Friday, November 23, 2018

Evelyn Waugh and Blessed Miguel Pro

On the memorial of Blessed Miguel Pro the Jesuit priest executed on November 23, 1927 in Mexico, it seems appropriate to remember how Evelyn Waugh, in the introduction to the second edition of his biography of then Blessed Edmund Campion, mentioned that the "Martyrdom of Father Pro in Mexico re-enacted Campion's in faithful detail" and that the "haunted, trapped, murdered priest is our contemporary."

Waugh visited Mexico after he wrote Campion's biography and wrote a book criticizing the Mexican revolution and its effects, particularly the persecution of the Catholic Church and her priests. He spent two months in Mexico:

I went to Mexico in order to write a book about it ; in order to verify and reconsider impressions formed at a distance. To have travelled a lot, to have spent, as I had done, the first twelve years of adult life intermittently on the move, is to this extent a disadvantage that one’s mind falls into the habit of recognizing similarities rather than differences. At the age of thirty-five one needs to go to the moon, or some such place, to recapture the excitement with which one first landed at Calais. For many people Mexico has, in the past, had this lunar character. Lunar it still remains, but in no poetic sense. It is waste land, part of a dead or, at any rate, a dying planet. Politics, everywhere destructive, have here dried up the place, frozen it, cracked it and powdered it to dust. Is civilization, like a leper, beginning to rot at its extremities? In the sixteenth century human life was disordered and talent stultified by the obsession of theology; today we are plague- stricken by politics. It is a fact; distressing for us, dull for our descendants, but inescapable. This is a political book; its aim, roughly, is to examine a single problem; why it was that last summer a small and almost friendless republic jubilantly recalled its Minister from London, and, more important, why people in England thought about this event as they did; why, for instance, patriotic feeling burst into indignation whenever a freight ship — British only in name, trading in defiance of official advice — was sunk in Spanish waters, and remained indifferent when a rich and essential British industry was openly stolen in time of peace. If one could understand that problem one would come very near to understanding all the problems that vex us today, for it has at its origin the universal, deliberately fostered anarchy of public relations and private opinions that is rapidly making the world uninhabitable. 

The succeeding pages are notes on anarchy. 

Waugh was very critical of the Wilson administration's response to the persecution of Catholics under the new Mexican government and Constitution:

President Wilson was reluctant to admit the crimes of his proteges; it was only after the facts had again and again been set before him and Catholic opinion in America was becoming seriously inflamed, that he sent a protest. He asked for three things: freedom for foreigners to pursue their businesses in peace; an amnesty for political opponents; a remission of the persecution of religion. ‘Nothing will shock the civilized world more,’ he wrote, ‘than punitive and vindictive action towards priests or ministers of any Church, whether Catholic or Protestant; and the Government of the United States ventures most respectfully but most earnestly to caution the leaders of the Mexican people on this delicate and vital matter. The treatment already said to have been accorded priests has had a most unfortunate effect on opinion outside of Mexico.’ Carranza accordingly went before the Congress in December 1918 to propose a modification of the ‘Constitution of Queretaro’ in favour of the Church. But Obregon had now entered into an alliance with the CROM; the price for their support was the continued persecution of the Church. Obregon’s supporters in Congress were therefore instructed to reject the amendments. Carranza was driven out and murdered. Once again American intervention had proved disastrous.

Chapter Seven of Robbery Under Law, "The Straight Fight", offers his interpretation of anti-Catholicism in Mexico, its sources and propaganda. Of Blessed Miguel Pro, he writes, noting how President Calles had photographs of his execution published, that he was the hero of Catholics in the late 1930's:

There were hundreds of others done to death at the same time. Mexico had been infertile of religious heroes for some generations; now she suddenly burst into flower; but popular imagination always seeks to personify its ideals, and it is on Pro, very worthily, that it has fastened as the embodiment of the spirit Calles provoked. Within a few hours of his death he was already canonized in the hearts of the people; with typical ineptitude Calles had photographers on the scene of the execution and issued pictures of it to the press; within a day or two it was a criminal offence to possess one; they circulated nevertheless from hand to hand and were reproduced in secret all over the country. Today you can buy cards of Pro outside the churches and even government apologists have stopped trying to justify his death. It was a mistake, they admit; it was indeed; one of those resounding mistakes which make history. While Dwight Morrow and his clown and Calles were off on a trip together in the Presidential train talking of debt settlements, Pro was being shot in a back yard. Dwight Morrow is already forgotten. Pro is the inspiration of thousands through whom the Mexican Church is still alive.

Waugh writes about the Cristeros:

The present situation of the Church in Mexico is the result of the truce effected with the mediation of Dwight Morrow. Mexican Catholics profess small gratitude to him for his intervention. The promises then made by the government have not been kept. The Cristeros were induced to surrender their arms under an amnesty which has been broken by a series of retributive murders. The hierarchy believed that their spiritual work was to be allowed to continue without persecution; they have been bitterly disappointed. For Catholics the unhappy character of the compromise has been emphasized by the grave warning of the late Pope in the encyclical Firmissimam Constantiam of Easter 1937.

Browsing that chapter, with Waugh's description of Our Lady of Guadalupe, demonstrated to me what a thoughtful Catholic Evelyn Waugh truly was. He understands--as a convert--both the outsider and the insider view of the Catholic Church, our doctrine, worship, and devotion.

Blessed Miguel Pro, pray for us!

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