Miguel was born in the shadow of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on January 13, 1891 just outside Mexico City. He was the oldest son of Miguel and Josefa Juarez Pro and they chose to call him Miguelito to differentiate him from his father. From an early age he exhibited an innocence mischievousness and humor. But once he went too far with his practical jokes and fell, going into a coma. His parents stood round the clock at his bedside, praying every minute. Finally, he came out of it and asked for some chocolate - "cocol." They were overjoyed. But their prayers did not go for naught for slowly but surely he showed the signs of a vocation. His sister, who he was close to, chose to enter a cloistered convent and this greatly influenced Miguelito's thinking as he began to pray more for guidance. Though he had been very popular in his high school and in demand with the young ladies with the prospect of managing his father's lucrative business after he finished his studies, he realized a greater calling and renounced all ambitions by announcing he would enter the Jesuit Novitiate in 1911 at El Liano in Michoacan, southwest of Mexico City. There he showed a spirituality well beyond his age and it would be needed for in 1914 persecution began in earnest against the Church and especially the clergy. The Novitiate was closed and all priests were forced into hiding. For the rest of his days Miguel would carry out his ministry and priesthood incognito, bringing the sacraments to the faithful under cover for fear of detection and execution. In fact, he would call upon his childhood memories and his favorite snack "cocol" as a code name to assure the people he was a priest.
A year after the Novitiate was shut down, Church authorities were able to smuggle Miguel out of Mexico to send him to Spain so he could continue his studies for the priesthood. First they had to get him safely out. Miguel and his companion novices were first sent to Laredo, Texas then to California before the Provincial sent them to Nicaragua. Soon the way was cleared for Miguel to travel to Spain. After several years studying there he was sent to Belgium where, at the age of 34, he was ordained a priest in the Company of the Society of Jesus. Shortly after ordination he began to get sicker and sicker. Doctors determined it was a stomach ailment and after three operations advised him to rest and remain in Belgium, but he pleaded with his superiors to let him return to his beloved homeland of Mexico.
Father Miguel fully realized his fate by asking for this, but he wanted to be with his people and bring them the Sacraments especially at a time when they were being deprived. Reluctantly he was given permission to go back to Mexico. Once there, he became a master of disguises in sneaking past civil authorities with his Mass utensils and missal hidden in old bags as if he were an unshaven beggar. Though he believed the proverb cleanliness was next to Godliness, he also realized the scruffier and filthier he looked, the less likely the proud soldiers and police would want to search him for they were repulsed by poverty and unsanitary conditions. Father Miguel used these to a science in administering to the poorest of poor. But he also was needed in the more well-to-do sections for rich or poor, a Catholic could not go to a church to attend Mass so all were in need of the sacraments. Here he would dress in a business suit and mimic a high-powered salesman, going right up to the soldiers obnoxiously trying to con them deliberately. It usually worked to perfection as they would shue him away as a bother. This would allow him to go to his destination posing as a salesman who would be admitted when the faithful recognized either a specific flower in his lapel or a certain password. He even was so bold as to go several times into the prisons disguised as a policeman. Once past the guards he would talk quietly with the inmates, hearing their confessions and slip Holy Communion to them. More than a few times he was almost caught. As other accounts regale about his spiritual forays, they were akin to the most classic and dangerous spy novels. He constantly stayed a step ahead of government spies in traversing the "catacombs of Mexico." Wherever he went he was remembered for his gentle manner and strong love for Jesus, Who he constantly proclaimed as "Cristo Rey" - Christ the King. An accomplished humor cartoonist, he would also often show a cartoon as identification. Throughout his short life, he never lost his sense of humor and was often lovingly referred to by the people as "God's beloved jester."
