What’s the cost of religious liberty? Perhaps your life.
In a short companion to the epic film, For Greater Glory: The True Story of Christida, Ruben Quezada tells how he first learned about the forgotten story of Mexico’s struggle for religious freedom. When a young Ruben picked up a worn holy card, an elderly priest said, “Fr. Pro! He’s Mexican, like you. Don’t you know about him? He was killed in Mexico for being a priest.” Ruben recounts, “Then, to my surprise, he raised his arms and made a gesture of firing a rifle and exclaimed, ‘Boom! That’s what Mexico was doing with their priests ...'"
Beginning on August 1, 1926, over 4,000 Priests were expelled or assassinated in eight years. Only 334 priests were licensed (by the government) to serve some 15 million people. All Church property was seized, public worship became illegal (no baptism, no Mass, no marriage), and priests were forbidden to vote or even speak against the government. And that’s only part of the true story.
Quezada’s little book adds depth, richness, and background to the powerful film. He provides a simple question and answer format that inspires and informs, even independent of the movie. It certainly motivates the reader to learn the history of the Mexican Church. Quezada explains the big picture of Mexico’s struggle for religious freedom, how it came about, and how the Catholic Church responded. The persecution was so intense that Pope Pius XI wrote two separate encyclicals to the Mexican Bishops. Thankfully, both these letters are included in this companion book for easy access and further insight from the papacy.
The author focuses on specific martyrs and their characters in the film, he highlights the role of the United States in the midst of the war, he includes pictures from the 1920s as well as a gallery from the film, and he discusses the role of the laity, especially the Knights of Columbus.
A bonus essay by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, “Who Can Be a Priest? The Question that Killed 200,000 Mexicans,” connects Mexico’s history to the present day. President Calles fiercely enforced anti-Catholic laws and told one bishop who appealed to freedom of conscience, “The law is above the dictates of conscience.”
We certainly need the lessons of the Cristiada today – that means we need to know the story.
Chris Gilbert received his M.A. from Franciscan University in Theology with a specialization in catechetics. He worked as a Director of Religious Education for three years and now is a Youth Minister in Charlottesville, Va. He and his wife Elizabeth have two lovely children, Stella and Jude. Chris also loves books because, for most of his life, he refused to read.