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Photos of this priest’s martyrdom were meant to dissuade Catholics; that’s not what happened

Miguel Pro

Public Domain US

Aleteia - published on 06/03/17 - updated on 11/23/23

The images of Miguel Pro's death were "one of the first modern attempts to use media images to manipulate public opinion for antireligious purposes."

The Cristero War was the result of the brutal anti-Catholic persecution perpetrated by the Mexican government of the early 20th century.

Among the great testimonies of faith from this epoch we find the well-known martyrdom of the Jesuit priest, Miguel Agustín Pro, who was shot without any trial, simply for the “crime” of being Catholic. Addressing his executioners, he offered these powerful last words:

May God have mercy on you. May God bless you! Lord, thou knowest I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies.

In addition to assassinating him, the government wanted to ensure that his execution would humiliate him and that it would serve to dissuade, discourage, and frighten other Catholics. They did not expect that his martyrdom would in fact have just the opposite effect.

Of the martyrs of those days, no one caught the attention of the public in Mexico and the rest of the world as much as the Jesuit Miguel Agustín Pro. Pro was killed by a firing squad in front of news cameras that the government had brought in to record what it hoped would be the embarrassing spectacle of a priest pleading for mercy. It was one of the first modern attempts to use media images to manipulate public opinion for antireligious purposes. But instead of wavering, Pro displayed great dignity. He walked out to the execution bravely, asking only to be allowed to pray before dying. After a few minutes, he stood up, extended his arms in the form of a cross, a traditional Mexican posture in prayer, and with a steady voice, neither defiant nor desperate, movingly intoned words that have since become famous, “Viva Cristo Rey,” “Long live Christ the King.”

Far from being a propaganda triumph for the government, the photographs of Pro’s execution became objects of Catholic devotion in Mexico and of government embarrassment throughout the world. Officials tried to suppress their circulation, declaring the mere possession of the photos a treasonous act, but without success.. … (The Catholic Martyrs of The Twentieth Century, Robert Royal, pp. 17-18).

Here are some of those pictures:

1- Father Miguel Pro, already a prisoner, in Nov. 1927, on the eve of his execution. He was dressed in civilian clothes due to the law prohibiting priests to wear clerics.

Public Domain

2- Condemned to death without a trial, Father Pro proceeds to the place of his execution, carrying a crucifix and a rosary.

Public Domain

3- Father Pro’s last request was to be allowed to kneel and pray. The executioner awaits, as he kisses the crucifix and prays.

Image (1) miguel-pro.jpg for post 16238
Public Domain

4- With his arms extended as if on a cross, Father Pro prayed for those who were to execute him: “My God, have mercy on them. My God, bless them. Lord, you know that I am innocent. With all of my heart, I forgive my enemies.”

Public Domain

5- As the executioner readied to fire, Father Pro’s last words were powerful: “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!) This became the motto for the Cristeros, such that in subsequent executions, martyrs’ tongues were cut out so that they could not profess Christ with this cry at the moment of death.

Public Domain

6- Now wounded, Father Pro falls to the ground and is given the coup de grâce.

Public Domain

7- Many Mexicans took the great risk not only of participating in the burial of Father Pro, but of crying out “Viva Cristo Rey” as his remains passed by.

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