On this date in 1927, Catholic padre Mateo Correa Magallanes was martyred during Mexico’s brutal Cristero war.
We’ve previously noted the bloody 1926-1929 rebellion of Catholics in central and western Mexico against the liberal and secular state that had emerged from the previous decade’s Mexican Revolution.
Imprisoned as a Cristero sympathizer during this conflict, Correa (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) administered the church’s sacrament of confession to some fellow-prisoners.
When the nearest general caught wind of this event, he immediately demanded of the priest the details those comrades revealed in the rite. Correa positively refused: the inviolable seal of the confessional being a principle that Romish clergy have bravely died for down the ages.
Correa joined their number by refusing every threat and blandishment to break his silence. He was shot in a cemetery outside Durango on the morning of February 6, 1927.
On this date in 1929, a Catholic militant who had gunned down the president of Mexico was shot for his trouble.
In the midst of the dirty Cristero War pitting Catholics against a secular, development-minded state, adroit former president Alvaro Obregon had just won election to a new term.
On July 17, 1928, as the president-elect banqueted in Mexico City, starving artist and father of three Jose de Leon Toral (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) gained admittance as an itinerant caricaturist … then shot dead his putative subject square in the face.
On this date in 1927, the anti-clerical Mexican government made the emblematic martyr of the Cristero War.
This video is in Spanish, but the storyline is pretty easy to follow — young man finds faith, lives faith, dies faith.
Miguel Pro‘s dying cry, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — “Long live Christ the King!” — was a refrain of Cristeros, anti-government guerrillas who in the late 1920’s fought the revolutionary Mexican government’s attempts to forcibly restrict the power of the Catholic Church.
That conflict had been brewing for years, an outgrowth of Mexico’s own complex history of colonization and development — measures to restrict the church’s size, wealth, and social reach had been mooted and sometimes implemented well back to the middle of the 19th century.
Early in the 20th, the confrontation was merely a twist on its classic form: liberal state-builders and the Catholic hierarchy were (or increasingly saw themselves as) diametrically opposed in their vision for Mexico.
That conflict came to a head under president Plutarco Elias Calles, an irreligious northerner with a project of national capital development for whom the church’s intransigence from its agrarian strongholds was most unwelcome … and who seemed to delight in provoking Rome with sport like mandatory physicals for priests, not neglecting to publicize the incidence of venereal disease thereby revealed.
Liberals had already brought about drastically reduced clerical privileges in the Mexican Constitution of 1917; its somewhat draconian measures were neither fully enforced nor fully resisted, but initiated a period where the two hostile institutions rudely grappled for their respective spheres of influence on the ground.
Calles was the rudest grappler of all, and his 1926 Calles Law pushed for anti-clericalism stricter than the letter of the constitution … and sparked armed resistance.
It was an exceptionally dirty war with routine summary executions on both sides and thousands of Catholic refugees — a dangerous environment for any priest with legal sanctions against basically every practice of the vocation. (Photos of Cristeros, some in heroic resistance and others in grisly martyrdom, can be eyeballed here.)
Pro, a Jesuit who like many was forced underground, was under state surveillance and got picked up in the aftermath of an assassination attempt against a prominent politician. He was chosen to make an example of — without an actual trial, possibly because there’s no actual reason to think he was involved in the bombing.
Looking at these pictures of Pro’s last moments, it’s hard to believe that they were taken and circulated at government direction to cow the Cristero movement. Fail.
Led out to execution in a police courtyard. The place of his death today is (bizarrely) Calle Loteria Nacional.
Pro himself refused a blindfold. But why state authorities carrying out the execution with an eye towards public relations would allow him to die in this pose is anyone’s guess.
He blessed and forgave the firing squad, of course.
Just beginning to topple at the moment the bullets struck him.
Like many firing squad executions, this one failed to kill its victim with the ceremonial volley. Pro was finished off with a coup de grace.
Calles was simultaneously — the key measures were also enacted in 1926 — involved in a confrontation with the United States over oil rights, a situation that came to the brink of war, with Washington saber-rattling about “Soviet Mexico”. It’s tempting to wonder whether the two situations weren’t related, especially since the new American ambassador* who had arrived only the month before Pro’s execution would ultimately negotiate both situations’ resolutions.
While the natural resource politics went their separate way, the Mexican Revolution’s anti-clerical strain didn’t so much disappear by negotiation as fade away over decades, with regular new outbreaks.
One thinks of Mexico today as such so staunch a Catholic country that it’s hard to imagine that some of these provisions were only officially repealed in 1998.
As for Pro, he’s welcome in Mexico by now — celebrated by Pope John Paul II who ultimately beatified him, and the inspirational source of this hymn whose refrain is his famous last cry.
* The American ambassador in question, Dwight Morrow, invited Charles Lindbergh on a goodwill tour to Mexico, where the aviator would meet the diplomat’s daughter not long after Miguel Pro’s martyrdom. Little could Lindbergh and Anne Morrow suspect that their love match would set them on the path to their own famous encounter with capital punishment.