I Cry for the Heroes: Remembering the Cristero War

The year was 1926, and newly elected President Plutarco Calles of Mexico feared that the Catholic Church was too powerful an influence in Mexican society. In June of that year, President Calles signed the “Law for Reforming the Penal Code,” restricting religious freedom in that nation.

Under the new law, foreign-born Catholic priests and bishops were immediately expelled from the country. Priests and nuns could be heavily fined for simply wearing church attire, and could be jailed for criticizing the government in any way. Churches were closed, and no public masses could be said.

But Mexico was a Catholic country. Against this harsh restriction of religious liberty, the people protested—first through economic boycotts, then local uprisings. When retired General Enrique Gorostieta, an agnostic, agreed to lead the Cristero army, the rough and tumble renegades became a formidable force, fighting and dying for their faith.

Between 1926 and 1929, the uprising claimed the lives of more than 90,000 Mexican citizens. Peace finally came in 1929, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow under the direction of President Calvin Coolidge. For the first time in three years, Mexicans awoke to the sound of church bells.

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The story of the Cristero War is told for the first time on the big screen in For Greater Glory, which opens in theatres on June 1.

Director Dean Wright—whose previous film credits include special effects work in Titanic, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Chronicles of Narnia—plumbs the depths of human experience, eliciting from each actor a singularly authentic performance. The star-studded cast includes Academy Award nominee Andy Garcia (as General Gorostieta), Eva Longoria (as the general’s wife, Tulita), Peter O’Toole (Father Christopher), Eduardo Verastegui (Anacleto Gonzales Flores), and the talented 14-year-old Mauricio Kuri (as Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez).

There are many reasons to fall in love with For Greater Glory.

  • The setting. From the stark beauty of the high desert to the simple warmth of the homes, in stone and stucco and adobe—For Greater Glory offers a glimpse into everyday Mexican life.
  • The characters.  Each faces his own personal struggle, but in the end, each makes the courageous decision to follow Christ and to defend His Church.
  • The unveiling of history suppressed.  The Cristero War is not well known, even in Mexico—where the story of the Mexican government’s assault on its own people has been suppressed and does not appear in history textbooks.
  • The applicability to constitutional issues in our own country

For me, though, I was most energized by seeing the bold heroism of ordinary people: impassioned men and women who, when faced with the prospect of imprisonment or even death at the hand of a godless regime for practicing their faith, refused to permit the persecution to go unchallenged.  And For Greater Glory is not simply a well crafted tale; no, the people were real citizens of Mexico, real lovers of God, some of whom became real saints in the Church’s lexicon. 

Dean Wright expressed it well: “The events are Mexican but the story is for the world. It’s an entertaining story which I hope shows how we are all connected in our thoughts, our feelings, our values and our willingness to sacrifice when the moment demands it.”

I pray that such an assault on religious liberty will never be seen in America.  And I pray that should such a cloud of hate and ignominy ever fall on this land, there would be bold warriors—women, men and children—armed with faith, compelled by passion, inspired by love, and ready to stand and fight.

From the Knights of Columbus Museum: A painting by renowned Mexican portrait artist Martha Orozco features six priests – members of the Knights of Columbus – who were canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 21, 2000

This post is part of Patheos Movie Club for “For Greater Glory,” a sponsored conversation in partnership with Grace Hill Media.