“Tell Christ the King I shall be with him soon,” young José Sánchez del Río, reportedly told a fellow martyr of the Cristero War in Mexico, before he was murdered. His holy story is among those told in the movie, For Greater Glory, released on DVD today.
The movie is about the Cristero War and has been held up as an important story about religious liberty and the lengths some have had to go to defend their God-given right to live their religious faith.
“We tend to forget the human suffering because our modern culture cannot make sense” of it, Bishop Plácido Rodriguez, of the Catholic diocese of Lubbock, Texas, tells me. He calls the movie “timely, effective and powerful.” The story of the war is family history for Bishop Rodriguez, with family members who played roles in the struggle.
“I have been encouraging” Catholics, Hispanics, believers, and anyone who values religious freedom “to see the movie and to become interested in investigating” the history, he tells me.
He talks about the movie and his family’s history, including about his mother, who was in the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc in the war, who are portrayed in the For Greater Glory:
KJL: What did you think of the movie?
Bishop Rodriguez: For Greater Glory” with the subtitle “The True Story of Cristiada,” intends to portray the Cristero War and Mexican struggle for religious freedom. I welcome this film because it is one of the first attempts to tell this story…. It took courage on behalf of the Knights of Columbus to finance it and bring it to light. There are many enemies of the truth of the Cristero War and the conflict with the Catholic Church….
KJL: How true to the history you know was it? Do you worry it is a little too black and white, particularly in its portrayal of the church?
Bishop Rodriguez: Religious persecution in Mexico dates back to the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821); in fact, we can trace great friction between the Conquistadores, Cortez and his comrades, and the Church, represented by Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the first bishop of Mexico.
In more recent times, in the 1870s, there was Catholic resistance called the Religioneros (1873-1876). Even the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 showed a great persecution of bishops and priests. And after the Calles regime (1926-29), further persecution spilled more martyrs’ blood than in the 1926-29 Cristero War.
For Greater Glory [begins to tell] the true story of Cristiada. This film is an ambitious undertaking of an issue that is larger than life and history… The story of Cristiada is extremely complex in its origins, development, in its confrontation, and in its resolution. Nothing is simple. Yet, after a considerable personal reflection and family recollections, I believe For Greater Glory achieved its purpose as a true story of Cristiada.
How can you separate the Christian warfare and the conflict of Church and State? How can this film cover every single issue? Every issue and all levels are intertwined, namely: 1) political history, 2) diplomacy, wherein you see Mexico, Washington and Rome as being most visible actors on the world’s stage; 3) the Mexican history extends to international level, there you see the Mexican Church against the Mexican State, the Mexican Church versus the Vatican; you also see the Vatican and Washington, D.C.; and you see the Vatican and the State of Mexico; as well as Mexican State or Nation against Washington.
Add up all these relationships and you begin to appreciate its complexity. And there is still more; if you add the issue of petroleum and oil and gas, then you are mixing petroleum with holy water.
This very history affects the Mexican Revolution and all the revolutionaries, affects the agrarian reform, the army, the type of government and its ideology, affects all Catholics, the hierarchy, and all clergy.
This is the reason that For Greater Glory is indeed a true story of Cristiada, and we need to promote it, we need to learn more and more about our participation as Knights of Columbus, we need to reflect on it because it also explains the large immigration of Mexicans to the U.S.
For Greater Glory deserves to be recognized as a courageous true story.
KJL: Do you worry it is a little too black and white, particularly in it portrayal of the Church?
Bishop Rodriguez: For Greater Glory is very violent and direct, such as the persecution was against each Catholic and the Catholic Church in general…
Since this film is one of the first serious portrayals of this truth of Cristiada, there has been very little attention and reflection on the Church’s role in pastoral action. The priests in the late 19th century took to heart the social teachings of Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum and created the popular foundations for the people’s rights and right to organize. The church did a greatly successful catechesis of the faithful who knew their rights, and hence the taking up of arms for the defense of this faith and the Church
KJL: What did the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc mean to your family?
Bishop Rodriguez: Las Brigadas Femeninas (BB) were an ingenious and creative organization in the Cristero War, demonstrating an extremely high level of organization typical of the Mexican culture inherited from the Aztecs.
All I remember is my mother, Maria Concepción Rosiles de Rodríguez, telling me of her participation with the Feminine Brigades, and passing through the tough security of the Mexican army, without suspecting that these valiant women were carrying ammunition.
