A few days prior to Benedict’s XVI’s apostolic trip to Mexico and Cuba, producers of the epic film Cristiada (For Greater Glory in English) arranged a private screening in the Vatican City State. I was among the many avid defenders of religious liberty who scurried over to the Augustinianum venue next to St. Peter’s Square at last-minute notice.

No doubt the film’s all-star Hollywood cast (Andy Garcia, Peter O’Toole, Eva Longoria and Eduardo Verastegui) was enough to draw us away from other competing events that evening (including dinner!).

Truth be told, many of us had not heard much about the Cristeros War, the civil rebellion led by priests and laity to resist the total elimination of religious liberty in Mexico in the 1920s under marxist President Plutarco Calles.

Our small sacrifice to come over to the Vatican that night in support of a little known war in defense of religious freedom was embarassingly miniscule compared to the super heroic sacrifices the film’s protagonists made to keep the Christian faith alive in their country.

In a Zenit interview, the film’s producer Pablo Barroso said that the planning for the $20 million production had been going on for three years and the timing for its early April release in Mexico was providentially perfect. “Who would have thought back then that the pope would be going to Mexico, much less to Cubilete (home to the national Cristo Rey monument and patron of the Cristero War heroes) to say his first Mass there. This (timing) really came from heaven”.

Cristiada was directed by the Titanic and Lord of the Rings special effects genius, Dean Wright. The film, therefore, has no shortage of spectacular action and breathtaking scenery. But it is the story of heroic martyrdom that will draw crowds to theaters.

The film begins in 1926 when Mexican Catholic rebels spontaneously organize bloody standoffs to President Plutarco Calles’s federales who ruthlessly and systematically shutdown all forms of Catholic worship in the state of Jalisco. At the time Mass, preaching the Gospel, catechesis, and administering the sacraments were all made illegal throughout Mexico.

President Calles’s plan to completely secularize Mexico had no patience for Church resistance and echoed what had happened in Bolshevik Russia following the October Revolution of 1917.

Calles, therefore, wasted no time in eliminating religious leadership that spoke out against loyalty to his government’s commands and in defense of God’s.  Moreover, Calles was deeply weary of Rome’s indirect influence over the populace’s thirst for fervent religious expression, while Pope Pius XI continued to forcefully denounce the secularization of education in Europe and the Americas.

In 3 years of Calles’s presidency the total priestly population was reduced to some 350 among Mexico’s 15 million Catholics. Several hundred priests were brought to the federales’s firing squad, hung from their church towers and thousands of religious leaders were expelled from Mexico to the United States and abroad.

Calles’s anticlerical regime was so cruel that is “simply amazing not even many Mexicans know about the Cristeros rebellion”, Barroso told to the screening’s attendees and remarked on how the revolt is not mentioned in Mexican school curricula.

Not a few martyrs lost their lives to keep the Church alive, including Mexico’s most famous twentieth century general, Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) who, despite his atheism, eventually values religious freedom higher than state-enforced secularism. Gorostieta, inspired by a tortured little boy’s unbending faith and martyrdom, undergoes a conversion of heart and charismatically leads the rag-tag Cristeros soldiers to impassioned underdog victories.

When the film hits US theaters this June, I highly recommend seeing it, especially those Catholics who see their liberty under carefully organized attack by the Obama administration and other forms of hostile government. What happened in Mexico nearly 100 years ago is an extreme example of what governments can do, yet should serve as a powerful reminder of their dangerous potential to wipe out liberty altogether.


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  • Cmatt

    I like the original title better, wish they would have kept it.

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  • Almost Always Right

    We think this sort of thing can’t happen here.

  • Romeo

    It tells the story from the eyes of the church but mentions nothing
    about what the church did to the population. In those days the church
    controlled schools and hospitals and above 90 percent of Mexicans were
    illiterate. If you had money, you could buy the forgiveness of sins and
    you could be “encouraged” to leave everything to the church upon your
    death.

    The church was a big land owner while the locals starved and suffered. The Cristiada happened because the church declared itself to be above any laws and the government was forced to act up. Both sides committed atrocities against one another but the better side won.
    The government relegated the church into what it is today but it never
    really wanted to shoot Catholicism down. The government just wanted to
    take the country back from the Vatican… And they did!! 

    • Realist

      You are a fool, Romeo, if you believe that Calles wanted less than the destruction of organized religion, or that secular government has left Mexico any better off that it was before Calles.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U2VBPYZLSFQFXRRAY6IZRDNYH4 Bob

       Plutarco Calles founded the PRI who’s talking points you are repeating, Romeo.

      The PRI ran Mexico without any real competition from the 1920s until the 1990s.  Did they eliminate poverty in Mexico?  The fact that 10% of the Mexican population moved to the United States suggests otherwise.  The estimates that I have read are that 90,000 to 100,000 people died during the civil war that Calles needlessly provoked.  In the end Mexico was no better off.  There was still poverty and illiteracy.  The difference is that there were no longer Catholic schools and hospitals or any serious political opposition. 

      Like most Marxists and socialists, they were a lot better at breaking eggs than in making omlets.

      • TheChristianSolution

        Beautiful response to an anti-Christian socialist.

        How about speculating who was behind Calles?   Perhaps a lot of socialists in America who also backed Castro all these past years in Cuba just miles from our borders.

        Could it also be caused by a modern-day Monroe Doctrine of Protestant Christians propping up Calles with oil contracts to keep the “European Pope” out of the New World as well?

    • dan

      “what church did to the population”?!simply you are ignorant that the Church brought Christ to the people,which started in Mexico with the
      Holy Mother apparitions in Guadelupe;you are very ignorant thinking that the material goods promised by the masonic goverments of Calles was more important that the spiritual goods brought by the Church…

    • Enabler1

      PLEASE! You must put it in the context of that period. Due to the lack of schools other types of social support provided by the government to its people, the church would fill that void. It’s amazing that it managed to do anything at all with the persecution that it was subjected to at that time.

  • Sammie

    This film looks fascinating. Unfortunately, in real life, Tulita (Eva Longoria) is right on board with Obama’s administration in its attack on religious liberty. She is in full support, according to her interview with the women on The View, of the Obama administration. Apparently, she cannot see why Latina men and women would not vote for Obama in 2012. She thinks that, as a woman and a Latina, there is no better man out for their interests than Obama. Longoria, raised and married in the Catholic Church, is not representing the faith in her political or moral life.

  • Judy

    what are you talking about?  I had no idea President Obama was leading and attack, organized or otherwise, against Catholicism.  None of my fellow Catholics are aware of it either.  How did he manage to keep such a big secret for the last 4 years.  Where did he find the time?

    • Ellesar

      Any attack upon Jesus Christ, which Obama has constantly supported, is an attack upon the Roman Catholic Church.  You are either naive or a radical liberal unwilling to see the truth in spite of the abundant evidence.