underground priests, Miguel was quickly tried and sentenced to death.
It was on November 23rd in 1927 that Miguel Pro was led from his cell to the firing range. Before being shot, he is said to have said, “With all my heart, I forgive my enemies!” Followed by “Vivo, Christo Rey”- long live Christ the King. Despite a ban on public services, tens of thousands would line the streets on the day Miguel Pro was buried, in defiance of the police, chanting “Vivo, Christo Rey”. Born in 1821, Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez was 36 when he was put to death on this day in 1927.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- the very good words of Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who wants me to remind you that a major South American export in this age was guano- bat excrement processed into fertilizer- he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man wishing you a happy Thanksgiving- I will eat some deviled eggs and put black olives on my fingers as I have since childhood. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.