On November 9 at St. Paul’s University, I had the great pleasure of watching For Greater Glory. It was a chronicle of the Cristeros War (1926-1929); a war by the people of Mexico against the atheistic Mexican government. The protagonists were called the “Cristeros” – the courageous Catholic men and women of Mexico who laid down their lives for the freedom of the Church.
There were around 120-130 people at the screening by my estimation, including a number of people who found out about it through Socon or Bust. Shout out to all the Busters who came out! Archbishop Prendergast also came out. Not sure if he found out through Socon or Bust 🙂
Normally “pro-Church” English-speaking movies are mediocre at best. RAI (the Italian outfit), for instance, who is responsible for many great Church movies – movies about the Saints – do really top notch movies, but it’s rare to find a North American producer who puts out a first class film. I’m happy to report that For Greater Glory did not fit the mold. They got really good actors and hired a Hollywoood Script writer, and the quality showed in the product. It was an amazing, heart-wrenching movie that goes down in my books as one of the best ever made for Catholic audiences.
Before the movie started, we were treated to a documentary about the historical setting of Church-State relations in Mexico at that time (the 1920s). Mexico had just come out of a civil war and the government was all hot to start enforcing anti-clerical laws which were on the books since 1917.
Until 1924, there was relative peace with the Church, but then the Government of President Plutarco Elias Calles started to suspend public liturgical worship. In other words, as the movie showed in one scene, the government jackboots would breakdown Church doors during Mass and start firing on innocent people. They also expelled foreign born priests and bishops, and then when Catholics started figthing back and inflicting some damage, they started expelling Mexican bishops. As one of the younger priests said to an older priest (played by Peter O’Toole), “We can’t let the Godless take away our freedom.”
That line was one of the more memorable ones in the movie, and it poses a real challenge to Catholics as we enter a very dark period of Church history in our day. How much government tyranny would we accept before taking up arms or engaging in major civil disobedience? That’s not a question of “if”, but only “when”. I doubt in our age if taking up arms is going be the adequate answer to government thuggery, but civil disobedience and jail time are definitely on the horizon. Catholicism does not teach pacifism, although our bishops have taught us the ‘go-along-to-get-along” theology for decades. When we watch a movie like this and see how our Catholic leadership caved on contraception, abortion, and gay “marriage”, how can we not feel profoundly ashamed?
The film starts out with the resistance to the anti-Catholic government being organized in the forms of petitions and economic boycotts. As the government begins to crackdown further, the priest who is played by Peter O’Toole is dragged out of his church and shot dead. In another scene, another priest is hung in the Church and his Parish is trashed. That’s after the government troops rode into the church on their horses.
The Cisteros resistance eventually grew to 20,000 men, but at the beginning they were a loose network of ragtag groups. The Cisteros leadership, understanding that they needed some professional military help enlist and hire Gen. Enrique Gorostieta Velarde to lead their forces. An atheist and a hero of the revolution, Gorostieta signed on for the cash and because he supported the principle of religious freedom, although as the film progresses he rediscovers the Catholic Faith.
José Luis Sanchez is a little boy around 11 years old who refuses to renounce his faith in Christ when a government thug threatens him with death unless he says the magic words, “Death to Cristo Rei“. Eduardo Verástegui plays Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, a lawyer who supports peaceful means of resistance to Calles’ campaign. Sanchez and Flores were beatified as martyrs by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Sanchez’s martyrdom is almost a miniature Passion of the Christ, complete with Pietà shot. (Source)
The only disturbing element was a priest, Father José Reyes Vega (Santiago Cabrera), an important Cristero general, who takes up arms, contrary to Catholicteaching that priests cannot be involved in wars.
One of the more colourful and entertaining characters is a sort of “Clint Eastwood” type rebel and rancher named Victoriano Ramirez, nicknamed El Catorce (“The 14”) for his role in singlehandedly wiping out 14 government troops who were sent to kill him. He’s the “shoot first and ask questions later” hombre that you can’t miss in the film. A lone ranger of sorts that the General has a hard time reigning in, he eventually falls in line and dies a heroic death.
Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI visited Mexico and remarked on Mexico’s ongoing restrictions on religious freedom. In the past, we looked upon these restrictions as some kind of sickness left over from a past century. But today, more than ever, religious freedom is being attacked on all fronts…both from the aggressive secularism of Obama which seeks to dictate how Catholics are to practice their faith in the public square, and with the Islamicists who want to put Christians (and everyone else) under Shariah. The West is deteriorating under our very noses, and with the exception of a few bishops and the Pope, most of the Catholic world is largely sleeping. This films sends a strong reminder that the good times are over, and the Church needs to saddle up and get serious about practicing its Faith – all of it and not just the trendy parts that don’t offend – or else we’re all going to be on the run or in jail or worse.
Vivo Cristo Rei.