By John Rieping | Published 31 Oct 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
This Saturday, I will start a new “lectio divina” (“reading God”) group from 11 a.m. to noon at St. Marello Bookstore, 211 N. J St., Madera, California, on “Learning to Pray in Scripture.”
All who respect the Bible will be welcome as I (and I hope others) look at how people in the Bible prayed and what we can learn from them about prayer. Contact me about it at my website (wambly.weebly.com).
Viva Cristo Rey
Less than a century ago, my grandfather left Mexico with a price on his head, set by the state of Jalisco. His homeland’s atheistic government wanted to cripple the church and had no pity for one who stubbornly taught his creed and assisted priests.
Yet the United States wouldn’t be entirely welcoming, and he never abandoned Mexico in his heart.
Higinio Lozano first worked as a cook for a railroad line crew in the South. Once, he received a strong dose of poison oak while carrying water to wash the pots and pans. That evening his younger brother Natalio, seeking medicine, walked miles along train tracks to the nearest town.
Natalio arrived at a drugstore cold and wet from a storm. As he scraped off his muddy shoes, someone yelled, “What do you want?! Don’t you get on my floors. You wait out there until I’m ready!”
Natalio waited as a customer loitered. Eventually the pharmacist came to the door and took his order for calamine lotion. A sign in the window explained: “No Negroes, Mexicans, or Dogs Allowed Inside!” The experience soaked in as Natalio made his way back to camp in the dark.
The brothers now spoke often of heading west.
By the late 1920s, they did so. Though lacking strength and agility, Higinio worked in the fields of San Fernando, California. But he applied his mind to his church and community. He volunteered with the Catholic Association for Mexican Youth, and wrote, directed, and performed in religious dramas.
The execution of Rev. Miguel Pro, SJ, in Mexico City on Nov. 23, 1927, inspired one such drama. My grandfather portrayed the priest. A young Maria del Carmen Najar played another role. This led to a relationship, marriage, and my own existence.
But the truth behind that play deserves repeating.
Born in Mexico of a mining engineer, Miguel Pro joined the Jesuit order Aug. 14, 1911, at age 20. Three years later he left his homeland due to its revolution. He fled to Texas and California before studying in Spain, teaching in Nicaragua, and learning theology in Belgium, where he was ordained a priest Aug. 31, 1925.
He wrote: “How can I explain to you the sweet grace of the Holy Spirit, which invades my poor miner’s soul with such heavenly joys? I could not keep back my tears…”
Though he had a serious side, Pro loved quips and pranks. As a seminarian, he’d amuse with tricks, stories, American English slang, and by singing random lines of popular songs.
He ministered first to Belgian miners. But his superiors let him return July 8, 1926, to Mexico, in hopes the food and climate would ease his chronic stomach problems. Despite the nation's deportation of many Catholic priests, no Mexican authorities bothered to check his passport or bags.
Pro created “Eucharistic Stations” throughout Mexico City to secretly distribute Holy Communion to hundreds daily. He aided the sick and poor. He even impersonated a prison guard to pray with prisoners and hear confessions.
He once met policemen guarding a house at which he’d planned to offer Mass. He strode up, opened his vest as if showing a badge, and declared, “There’s a cat bagged here.” Hoodwinked, they saluted and let him in.
Another time, police invaded a home while Pro celebrated Mass. He rushed everyone into other rooms, hid the Eucharist in his suit pocket, and then joined police on their fruitless search for a priest. When Pro left, he told a guard posted at the door he’d have helped longer but he had a date with his girlfriend. He later wrote, “I returned to the place, but, somehow or other, the priest had not yet appeared…”
He would be jailed repeatedly, which aided his prison ministry.
Finally, the Mexican government had enough. A few days after a bomb injured former president Alvaro Obregon, Pro and his brothers were arrested on false charges of attempted assassination. A trial was set for the next day, but morning brought a firing squad.
President Plutarco Calles had requested the execution six months beforehand, and photographers had been hired to document a cowardly death. But instead Pro forgave his guard, prayed, and blessed his executioners. He refused a blindfold and with arms outstretched yelled, “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King.