LINCOLN (SNR) - A new movie featuring Academy Award® Nominees Andy Garcia and Peter O’Toole, plus other acclaimed actors, depicts a true story of religious liberty that’s particularly relevant to the world today.
"For Greater Glory" is based on Mexico’s Cristero War (Cristiada), which raged from 1926 to 1929 and carried repercussions that lasted well into 1992. Some of the key figures in this war have been beatified and canonized.
The film has been widely applauded by Catholic bishops, priests, authors, and laypersons.
"It’s an extraordinary portrait of ordinary people struggling to defend their convictions," said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. "It’s among the most absorbing films by any director or movie studio that I’ve seen in the past few years."
"It is not often that a film opens a window into the past that casts so much light on the present," commented Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln.
The Cristero War began when the government began attacking religion throughout the country with anti-religious laws written into the Mexican Constitution and outright attacks on people of faith.
President Plutarco Calles took office in 1924 with promises to "modernize" the nation. His attack on religious freedom was particularly focused on the Catholic Church, which he believed was too powerful in Mexican society. The resulting penal code led to seizing church property, closing religious schools and convents, and exiling – even executing – Catholic priests.
Before the laws restricting religious liberties, there were approximately 4,500 Catholic priests in Mexico. A decade later, there were less than 350.
Initially, religious leaders sought a peaceful resolution to the situation, but the Calles administration persisted. In August 1926, 400 armed rebels barricaded themselves in a Guadalajara church and launched a civil war.
Though outnumbered and far less trained and organized, the resistance proved effective. In late summer of 1927, the rebels recruited General Enrique Gorostieta, played by Andy Garcia in the movie, to lead them to victory. Under his command, the rebel army grew to roughly 50,000 troops, fighting under the rallying cry, "Viva Cristo Rey!" (‘Long live Christ the King!’)
Numerous rebels were captured and martyred by the Mexican government. Pope John Paul II canonized a group of 25 Cristero martyrs in 2000, and Pope Benedict XVI followed in 2005 with the beatification of José Sánchez del Río and 11 others.
Blessed José Sánchez del Río’s contribution is told in the film. At the age of 13, he enlisted in the Cristero rebellion, against the wishes of his mother, but with a heart for Jesus.
"Mama," he is reported to have said, "do not let me lose the opportunity to gain Heaven so easily and so soon."
He served as flag-bearer for the Cristeros until he was captured after a battle in January 1928. Even after torture, his love for Christ remained steady and he refused to renounce his faith.
The war continued until a peace agreement was negotiated with the help of U.S. diplomat Dwight Morrow in June 1929. However, it was not until 1992 that Mexico’s constitution was amended to reinstate legal status to religious groups and lift restrictions on priests – too late for most of the Cristeros freedom fighters to see the fruits of their sacrifices.
In an interview with Cybercast News Service, lead actor Andy Garcia noted a surprising correlation between the themes the film and ongoing discourse in the U.S. and other nations about religious freedom.
"There seems to be a coincidence that these things are being discussed and debated right now," he said.
Mr. Garcia continued, "It wasn’t planned out to be that way when we made the movie... So, it’s a coincidence, and it’s important, too, I think, to recognize that if you don’t agree with something you have the right, you must, we must, have the right to protest."
He told CatholicVote.org that he hopes the movie will teach people about the necessary struggle for religious freedom.
"I want people to know the story," he said. "It’s like the old saying goes: we study history so that we don’t have to repeat it."
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reviewer John Mulderig recommended the film to mature adolescents and adults, due to violence and "one mildly vulgar term." He stressed that older teens might find particular inspiration in the portrayal of Blessed José Sánchez del Río.
"…[T]he phrase, ‘heroic virtue’ takes on a new depth of meaning when applied to José," he wrote.
While the major Hollywood studios and distribution channels have resisted the film to date, independent distributors are making the film available throughout the nation.
"For Greater Glory" is currently showing in five theatres in Omaha and Bellevue, including the Great Escape Omaha Stadium, AMC Oakview Plaza, Marcus Twin Creek, Marcus 20 Grand and Marcus Village Pointe. It’s also scheduled for the Hilltop 4 in Kearney.
Efforts are underway to convince Marcus Theatres to bring the movie to the Lincoln area.