North and South American have had many Catholic martyrs, some not so long ago.
In 1917, President Plutarco Elías Calles of Mexico enforced oppressive laws, intending to weaken and eventually destroy the Catholic Church in Mexico.
Those laws outlawed parochial education, forbade public worship, prohibited priests and nuns from wearing religious vestments and prohibited them from criticizing government officials, just to name a few of the religiously intolerant laws.
From 1919 to 1926, the Catholic Church attempted to obey these laws. However, in 1926, President Calles introduced further legislation which fined priests $250 for wearing religious vestments with five years imprisonment if they criticized the government.
The archbishop of Mexico City, José María Mora y del Río, declared that the Catholic Church could not accept the government’s restraints. The Cristeros, which means “Followers of Christ,” most of whom were faithful peasants, felt the only way to fight the government was to take up arms. They were willing to become martyrs for their freedom of religion.
Different historians tell us about the Cristeros attending field Masses while dressed in sandals, white garments, and armed with machetes. They knew that soldiers could attack them with machine guns at any time. Many priests were martyred while celebrating Mass, either by being shot or beheaded.
In a last affirmation of their faith, the Cristeros would shout, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!) just before dying.
Father Pro served Christ
Father Miguel Pro was one of the martyred priests during the Cristeros war. He carried out a secret ministry to Catholics in Mexico City and adopted many interesting disguises in carrying out his pastoral work.
He would come in the middle of the night dressed as a beggar to baptize infants, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring holy Communion to condemned Catholics. However, Father Pro remained obedient to his superiors in all that he did and his joy relied in serving Christ, his king.
Father Pro became a wanted man by civil authorities when he was falsely accused in the bombing attempt on a former Mexican president. Betrayed to the police, he was sentenced to death without the benefit of any legal process. On the day of his execution, Father Pro forgave his executioners and prayed for them. He refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, “Viva Cristo Rey.” Those were the last words Father Pro uttered before he was executed for being a Catholic priest and serving his flock.
Father Miguel Pro was beatified Sept. 25, 1988, by Pope John Paul II.
Since ancient times, many have professed the universal kingship of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, by way of martyrdom. Currently, many Christians are persecuted and killed in countries like Iraq and India, where religious persecution is gaining strength. Today’s martyrs are proclaiming, with their lives, that only Christ is king.
On this solemnity of Christ the King, it seems appropriate to reflect on the way we are giving our life for Christ and how we confess to the world that only Jesus Christ is our king.
Deacon Omar Guanchez is in formation for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary. He is a seminarian of the Diocese of St. Cloud and his teaching parish is St. Joseph in Waite Park. Catholic Spirit