R | 2h 25min | Drama, History, War | 20 April 2012
History, as far as it is taught in the public schools of the United States, is a very politically correct subject and often omits or otherwise ignores unpopular or shameful aspects that have happened at different points in time.
One inconveniently true stain on Mexico’s storied history is the period known as the Cristero War, which lasted from 1926 to 1929. Coincidentally, much of the world was embracing the emerging socialist and communist movements during that time, which obviously didn’t work out too well for any of the parties involved. Maverick director Dean Wright tackles this period of history with great skill in his 2012 film, “For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada.”
The film begins with sweeping shots of Mexico City’s beautiful architecture, with text that outlines what the country is going through:
“Mexico 1926—a few years after the Revolution. The precarious situation between the Mexican government and the Catholic Church deteriorates as President Plutarco Elías Calles begins strictly enforcing the anti-clerical laws written in the Mexican Constitution of 1917.”
It then goes on to describe how civil organizations formed in response to these troubling, ever-worsening political developments. One of the major organizations, the League of Religious Liberty, was composed of defiant men and women called “Cristeros.” These brave, common folk spearheaded the growing fight for freedom.
President Plutarco Elías Calles (Rubén Blades) is then seen giving a public address with many reporters present. He talks about how foreign “fanatics” and “outcasts” from Rome and other areas of Europe are behind an “insidious” plot to undermine and destabilize the Mexican government. And who is conveniently public enemy No. 1, as far as the Mexican government is concerned? Those who believe in the Catholic faith, that’s who.
As he sees it, Catholics are turning the Mexican populace into “fanatics” who serve “foreign interests.” With self-aggrandizing flair, he states that he is merely preserving the dignity of Mexico. Mexico must be rid of the influence of Catholicism—and rid of it both swiftly and decisively.
As President Calles begins to enforce Articles 3, 5, 24, 27, and 130 (called the “Calles Law”) of the Constitution, the apparatus of the Mexican government, mainly the police and military, spring into action—first feverishly rounding up Catholic priests and clergymen, and then expelling them from the country, literally at the end of gun barrels. Any priests who are defiant enough to criticize the government are quickly sentenced to five years in prison. The wearing of the trappings of Catholicism, mainly the religious vestments worn by priests, is also strictly outlawed, at least in public.
Father Christopher (Peter O’Toole) is an older, well-established Catholic priest who becomes aware of the religious crackdowns but dismisses them as inconsequential—at least initially. As it becomes evident that the government is indeed using violence and intimidation to suppress Catholics, he becomes one of the first major symbols of defiance to tyranny by challenging the authority’s ban on the Catholic Mass. A man of deep faith, Father Christopher also stubbornly refuses to abandon his parish even though many of the local citizens warn him of the potentially deadly repercussions.
Several major figures of the resistance to the government-sanctioned tyranny become martyred. But instead of paralyzing the movement, this galvanizes it further. What the authorities don’t expect is the rise of the brilliant military leader Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Andy Garcia), in opposition to them. He organizes thousands of newly minted Cristeros and leads them in their war against President Calles. Enrique’s righteous moral compass compels him to resist the government since its crackdown measures become increasingly violent and out of control.
While this terrible period of Mexico’s history is distinctly Mexican, the evil forces that lead the oppression of believers have been seen many times before. From the Roman Empire’s mission to quash the nascent Christian movement to the many purges of Christianity by communist countries, the tyranny inevitably implodes on itself. There are also direct parallels between the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and its overly enthusiastic condemnation and vilification of the peaceful Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) spiritual practice.
This movie delivers one powerful takeaway: Our religious freedoms aren’t as free as we often assume they are. People’s right to worship (especially Christians but other faiths as well) is often encroached upon by the various governments of the world. They always start by taking baby steps, increasing degree by degree, to then ratcheting up their tyranny and repression.
This film reminds us of how people resist tyranny. A hopeful message indeed.
‘For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada’
Director: Dean Wright
Starring: Andy Garcia, Peter O’Toole, Eva Longoria, Oscar Isaac, Catalina Sandino Moreno
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Release Date: April 20, 2012
Rated: 4.5 stars out of 5