But temporally that jester would be silenced for In November 1927 his disguises mattered little when a car, previously owned by one of Miguel's blood brothers, was seen tossing a bomb toward President Calles' car along Paseo de la Reforma, the main street in busy Mexico City. Needless to say, though they were all innocent, all the Pro brothers were arrested. Miguel was exposed as a priest by a sympathizer of Calles and a disgruntled Catholic. A kangaroo court condemned them to a firing squad. The youngest brother, at the eleventh hour, was granted a reprieve and exiled to the United States. But Miguel and his other brother were not so fortunate and they were both marched into the courtyard on November 23, 1927. When offered the traditional blindfold, Miguel declined. As twelve government rifles took aim at his heart, he stretched his arms out wide proclaiming in a loud, clear voice: "Viva Cristo Rey!" which in English means "Long live Christ the King!" Shots rang out and within seconds Miguel had joined the long list of martyrs. Three years later a campaign for his beatification was begun. He is still awaiting canonization but it is merely a matter of time. He was beatified on September 25, 1988 by Pope John Paul II at the same time Blessed Junipero Serra was named Blessed. The Holy Father set his feast day as November 23, the day of his death. With Blessed Miguel Pro's undying devotion to "Cristo Rey" it is fitting that he is honored so close to the Solemnity of Christ the King.
To prepare the perfect Tabernacle to bear the Son of God, the Father created Mary immaculate in the womb of Saint Anne so that Anne's daughter would be free of original sin and therefore provide the holiest of holies to house the Lord of Lords. This is called, of course, the Immaculate Conception a Dogma of the Church declared in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.
God also gave all mankind a free will and so it was left to the young Mary to exercise that free will. She could have said 'no' to the Archangel Gabriel when he appeared to her in Nazareth at the Annunciation. She was certainly startled, but she realized the gravity of the question and what stood in the balance. Her fiat was "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy Will" (Luke 1: 38). At these words by Our Lady, the Holy Spirit mystically conceived in Mary's womb the Son of God; thus the Incarnation as He became a human fetus growing through the nine-month gestation period until the joyful Nativity of the Man-God Savior on Christmas in a cold, damp stable in Bethlehem. The mystery of the Incarnation is commemorated daily in the Angelus prayer said three times a day - morning, at noon and again at night.
Mary's fiat continued forever for it couldn't have been easy,
1) Being with child and not officially married; yet Mary accepted.
2) The human emotions a mother-to-be goes through; yet Mary never questioned her decision or challenged God.
3) Trying to assure her betrothed spouse Joseph that she was still a virgin, never defiled; his natural skepticism had to hurt her for she was telling the truth, but she was patient and understanding.
4) Bearing up under the extreme weather conditions and harsh travel conditions in journeying by donkey to Bethlehem to register the family. Modern doctors would agree that such upheaval and constant motion would induce labor earlier than normal. Yet Mary accepted.
5) Putting up with the scorn of rejection at the Inn when she could have told Joseph to go back in there and tell them just who she was and Who she was carrying. But pride never entered her heart or mind.
6) Accepting the meagre and unsanitary conditions of a cold, sterile stable to deliver the Son of God. Any modern doctor or mother would be alarmed at such conditions for fear of infection both to the mother and child. But Mary knew God would provide.
7) Being subservient to Joseph who awoke her in the middle of the night and just said, "get up, we're going!" Going where? Mary knew intuitively and responded obediently.
8) The sorrowful times of her life, beginning with the prophecy by Simeon, then losing her Son in the temple. Imagine what could have been going through her mind. Any mother of today would be beside herself. Then the death of Joseph, who had been so pure and chaste and always provided the strong, assuring arm of love, leadership and protection in a quiet, unassuming way. Most widows today would be devastated and lost. Yet Mary pushed onward.
9) The day Jesus left the home at 30 to go into the world. Any mother would have a tear and a fear after being with that child for as long as Christ lived at home, but Mary realized what had to be done and gave Him her blessing.
10) Throughout His public ministry she knew when people were sincere and when they were merely caught up with the crowd. It had to thrill her heart when they cried out in belief and had to hurt her to the quick when they badgered Him or rejected His teachings.
11) Imagine the emotions Mary experienced when she saw her Son, the Savior of the world, reduced to the resemblance of a common criminal with caked blood and dirt clinging to his matted hair and crusted to His body beneath fresh blood spurting from open wounds in His skull, hands, body and feet. The crucifixion would be bad enough but consider the condition Our Lord must have been by the time He arrived at the top of Calvary. How do you think Mary felt about all the Apostles save Saint John who seemingly abandoned her Divine Son during the Passion. Any one else would have held huge resentment toward them. But Mary found forgiveness in her heart, even for Judas Iscariot and the Romans and Jews who put Him to death.
