The inspirational life of Jesuit Father Miguel Pro --- who was assassinated for his Catholic faith in 1920s Mexico --- comes to the stage for two performances Feb. 18 at Mission San Gabriel Playhouse.

The original play “Viva Cristo Rey” is penned by Cathal Gallagher and Fred Martinez; Gallagher (along with son Peter) are co-founders of the Los Angeles-based G.K. Chesterton Theatre Company which aims to present stories that explore faith and heroism. “Viva Cristo Rey” is the non-profit company’s fourth production since its inception in 2009.

“It’s a historical drama about a charismatic priest who is well-known in Mexico,” says Maria Vargo, company artistic director. “Even though it’s a serious drama, the love Father Pro had for the Lord just radiates. People will be entertained and laugh as well as take in the dramatic nature of the story.” Father Pro was beatified by Pope John Paul II as a martyr in 1988. 

The play takes place in Mexico City from July 1926 to November 1927 during the highpoint of La Cristiada, a time of religious persecution which banned the Catholic Church from Mexico. Thousands of Mexicans --- both lay and religious --- suffered imprisonment, brutality and/or death under Plutarco Calles’ repressive government. 

Father Miguel Pro used theatrical disguises and ruses to minister to his flock despite the opposing pressure mounting against him. “Father Pro was so daring, he would walk right into prisons, past the very men who were looking for him, just so he could hear confessions or administer the last rites to prisoners,” says Vargo. “He was willing to do anything for someone else’s soul.”

In the end, Father Pro was captured and executed; photographic images of his death --- he was shot by a firing squad as well as an up-close gunshot to his head --- eventually circulated around the world which ultimately caused the tide to turn against the brutal religious persecution in Mexico.

The play was previously mounted last year in Santa Monica at the Miles Memorial Playhouse to sold-out audiences. “The responses we received were overwhelming,” says Vargo. “Many elderly audience members who actually lived through the persecution shared with us their own stories and memories --- how their grandparents got married underground, how they received Communion underground … some amazing stories.”

The play was also performed in December at Holy Innocents Church in Long Beach. Norbertine Father Michael Perea, who saw the play, said he was impressed by the “professional skill of the actors, the pace and movement of the drama, but above all with the way that the play objectively explained itself and the struggle between the Catholic Church and the Mexican government in the 1920s.”

Vargo hopes that the play will continue to inspire audience goers. The company is currently working on a new production, a profile of Claude Newman, an African American in 1944 Mississippi, convicted of murder but who later had a religious conversion in jail with the help of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

“Our overall goal is to one day have our own theater for open space, workshops, classes, camps and present three shows a year,” says Vargo. “We are encouraged because of the great feedback we get from our shows and that keeps us moving forward to tell these stories of faith.”

“Viva Cristo Rey” takes place Feb. 18, 3 and 7:30 p.m., at San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, 320 S. Mission Dr., San Gabriel. Tickets are $10-$35; for information, visit  HYPERLINK "" or call (626) 308-2865. For group sales, call Mark Edward Padilla at (323) 742-2990.

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