By Anita Crane
It’s being called the “Schindler’s List” of Mexico, and it reveals what really terrifies a Marxist: A Catholic priest armed with a crucifix, bandolier and a gun.
Tomorrow, nearly 100 years after the Mexican government buried the history of the Cristeros War, the movie “For Greater Glory” opens in U.S. theaters with a cast including Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Peter O’Toole, Eduardo Verástegui and newcomer Mauricio Kuri.
The epic tells the true story of Los Cristeros, the Men of Christ, and the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc, who laid their lives on the line to defend the Catholic Church in Mexico. All they had to do to escape execution was to deny Christ. Instead, their rallying cry was “Viva Cristo Rey!” – “Long live Christ the King!”
“Everything in this movie is true,” producer Pablo José Barroso said after a Washington screening for attendees of the 2012 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.
Stephen Bannon, a documentary filmmaker and chairman of the film’s distribution company ARC Entertainment, believes the timing of the film’s release is “providential.”
“I think the parallels of Ruben Blades, who plays the president of Mexico, is like the current radical secular government that is in all-out war on religious freedom,” he said. “This film, I think, is very controversial in the fact that it did take a group of peasants led by priests – and some bandits – to actually stand up and fight for their religion. If they had not fought for their religion, there would not be Catholicism in Mexico today.
“I think it’s going to have a huge impact, because I think it foreshadows much of what is going to happen in the United States if we don’t stand for our religion.”
He was referring to a mandate by the Barack Obama administration that organizations must provide contraceptive and abortion insurance coverage for their employees, even if it violates the employer’s religious beliefs. A number of Catholic organizations have launched legal challenges to Obama’s orders.
Mexican actor and Hollywood filmmaker Eduardo Verástegui co-stars as attorney Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, who led peaceful protests during the Cristeros War until he was tortured and executed by the government. Verástegui had wanted to make a movie about the Cristeros since he moved to Los Angeles and first learned about them on a religious retreat.
Verástegui believes Mexico’s public schools don’t teach this history because it’s embarrassing to the government.
He told WND: “Somebody was asking me: ‘Is this a Catholic film? What is this?’ And I say this film just shows historical facts. It’s like the ‘Schindler’s List’ of Mexico.
“The most important thing about this film for me – when I saw it – is that it’s impossible not to question yourself,” said Verástegui. “Am I willing to die for my faith? Am I willing to give my life like these heroes?’ They were not playing games. They went all the way. We are called to give our lives for others every day, but that’s the highest level of love: to become a martyr. And this kid, José Luis Sanchez del Rio, who starts as a rebel and goes all the way – it challenged me to find the best person in myself.”
After the Mexican Revolution in 1917, Marxists wrote a new constitution, claimed ownership of Catholic Church properties and attempted to kill religion under the pretense of a separation of church and state. “For Greater Glory” begins during the presidency of Plutarco Elias Calles, who ruled from 1924 to 1928.
In June 1926, Calles, portrayed by Panamanian star and politician Ruben Blades, signed the Law for Reforming the Penal Code. Under his law, Catholic priests and religious sisters, who were already denied the right to vote, were fined for wearing their religious attire and thrown in jail for exercising their right to free speech. Under Calles, Catholic ceremonies and sacraments including Mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals were illegal.
At first, Catholics protested by peacefully marching in the streets, signing petitions to reform the law and withholding money from the government through boycotts. Verástegui’s character Flores led many of the protests, but the government would not relent.
In August 1926, some 400 armed Catholic men took possession of their church in Guadalupe and fought off the federales, surrendering only after they were out of ammunition. Because the parish priest had been killed, men and women all over Mexico joined the resistance. By 1927, Mexico was in a civil war. The Catholic warriors struggled to defend themselves and their families against heavily armed and well-supplied federales. Thus, Calles thought he could easily vanquish them – until astonishing military leaders emerged from the countryside.
Victoriano “Catorce” Ramirez, played by Oscar Isaac, and Father Reyes Vega, played by Santiago Cabrera, stunned the government with their defense tactics and raids. In Catholic parlance, Cabrera’s priestly character perfectly represents the Church Militant: namely, the faithful on Earth who would defend her to the death.