12) Think of a mother's emotion when her son is breathing his last breath and the crowds are eager for his death. Just like an execution today, so also on Calvary Mary had to feel so lonely and hurt but no more alone than when the dead corpse of her Divine Son was laid in her arms, forever perpetuated through Michelangelo's Pieta. A moment in time that tells volumes of a mother's love.
13) Mary knew Scripture and the prophecies but, being human, she had to wonder like the rest. Was this truly the end? She knew in her heart it wasn't and because of her faith and trust in God, was able to survive the tremendous storms that came into her life. The calm after the storm came on that Easter morning when she quietly celebrated His Resurrection. She could have shouted from the rooftops, "I told you!" but instead remained in the background as the Apostles all came running back to Him. A lesser woman would have held resentment, asking "Where were you when He needed you?" But Mary realized human nature for what it was and because of that is the perfect messenger that God has sent over and over for the past two millenniums to reassure man that God is the ONLY WAY!
14) When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left His mother with His chosen Apostles to help get them established. It was yet another fiat Mary totally accepted through her death or dormition period and Assumption into Heaven when God called her home.
15) There have been many instances of the dead appearing to the living. In the Gospel, Moses and Elias appeared on Mount Thabor to Christ at the Transfiguration. At Christ's death, many who were dead rose and appeared in Jerusalem. The Blessed Virgin has, throughout the centuries, continued to appear to men; such instances are almost innumerable. She has remained a constant as the chief messenger from Heaven. But Saints have also returned to earth to comfort or instruct the living; even souls in Purgatory have returned, to beg for prayers. We must, however, be very careful about believing in particular instances of appearances by the dead; the devil can and often does use this instrumentality to trick the gullible. That is why the Church is so cautious regarding apparitions and private revelation. Holy Mother Church would like to believe, she would like the faithful to believe, but if it is a trick of the evil one it will defeat and deflate. You can imagine Mary's consternation at times when true words from her are met with skepticism by the Church and her officials, the bishops - successors of the Apostles. But she realizes caution and obedience are the wisest course and satan loves to imitate, mock and urges disobedience. Therefore she asks all to pray for discernment and is continuously urging us to obey the Magisterium of her Son's Holy Church and focusing all attention on her Divine Son, guiding us as a loving Mother will.
The most confusing issue with non-Catholics is Our Lady. As converted professor and Mariologist today Scott Hahn puts it, there were three things that prevented him from joining the Church earlier: "Mary, Mary, and Mary!" The non-Catholic mentality is that Catholics put too much emphasis on the Mother of God and treat her as God. That is a mistaken assumption and nothing could be further from the truth for Mary is totally human. There is no divinity in her except when she housed the Divine in her human womb for nine months. Catholics treat Mary just as Jesus asks us to: with reverence and respect. We ask Mary to intercede for us. Mary can do nothing on her own, but there is no one in Heaven more persuasive who has God's ear first and foremost than His Holy Mother. That is why Catholics always joke about having the inside track because we go through His Mother and God can't say 'no' to His Mother because God has elevated her to the highest place in Heaven reserved for humans - as Queen of Heaven which incorporates Queen of Angels and Saints as well as Mother of His Church on earth. Every title attributed to her is inspired by the Most Blessed Trinity for she is the Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. When questioned by non-Catholics about how we treat Mary, our reply should always be: Jesus obeyed and respected His Mother all His life, should we do less?
On December 7, 1965 Pope Paul VI named him a bishop and he was consecrated Titular Archbishop of Miletus a month later on January 16, 1966. At the same time the Pope appointed him Pro-Nuncio to Indonesia which also incorporated East Timor, then a territory of the Portuguese. He remained at this post for three years until 1969 when he was made President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy for a year before the Holy Father announced his appointment as Archbishop of Palermo on October 17, 1970, marking a return to the land where he was born. Three years later he was honored with the cardinalate in the Consistory of March 5, 1973 along with fellow Italian Cardinal Pietro Palazzini who we covered in Monday's issue. Cardinal Pappalardo received the titular church of St. Mary Odigitria of the Sicilians. He was also given Curial membership in the Congregation for Oriental Churches and the Congregation for the Clergy. After twenty-six years as Archbishop of Sicily's largest see, he resigned on April 4, 1996 at the age of 78 remaining at Arcivescovado, Via Matteo Bonello 2, 90134 in Palermo, Italy.