My mother in the year 1927 was 22 years old … 25 years later she would share with me how scared she was when they crossed the enemy line of government forces. Once they crossed this critical point, they felt more secure and delivered the ammunition to the Cristero.
KJL: What do you wish you could tell everyone about your mother?
Bishop Rodriguez: My mother contributed and participated in the Feminine Brigades (BB); she maintained the family together and supported my father in his underground mission of protecting and hiding both priests and bishops during the persecution.
I would also like to tell everyone about my father, Don Eutimio Rodríguez Cárdenas, that he dedicated his life and money to the cause of Christ the King in the defense of the Catholic Church; protected the Church property and sacred vessels, would read the Mass prayers as if it were the Mass, because the faithful would gather on Sunday for prayer. He would run the risk of being confused with, or taken for, a priest, and be executed. He would organize and conduct “field Masses” in the rural areas of Celaya or other small towns. These were very dangerous undertakings in which, on one occasion, three leaders were killed by the government forces. He conducted and led the burials of these three fellow Cristeros; while in procession to the cemetery, the government forces fired upon a peaceful procession and more pilgrims were killed. My father received only one abrasion with a bullet on a leg.
Later, my father ascertained that there was an order to assassinate him, which came directly from the then Mexican president, Lázaro Cárdenas. This order was given directly to the Mayor of the City of Celaya, otherwise known as “El Mariachi.”
My father always acknowledged that he was related to President Lázaro Cárdenas; his mother (my grandmother) was Doña Anastasia Cárdenas (R.I.P. 1936) also born in Jiquilpan, Michoacan, where the president hailed from.
KJL: At a time when the Catholic Church is frequently criticized for being anti-woman, how can their example provide a counter to the widespread narrative?
Bishop Rodriguez: During the persecution of the Catholic Church, this issue of the role of women in the Church was not much of an issue, since the role of women was not defined by present terms. The women, in fact, chided the men and their sons to defend their faith, and challenged them to join the Cristeros. The women had an excellent supporting role during the Cristero War.
The more pernicious attacks were those from the Mexican government who described the Catholic faith as “cowardice and effeminate” religion that poisons the nation and needs to be eradicated. Because the state of Jalisco gave such a defense to the Mexican army, President Calles considered that state as a “Chicken Coop of fanatic women.”
KJL: Some commentators are using For Greater Glory as a rallying cry for religious freedom here. Is that a fair use? Are the situations remotely similar?
Bishop Rodriguez: From this story, we can also learn lessons for our present struggles and threats to our religious freedom here in our country. Our constitutional right of conscience, our First Amendment right of religious freedom are being eroded, and we are losing ground. We are threatened to become an “underclass” in our society, and every religious group and church is equally being threatened, not just Catholics.
In the struggle for religious liberty, the Mexican episcopacy was united in action and provided the moral guidance to the nation. The Mexican episcopacy also directed its full action of correcting the Constitution of 1917, and appealed to the Congress, and for every legal means of redress. To no avail.
It was up to the other institutions, Catholic groups, unions, youth, women, and voters to take up action like economic boycotts; and later, forced by governmental repression, armed resistance that in 2 ½ years created an army of 55,000 Cristero, able to defeat the entire military complex.
In the U.S., the Catholic bishops have kept the vigilance of our freedoms, have been providing the moral framework, and have been advocating before Congress and the courts for our freedoms.
However, it is up to lay organizations, like the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Action groups and those with a passion for social justice and others to carry on the fight for religious freedoms. Our Knights of Columbus have shined with leadership in the persecution in Mexico. Today, the Knights of Columbus can provide the leadership in the U.S. This is one of the lessons we can learn from the film For Greater Glory. We can certainly — for sure — act with the proper motivations: for God, for country with patriotism, for the Church, for Cristo Rey, for Our Lady of Guadalupe!
KJL: Would you make Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio a household name if you could? What should we know about the blessed of the Cristero War?
Bishop Rodriguez: Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio should be a household name, just like the 25 other martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000, and later beatified another seven martyrs. There is already a great devotion to Saint Toribio Romo, who was an immigrant here in the U.S., and who is being invoked as patron of immigration.
KJL: What more should we know about the Cristero War?
Bishop Rodriguez: Not to be afraid of bringing this topic to the forefront of conversation. There are still many enemies of the truth, and you will experience opposition. It is my hope that the film will “sow the seed” of goodwill to all peoples, especially to the Hispanic community in the USA, and give further cultural underpinnings to their identity.