Cristiada (retitled “For Greater Glory,” for the greater glory of its U.S. release) tells the epic and true story of the Cristero War. Set in Mexico in 1926, President Plutarcho Elías Calles (Rubén Blades), a Mason and a staunch atheist, launches a vigorous anti-clerical campaign against the Catholic Church to purge his country of “superstition” and “fanaticism.” In so doing, Calles seizes Church property; expels all foreign priests; closes the monasteries, convents, and religious schools; and facilitates state ordinances, such as in Chihuahua, which enacted a law permitting only a single priest to serve all the faithful in the state.
Enter the Cristeros. Initially, Mexican Catholics form the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, to fight the persecution through civil disobedience, led by the Ghandiesque young attorney, Anacleto González Flores (Eduardo Verástegui). However, following a fateful standoff between federal troops and a few hundred armed Catholics holed up in a church, the resistance movement blossoms into an all-out military campaign. The Cristeros have more than a few advantages: They are numerous, they have arms, and they have public support. But they do not have a leader. The Cristeros approach Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) for the task. Though an experienced military man, his anti-clericalism makes him an unlikely choice. Contemptuous of Catholicism, he nevertheless is a strong believer in religious liberty and takes to their cause with equal vigor, whipping these inexperienced farmers into a real army. But when Gorostieta utters the Cristero battle cry of “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long Live Christ the King!) in solidarity with his troops, the once-committed Mason starts to mean it. In the meantime, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Dwight Morrow (Bruce Greenwood) intervenes to negotiate an end to this war. But on whose terms? The government anti-clericals or the Cristeros?
From an aficionado of Hispanic culture and a convert to Catholicism who attends the same pre-Vatican II rite of the Mass as the Cristeros did, this film is something of a perfect storm of things I like. Indeed, this almost forgotten episode of history is something that I am fascinated with (“forgotten” because government schools manage to gloss over it in their history curriculums), especially because of its implications for life for us gringos in El Norte. It’s hard to explain to someone “on the outside,” but the HHS contraception mandate from the Obama administration sent shockwaves through the traditional Catholic community. While no one is stockpiling weapons or the like, for most of us, it does seem like this infringement of religious liberty is the stepping stone to a secularist persecution of the Church in the future, and some are looking upon the Cristeros as models of resistance.
Maybe, just maybe, that scenario is a little farfetched. But they probably thought the same thing in Mexico prior to the election of Calles. And whether For Greater Glory will galvanize a political movement is a little farfetched itself. But they probably thought the same thing about Braveheart and the Scottish independence movement, too. The only thing I am sure I can count on is that I can be entertained by and identify with this upcoming film. And as someone who — more than once — has shouted “¡Viva Cristo Rey!”in all seriousness, I am sure that I will.