Sunday, 26 November 2006

Viva Cristo Rey!

Fr Miguel Pro was not an exceptional priest – a good one, but then so are many others. He would certainly never have considered himself a hero. However, it is often circumstances that create the hero, and Fr Miguel lived in extraordinary times. In 1925, President Calles of Mexico embarked upon a fierce persecution of the Church. Miguel, who had trained with the Jesuits in Belgium, returned to Mexico in 1927, to face a dangerous life in the run. Graham Greene compared him to the English Jesuits of the sixteenth century, his modest working suit recalling the everyday disguises they had to adopt. In his travelogue The Lawless Roads, Graham Greene describes the situation:

“With two months of Pro’s landing, President Calles had begun the fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth. The churches were closed. Mass had to be said secretly in private houses; to administer the sacraments was a serious offence. Nevertheless, Pro gave communion daily to some three hundred people, confessions were heard in half-built houses in darkness, retreats were held in garages … The prisons were filling up, priests were being shot, yet on three successive first Fridays, Pro gave the Sacrament to nine hundred, thirteen hundred, and fifteen hundred people.”

Eventually betrayed, Pro was executed on November 23 1927: President calles, thinking to dishearten the religious party, ensured the event was photographed. Above is the haunting image of Fr Pro standing with arms outstretched before the firing squad, rosary clasped in one hand. As the soldiers fired, Fr Miguel shouted “Viva Cristo Rey!” – Christ the King lives!

Fr Miguel Pro was affirming his belief in the ultimate victory of Christ, and this is what today’s feast boldly proclaims. Our Lord is King over all, even over sin, war, terror and death. In our world, so afflicted with the scars of human hatred and greed, it can seem that evil is rampant and Satan triumphant. Today, the Feast of Christ the King, with Fr Pro we assert that evil will never be victorious. Christ will always conquer, and goodness will prevail. Faced with a world uncertain of the outcome in the struggle between good and evil, the Christian has the courage to proclaim fearlessly with Fr Miguel, ‘Viva Cristo Rey!

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