A good friend of mine recently loaned me a movie entitled “For Greater Glory” which is a chronicle of the Cristeros War (1926-1929); the grass roots response of Mexican Catholics against the oppressive atheistic Mexican government.
Normally, this might be just another shoot-em-up action movie but given the current pressures against the Catholic Church, religious freedom in the United States and the persecution of Christians in the world, this movie represents so much more.
I won’t try to recount the details of the Cristeros War. There are many excellent sources of commentary that are available such as HERE and HERE for those with the interest and a little more time. Keep in mind that with any historical event, the forces and motions are complex and the truth is rarely straightforward or easily revealed. This fact remains here also as the war included diverse players such as the Mexican government, the Catholic Mexican peasants, the government of the United States, and the Vatican. The two links above represent my best effort to provide differing yet balanced historical points of view.
Here is the official trailer for the movie released in 2012. If you wish, jump over the trailer for now and continue reading:
Now, instead of another movie review or historical debate, in this blog I want to share my reaction to this movie on a personal level. Besides a couple of hours of good shoot-em-up action, this movie provides a challenge and wake up call for all believers.
First, I was very surprised that such a lengthy religious conflict had occurred so recently and so close to home. Yes, I admit that my knowledge of history is pretty limited but in this case I had never even heard of the Cristeros War. Only 100 years ago, and in my neighboring Mexico, and in my same Catholic faith is pretty close to home.
Second, as with all wars this one was vicious and personal on both sides. The Mexican government lashed out at the Catholic Church with swift and violent force. There were many martyrs, the best known of whom is Blessed Miguel Pro. Although Father Pro did not take up arms, he was also a man of unbelievable courage. His execution by firing squad, being specifically ordered by President Calles, was captured on film to be used as propaganda against the peasant rebels.
Before he was executed, Fr Pro calmly stared at the men who would send him to God. He said to them, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you! I forgive you…” He then raised his arms, making of himself a crucifix, and shouted out the battle cry of the Cristeros, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!)
To be fair, the peasants responded in kind with equal violence and anger.
But to my second point, I sat watching the movie wondering if I could face death with the same resolve of faith as Fr. Pro. What would I say at that moment? Thank God I have not yet had to stand face to face with that decision.
Third, this movie also personally highlighted the role of other players, two most noteworthy were General Enrique Gorostieta played by Andy Garcia, and a young boy named Jose played by Mauricio Kuri. This movie is not as graphic as “The Passion of Christ”, but the eventual fate of young Jose is clear, gut-wrenching and emotionally powerful. Again, would I have such faith?
Fourth, it should be clear to everyone that reads even a little news that our faith is under attack, just like the faithful Catholics in early 20th century Mexico. In the United States, we see more and more cases of our personal religious liberties being restricted. “Freedom of Religion” protected by the Constitution is becoming redefined as “Freedom from Religion” by the liberal courts and politicians. Tolerance has been redefined as active suppression of those that hold differing views.
Fifth, the problem of persecution reaches out far beyond the United States. Under the banners of radical religion and ethnic nationalism, Christians are globally experiencing unprecedented persecution (click HERE for more on that). If we are truly members of one Body of Christ, then we must stand up and fight for those whose hands are bound and voices gagged. We begin the fight by becoming informed and learning, by getting involved and by voting.
George Santayana, an early 20th century Spanish-American philosopher once said ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ This could not be more true than the case of the Cristeros War and modern Christianity. Driven by the forces of government the world is becoming more and more hostile towards the Word. We must remember. We must stand with all the martyrs of history.
For Greater Glory, we must stand united saying:
Viva Cristo Rey!