Several months into the war, the Catholics drafted retired revolutionary Gen. Enrique Gorostieta to lead them. Andy Garcia passionately plays the complex military genius who united Los Cristeros into an army of 50,000 strong with help the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc, who smuggled ammunition and food to the Cristeros and cared for their wounded.
“For Greater Glory” is rated R, but most of the violence is off-screen. In its most heartbreaking scenes, 13-year-old Cristeros volunteer José, played by Mauricio Kuri, is captured, tested, brutally tortured and finally executed for refusing to renounce Christ.
Still, this film isn’t depressing. Rather, it is a beautiful and inspiring work of art for Christians around the world.
Producer Barroso had witnessed the Mexican government’s repression of his Catholic school teachers and grew up to become a successful businessman. In 2005, he established a company to produce entertaining family films and eventually recruited Michael Love to write “For Greater Glory.”
Like Barroso and Verástegui, Love grew up in Mexico but earned acclaim in Hollywood for writing “Gaby: A True Story” about Mexican poet Gabriela Brimmer.
Verástegui said he introduced “For Greater Glory” director Dean Wright to the filmmakers. Wright’s many Hollywood credits include special effects work on “Titanic,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” movies and “Lord of the Rings” features.
James Horner, composer of the “Braveheart” and “Titanic” soundtracks, among scores of others, wrote the soundtrack for the film.
Eva Longoria, a Mexican American, tenderly plays Tulita, the Catholic wife of Gen. Gorostieta and mother of his children.
While the filmmakers offer nothing but praise for her talents, Longoria is co-chairman of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, which could confuse many voters.
After all, “For Greater Glory” is about the Mexican government stripping Catholics of their religious rights, while Obama is attempting to do the same in the United States through the requirements of Obamacare.
In addition to the 26 states that sued Obama, a case now pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, the states of Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas have filed a joint federal lawsuit with several Catholic plaintiffs against the Obama administration for violating the First Amendment right to religious liberty. EWTN and Priests for Life have filed federal lawsuits for the same reason. And CatholicVote.org’s Brian Burch told WND that the latest wave of 12 lawsuits by 43 Catholic organizations from all over the country – including the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and the Archdiocese of Washington – is unprecedented. Yet Catholics are not alone. Other Christians, Jews and even irreligious parties have joined the fight.
The Spanish version of the film, “Cristiada,” opened April 20 in Mexico and was a box office hit.
“Right now in the Constitution we still don’t have religious freedom,” explained Verástegui. “The Catholic Church is fighting right now to get that back. So this film comes out at a perfect time: The pope visited Mexico, this film comes out and in the Supreme Court we’re fighting again.
“The government still claims to own our properties. Priests are prohibited to wear habits. That’s in the law. But now under President (Felipe) Calderon they are wearing habits, and if someone else is elected, maybe he will enforce the law. So we just want to change the law and have constitutional freedom.”
Verástegui praised Calderon.
“He’s not ashamed of being Catholic,” said the actor. “When Pope Benedict was in Mexico, Calderon and his family were the first persons to take communion. Normally in Mexico politicians don’t do that because there’s separation between the state and religion.”
At least 90,000 to 200,000 people lost their lives in the Cristeros War. As the movie shows, the United States brokered a flawed peace agreement with input from the Vatican.
The movie doesn’t show that Mexico violated the agreement, hunting down the surviving leaders of the Cristeros after they disarmed.
Therefore, Barroso said, “I can tell you that the most important sacrifice of the Cristeros was their obedience to the holy Church. All of them gave up arms knowing that they were going to be martyred. All of the leadership was martyred within the next five years.”
Barroso, a humorous and self-deprecating man, sees his movie as a universal message but praised only his cast and crew.
“I think in the beginning everyone thought I was crazy, and at the end they still think I was crazy,” he said.
“The movie exceeded all my expectations. I’m very happy, I’m very proud of being a Catholic and being a Mexican.”
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