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MEXICO: Graham Greene and the persecution of Catholics

Bienvenido Macario has sent me an article by Fr. James Reuter SJ about Christianity. From it I excerpt what he has says about Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory (1940), a novel which resulted from his visit to Mexico in 1934, described in The Lawless Roads (1939), published in the US under the title Another Mexico. He had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1926, and his novel about anti.Catholic Mexican revolutionaries is an expression of his faith. Here is what Father Reuter says about it:

"Graham Greene, who was a magnificent Catholic author, wrote a book called: Labyrinthine Ways. It did not sell, because nobody knew what "Labyrinthine" meant. They changed the title to The Power and the Glory. Then the book sold. When Hollywood made it into a movie, they called it: "The Fugitive." The first film featured Henry Fonda in the leading role. It was so successful that they did it again, starring Laurence Olivier. It was the story of a young Catholic priest in Mexico, during the stormy days of religious persecution. The year that, in real life, Miguel Pro S.J. was shot and killed by a military firing squad. He died with his arms extended in the form of a cross, calling: "Viva Cristo Rey!" Miguel Pro was a fugitive, and so was the star, in this movie.

He had many faults, failures, weaknesses, sins. He was a mild alcoholic. He was the father of a little girl, born out of wedlock. He was not living with the mother. It happened in a moment of misery and loneliness. The mother of the little girl never called him anything else than "Father". He was constantly running from the police, and from the military, in fear of execution. But he was devoted to the little flock he was supposed to serve. He was saying Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick and the dying, bringing God--as best he could--to every Catholic. A military officer, a Communist, knew that he was doing this, and was hunting for him. Finally the priest escaped from Mexico. He went over the border, into safe territory.

The Communist was played by George Scott, a strong actor. He knew that the priest would not refuse a request for the last sacraments, from a man who was dying. So he sent a miserable street vendor with a note for the priest, forged, as if it came from a dying man, asking for confession before he died. The priest went back across the border, with the street vendor, into the trap. There really was a man dying, who needed the sacraments. But after the priest gave him absolution and the viaticum, the military closed in on him. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced for execution. In the area, there was a priest who had abandoned his priesthood, rather than be executed. The fugitive priest, in his prison cell, wanted to confess. The Communist Officer had a secret admiration for this man who was about to die for his faith. He went to the fallen-away priest. But the man would not come, to give the sacraments. He thought it was a trap. So the Communist went back to the young priest, to tell him that the fallen-away priest would not come.

The condemned priest was sitting on the floor of his cell, drinking. It was a little like anesthesia, to brace him for the execution. The Communist sat beside him, on the floor. And the priest said: "You know--it is strange. For Communism to succeed, they must have to work through good men--like you. But in the Catholic Church it is different. God can go on saving his children, even through men who are no good--like me." The soldiers come to march him out to execution. The miserable street vendor, who has received a large sum of money for bringing the priest to the military, is stricken with remorse. He offers the money to the priest. The priest shakes his head and almost runs, in slippers, to his execution. The vendor runs after him, stumbles and falls, and the coins scatter over the courtyard. He is a Judas figure. The priest was humble, because of his own faults. But it made him a martyr. It made him a saint".

RH: The novel seems singularly apposite today when so many priests are charged with straying from the straight and narrow path. Miguel Pro was Brn in1891, Under the terror of the Mexican regime of the time of Calles' and Obergon's rule, came years of political and religious persecution. During this period, the Pro family suffered great great financial and personal hardship. Meanwhile Miguel and the other novices of the Jesuit order were also under severe threat of persecution, as Catholic priests and religious were among the targets of the Mexican reign of terror. After a raid of the religious' house, their superiors ordered Miguel and the other novices to escape from Mexico. Miguel's travels took him to diverse countries such as the U.S., Grenada, and eventually Belgium where he was ordained a priest on August 21, 1925. Even though his family could not be physically present at his ordination ceremony, Father Pro was spiritually present with them; blessing their individual photographs one by one.

Even though he sought to hide his internal and physical turmoil from those around him, Father Pro suffered great emotional pain over the constant worry he felt over his family and the physical pain which was caused by stomach troubles. Those around him even noted that at the times he felt the most pain; physical or emotional, that he would seem the most cheerful. Father Pro's physical health weakened despite several operations. In the hope of helping Father Pro regain his health, his superiors granted his wish to return home to Mexico to be nearer to his family. Little did his superiors realise the extent of the trouble that the Church in Mexico faced. In 1926, Father Pro returned to Mexico during the height of political terror; at a time in which the Catholic Church faced great opposition as a result of constitutional amendments and legislation which severely restricted public worship. Any Catholic priest who dared to continue to serve the sacraments risked persecution, torture, arrest and even execution! That was the fate of Father Pro. He has been beatified. The execution of priests disgraced the revolutionary movement. Can Mexican WAISers tell us if Father Pro is remembered?

Ronald Hilton - 7/7/03