Forget the comic book characters because this summer’s must-see movie is “For Greater Glory.” A timeless and timely film, "For Greater Glory" is an artistic reminder of the true sacrifice of a martyr and the danger of taking religious freedom for granted.
The epic film delves into a history of Mexico and Catholicism that is not very well known, but is entirely capable of inspiring, educating and ennobling.
The film delves right into the story of the often brutal battle between the Catholic citizens of Mexico and the oppressive secularist regime of President Plutarco Elias Calles during the Cristero War.
The struggle began with the passage of anti-clerical laws in the Mexican constitution of 1917, but it wasn’t until Calles took office that the laws were enforced, often with deadly force.
Beginning in 1927, government troops were used to arrest priests and forcibly close all churches. Priests not born in Mexico were forced out of the country, and those who refused to abandon their flocks were often brutally martyred. Calles sought to extremely restrict – if not completely wipe out – Catholicism from Mexico.
The Cristeros, who earned their name because of their motto and war cry “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!), banded together to defend themselves and their religious freedom.
Early in the film, Father Christopher (played by Oscar winner Peter O’Toole) sets the stage by asking, “Who are you if you don't stand up for what you believe?” The young Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri) soon witnesses his friend — the foreign born Fr. Christopher — paraded out of his parish church and summarily executed in the town square.
The film does start a little slowly with the introduction of its large all-star, ensemble cast, but once it gets moving the story makes you forget this film is almost two and a half hours long.
The many characters and story lines soon come together with some of the more inspiring witnesses to the faith shining through.
The film focuses on Anacleto Gonzalez Flores (Eduardo Verastugui) who was a lay Catholic pacifist known as the “Mexican Gandhi,” and the thousands of brave women of the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc who provided logistical support and even smuggled bullets and guns to the more than 50,000 Mexicans who became Cristero fighters.
The two most interesting and important stories are of the retired General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde played by Academy Award-nominee Andy Garcia, and that of the 14-year-old Bl. José Luis Sánchez del Rio.
The atheist General Gorostieta believes in the freedom of religion, despite his world view, and decides to lead the Cristeros, leaving his wife (Golden Globe winner Eva Longoria) and two daughters at home. He soon meets José who has left his home to join the Cristeros even though he is only 14.
After witnessing his parish priest’s death, José knows that he must stand up for his faith and for the right to practice it freely — even as it leads him closer to his own martyrdom.
Some of the most powerful cinematic images in “For Greater Glory” are created by new director Dean Wright in the scenes depicting Bl. José’s martyrdom. Wright uses his vast experience as a Hollywood effects guru (Titanic, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Chronicles of Narnia) to subtly and beautifully portray the real-life tale of Cristiada.
The film will certainly open your eyes to the struggle for religious freedom in a time and place not that far away, and the stories of men and women standing for what is right will help inspire a new generation of the faithful. If nothing else, the story of Bl. José will imprint the great dignity and courage of the Christian martyr in your mind and reveal the true beauty of having faith as a child (Mark 10:15).
“For Greater Glory” is rated R for violence and scenes of martyrdom. It is appropriate for mature teens and adults.