Tomorrow, Ember Friday in Pentecost, a movie comes to mainstream theaters around the U.S. entitled “For Greater Glory,” which is set in Jalisco, Mexico, during the Cristeros War from 1926 to 1929. Known as “Cristiada” when the movie was released in April in Mexico, it has been screened to several interested Americans over the last few months, including this writer.
This is a movie well worth seeing and supporting. It had an impressive budget with three major movie stars and accurately portrays a time of Church and State struggle under a Marxist, anti-Catholic president, Plutarco Elías Calles, played by Rubén Blades.
Andy Garcia is the lead actor, playing General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, a military hero who had fallen from the faith but accepted a monetary offer to lead the Cristero army. Eva Longoria, an extreme liberal in real life, did a fantastic job playing the devoutly Catholic wife of the general, Tulita.
Perhaps the most charming of the characters, Peter O’Toole, plays an elderly priest, Father Christopher, who exemplified humility and courage in defense of the Church. Without giving away his brief story line, which begins the movie, you will be moved by it.
I will, however, give away one small scene in the movie. There is a moment where Andy Garcia’s character, the general, kneels at Mass for communion. He had already made it clear beforehand he was not in the state of grace. The priest, Father Vega, who was no conservative, had the sense to deny him the sacrament.
Surprisingly, Donald Cardinal Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, who removed the faculties of a priest who did the exact same thing at a Requiem Mass, was cited in a recent article in the New Republic as supporting the movie and urging others to see it. Perhaps that scene was not in the cut His Eminence viewed. Hopefully it remains in tomorrow’s release. Incidentally, the Cristeros general who was denied communion saw the error of his ways, made a sincere confession and came back fully into the Church. Tough love trumped false charity before the Second Vatican Council.
Liturgically, the movie is a pleasure to watch. The priests offering the traditional Masses are heroes. Roman vestments everywhere. Cassocks. Collars. Latin. Only a handful of liturgical errors exist, including the chanting of the Per Ipsum during Mass, and an awkward view of a Roman collar on a priest offering Mass, likely the result of a wardrobe department that did not know what an amice was.
One area that is of concern in the movie is true. The Church teaches that priests should not take up arms, but about five priests actively fought with weapons in the Cristeros war. One of them, Father José Reyes Vega, mentioned above with the communion scene, is featured prominently in the movie. His story in real life was a mixed bag, fighting for the Church, but leading a questionable life as a priest, including with his vow of chastity. Portrayed (often in cassock) by Santiago Cabrera in the movie, it is a character of many conflicts.
The children, including Adrian Alonso as Lalo and Mauricio Kuri as José, are central to the movie, and show the bravery with many of the boys during the war. The women in the movie are also crucial, smuggling guns and ammo to the Cristero soldiers through clever means.
On the political front, fans of President Calvin Coolidge will be a little disappointed to see the United States’ role in the war, especially through the compromises put forth by Mexican Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow, played by Bruce Greenwood. But Coolidge was not Catholic, and the U.S. is not a Catholic republic. A diplomatic end was crafted that favored the government.
The situation in Mexico, which resulted in priests and bishops who were not killed to flee the country, was so serious that Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical, “On the Persecution of the Church in Mexico,” during the first year of the war. In all, about 90,000 Mexicans were killed during the Cristero war, nearly 60,000 federal troops and 30,000 Cristeros.
Times have changed in Mexico. Anti-Catholic laws are no longer enforced. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, which has a personal parish in Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, is free to walk around the city in cassocks and collars, which they do. But that could easily be reversed one day, and other countries are seeing their own issues concerning the freedom of the Roman Catholic Church to practice the faith.
The movie is rated R for war violence, none of which is gratuitous.
Tomorrow, Saturday or soon, see For Greater Glory in the theater to learn about and appreciate this nearly forgotten war waged by Catholic peasants in defense of the Church over an oppressive State. ¡Viva Cristo Rey!