Mexico in the 1920’s was a genteel society where ladies and gentlemen dressed in their Sunday best, casually strolled to Mass through the town plaza. The parish priest was a pre-eminent figure in the community, and no one imagined that President Plutarco Calles would send their gracious world into a tailspin with his sudden enactment of Mexican anti-clerical laws in 1926. Mexican churches closed their doors in protest on August 1, 1926 and the people saw their Catholic schools and churches confiscated, their priests exiled and even murdered before their horrified gaze. Their first reaction was to organize boycotts through the National League for Religious Liberty, but the Calles retaliation grew bloodier and soon many Mexican Catholics felt that their only recourse was to take up arms. The Cristero Movement was born, from landowning peasants whose religious faith was strong, and who fought to reclaim their rights to freedom of religion. Their battle cry was “Que viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!) As they carried banners with Christ’s image into battle and attended Holy Mass in their camps, they knew they were fighting to maintain religious freedom in their homeland.
In the movie For Greater Glory (in theaters June 1st), Andy Garcia plays General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde a renowned retired general whose civilian life as head of a soap factory leaves him anxious to return to battle even though his atheism has his wife Tulita (Eva Longoria) cynical as to his role in a conflict over religious freedom. General Gorostieta says he’s fighting so his daughters can receive Confirmation, but soon the inspiring valor of 14 year old José Luis Sánchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri) who begs to join the Cristeros spurs the general to greater personal investment in the cause for religious freedom.
A once-hidden epoch in Mexican history is brought unflinchingly to life by riveting performances by such venerable actors as Oscar-winner Peter O’Toole as Fr Christopher an aged foreign priest who incredulous to learn that he is no longer welcome in the nation whose people he served all his life, and newcomer Mauricio Kuri as his young protégé in the defense of the Faith. The power of religious conviction to drive self-sacrifice is the inspiring theme in this extraordinary film, portrayed with equal power by both militant priests Fr Vega (Santiago Cabrera) and pacifist activists Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores (Eduardo Verastegui).
Director Dean Wright does not dwell on the violence of the conflict, but focuses on the state of the characters’ souls as they valiantly embrace sacrifices required to combat by the cruel suppression of the Federales. Stirring portrayals of good and evil set amid colorful Mexican landscapes suffused with Catholic iconography create an unforgettable cinematic experience comparable to “The Mission”. Andy Garcia gives the performance of his career, filling the screen with his character’s powerful transformation from mercenary to hero, but Mauricio Kuri’s screen debut is the showstopper. Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Rio is first seen as a insolent adolescent who Fr Christopher mentors as an altar boy but his lessons on moral courage are driven home when the boy witnesses the elderly priests’ martyrdom. Jose insists on bringing his friend along to join the Cristeros, and humbly accepts his position as a non-combatant, until destiny thrusts him into the spotlight.
Do not miss this remarkable salute to the little known heroes of the Cristeros rebellion, an opportunity not only to educate your family about past religious persecution and the heroes who fought for religious liberty in Mexico, but a spellbinding experience to inspire your own reaction to similar threats in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. It is providential that “For Greater Glory” is coming out as the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom initiative is about to begin.
I give “For Greater Glory” my highest recommendation. Suitable for ages 13 and up, like “The Passion of the Christ”, the film is rated R for violent and disturbing content. (Sexual content is minimal; there is one bedroom scene with a discussion between husband and wife, and a brief scene of women in 1920’s style undergarments) Greatest respect for the highest expressions of human dignity; sacrifice, love and faith is exalted in this film.
Copyright 2012 Leticia Velasquez