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Thursday, September 13, 2012

'For Greater Glory' Released on DVD

For Greater Glory  
Released on DVD

For Greater Glory was released on DVD this September 11.  It tells the story of the Cristiada, the armed resistance of Mexican Catholics against government persecution in the 1920s.  The following is the movie review posted on this blog when the film was in theaters.

The movie begins with Mexican President Plutarco Calles announcing the “Calles Law,” a series of measures aimed at restricting the freedom of the Church in Mexico and people's ability to practice their Faith. The Church attempted to have the restrictions lifted through political means, and the faithful launched boycotts and petitions. Public services ceased on August 1, 1926, and the Church's ministry in many ways went underground. As Catholics' civil disobedience grew, the government responded with violent atrocities. Many priests and lay people were brutally murdered.

By January, 1927, people began fighting back militarily. These armed resistors were called Cristeros, for their cry, “Viva Cristo Rey!” For Greater Glory follows the Cristeros throughout the war with the government, focusing particularly on a few major historical players.

The first is Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, played by Andy Garcia, who became the leader of the Cristero army, and for whom the battle for religious freedom became a quest for faith. Another is Father Jose Reyes Vega, one of the few priests who took up arms in the Cristiada, and one of the military leaders. Finally, Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio, a 14 year-old Cristero flag bearer, was eventually captured, tortured and executed. He was beatified in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI. Another character of note is Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, played by Eduardo Verastegui, another Blessed, head of the civilian wing of the resistance, who was also martyred.

Most Americans are unaware of the persecution that happened in Mexico less than 100 years ago and the martyrs it produced, and For Greater Glory aims to change that. Though the film rightly portrays the Cristeros as the “good guys,” it gives a very fair historical treatment of the situation. For example, although it is a ridiculous lie to claim simply, as I saw on one Web site recently, that “atrocities occurred on both sides,” it is true that there were instances in which these Christian soldiers did not fight with total Christian virtue, and the film is not afraid to acknowledge that. And if anything it leaves the viewer with a picture of the Mexican government's brutality that is less graphic than history records.

As a historical film, For Greater Glory is very good, and will successfully raise awareness of what really happened in the Cristiada. It also raises difficult questions about war in general. The Church never officially sanctioned the Cristiada, though the pope did condemn the actions of President Calles. And though the cause was just, the film demonstrates how difficult it is, spiritually, to maintain one's virtue, even when fighting a just war. The image of Father Vega taking up arms is certainly difficult from a Catholic point of view.

As a war movie, of course it is very violent, and there are portrayals of the government's brutality. The martyrdom of Sanchez del Rio is particularly difficult to watch, so sensitive movie-goers should be prepared.

The film, of course, is also very timely. Here in the United States we are being urged to prepare for peaceful civil disobedience to fight our own President's brazen attacks on our religious liberties and basic freedoms. And in many places around the world it is far worse. One can't help noticing the similarities between 1920s Mexico and modern China, where the Church has had to go underground, and baseless arrests, torture, and murder of innocent Catholics are commonplace at the hands of the government. We would all do well to learn the lessons of the Cristiada, and perhaps find inspiration from the suffering of those brave men and women as we fight our own battles today.

May God grant us the Grace to attain freedom and justice peacefully, and the fortitude to continue the fight. Viva Cristo Rey!