by Father Michael Panicali
Their rallying cry was “Viva Cristo Rey!” – “Long live Christ the King!”
The martyrs of the Cristero War throughout Mexico took this proclamation of the Kingship of Jesus Christ to their graves, and onto eternity. From 1926 to 1929 the populace, many of whom giving their lives, battled against the secularist powers of a Mexican government determined to rout the practice of Catholicism and the power of the Church from the country.
Perhaps most famous of these martyrs is Blessed Miguel Pro, beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in Mexico on Sept. 25, 1988. Killed by a firing squad on Nov. 23, 1927, the image of this Jesuit priest’s assassination spurred the people of Mexico to fight even harder for their right to practice their faith.
Peacefully defying the virtual outlawing of Catholicism in Mexico, Blessed Miguel’s last request before his execution was to kneel and pray.
As he walked from his cell to the courtyard where the firing squad awaited him, he blessed the soldiers, knelt, and briefly prayed quietly.
Refusing a blindfold, he stood before the firing squad holding a Crucifix in one hand and Rosary beads in the other, with his arms outstretched, as Christ’s on the Cross. He cried out, “May God have mercy on you! … With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” Before the fatal shots were fired, he raised his arms in imitation of Christ and shouted, “Viva Cristo Rey!”
Under orders from the government, his execution was photographed and widely shown in newspapers across the country, with the hope of frightening the populace and deterring further rebellion. In fact, the opposite took place. 40,000 people lined Blessed Miguel’s funeral procession, while another 20,000 waited at the cemetery where he was buried. The Cristero fighters fought with renewed vigor, the image of Blessed Miguel’s execution emboldening them. Many of them carried the newspaper photo as they fought on with renewed determination.
Pope St. John Paul II said at Blessed Miguel’s beautification Mass, “Neither suffering nor serious illness, nor the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away. Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to Him, even unto death.”
The beautiful feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Piux XI in 1925 – two years prior to Blessed Miguel’s death – to combat the rise of secularism in the society of the day, a way of life that excludes the recognition and acknowledgment of God and His principles in one’s everyday existence.
Today, we continue to face an insidious secularism that threatens our acknowledgement of God and His plan for our salvation, that looks to eliminate God from the public square, and that constructs a moral compass based on what is popular and self-gratifying, but not what is true and Godly.
Our response on this day, and every day, to misguided secularism and the oppression of the exercise of religion, should be the same as that of the Cristero martyrs: “Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!”
Editor’s note: A relic of Blessed Miguel Pro Juarez was placed within the altar at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Corona, when the church was rededicated in 2016.
Father Panicali, parochial vicar at St. Mark and St. Margaret Mary parish, Sheepshead Bay, was ordained to the priesthood for the Brooklyn Diocese on June 3, 2017.