The year 1917 was a year of turmoil. The United States entered World War I; the atheist Communist Revolution took control of Russia and had its influence even as far off as Mexico. Secular atheist leaders pushed through a new constitution, which severely restricted religious freedom. It was aimed particularly at the Catholic Church. In the midst of this evil Our Lady appeared to the three Children of Fatima with her message of prayer and repentance or worse evils will befall the world. The famous Miracle of the Sun gave her message instant credibility.
In Mexico, a new constitution for the country had been signed and served as a model for the 1918 Constitution of Soviet Russia. Five articles of the 1917 Constitution of Mexico were particularly aimed at suppression of the Catholic Church. Article 3 mandated secular education in schools, prohibiting the Church from participating in primary and secondary education. Article 5 outlawed monastic religious orders. Article 24 forbade public worship outside of church buildings, while Article 27 restricted religious organizations' rights to own property. Finally, Article 130 took away basic civil rights of members of the clergy: priests and religious were prevented from wearing their habits, were denied the right to vote, and were not permitted to comment on public affairs in the press. Most of the anti-clerical provisions of the constitution were finally removed in 1998. It was on the books for 81 years.
In the following years a war against the Church was simmering. In 1921 a terrorist hid a bomb within flowers and placed it in front of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The bomb blew out all the windows of the basilica shrine, destroyed an image of St. James near-by and severely bent a metal cross in front of the image. But the image and its glass covering was left untouched.
|The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe today.|
|Metal crucifix destroyed in the 1921 bomb blast.|
Graham Greene (1904-1991), a best selling British author in his time, wrote two books that have this period of Mexican history as a backdrop: the 1939 travelogue, “The Lawless Roads” and arguably his greatest novel in 1940, “The Power and the Glory”. He called these persecutions of the 1920s and 1930s “the fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth”.
The Knights of Columbus, being staunchly Catholic and serving the Church, were also targeted by Calles. Numerous knights were jailed and even executed. About two thirds of the numerous councils were shut down. The Knights of Columbus pledged to raise $1 million to educate the American public. The vehemently racist and anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan countered with $10 million to support the Calles Government.
Pope Pius XI wrote three encyclicals that condemned these persecutions in the land of Our Lady of Guadalupe: the 1926 Iniquis Afflictisque (On the Persecution of the Church in Mexico – See http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_18111926_iniquis-afflictisque_en.html), Acerba Animi in 1932 (See http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_29091932_acerba-animi_en.html), and Firmissimam Constantiamque in 1937. The Pope severely criticized the state's interference in matters of worship, outlawing of religious orders and the expropriation of Church property. He noted that, "Priests are ... deprived of all civil and political rights. They are thus placed in the same class with criminals and the insane."
“Cristero Wars” of 1926-1929. The Catholic response to the Calles regime first took the form of non-violent petitions, suspended religious services and economic boycotts. But bloody popular resistance broke out in 1926. By 1929, 50,000 Cristero rebels were fighting the federal government. A small number of priests took up arms with their people. More than 90,000 persons died in the fighting. In the process, the authorities murdered thousands of Catholic laypeople and hundreds of priests. For some excellent documentaries on the Cristero War, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ4d6gOZFZ8 in Spanish or click on Cristero War in English.
|The Federal soldiers hung martyrs from trees in village squares and telegraph poles along rail lines.|
It is said that a visionary asked Mary, “Where were you during all this time”. She answered lovingly, “I was there all the time”. The famous observation of Tertullian: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” will continue to ring true in God’s time perhaps decades later not only in Mexico, but in the world as people learn about the heroism and conviction of these martyrs, becoming inspired and strengthened in their faith. The movie, “For Greater Glory” is just one of these fruits as it brings to light a suppressed and forgotten, but bloody chapter in Mexican History, literally a battle between good and evil.
As the movie describes, Catholics loyal to the Church rose up against this persecution and tyranny and were called Cristeros Just the same as the Knights of Columbus lobbied Congress for the “under God” insertion in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, it also lobbied President Coolidge to put a stop to the persecutions. This is the backdrop of the exciting movie with international stars as Peter O'Toole, “For Greater Glory”. The Knights of Columbus helped to underwrite this acclaimed movie. Even the New York Times reviewed it. Simply click on http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/movies/for-greater-glory-traces-mexicos-cristero-war.html?_r=0.
A 1927 Poster: Long live Christ the King. The Liberation Army.
During the 1914 persecutions the Wilson administration of the United States did nothing. United States troops were sent to protect U.S. interests. Although they took some women religious to the states as refugees, the male religious were left to fend for themselves. During the Cristero Wars United States Ambassador Morrow collaborated with President Calles and even facilitated the purchase of 10,000 rifles, 10 million rounds of ammunition, and even aircraft. The very anti-Catholic international Masons with members in the Coolidge administration approved of their fellow Mason Calles and his bloody policies. Although the Masons have mellowed considerably over the years, its doctrines and leadership are still anti-catholic and the Church continues to condemn Freemasonry. To find out why, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7124XflnVY).
A contingent of the Cristero Army.
|Another group of Cristero soldiers.|
During the month of October 1927, 300 Catholics were executed for publicly professing their faith. A Jesuit priest, now Blessed Padre Miguel Pro clandestinely, ministered to the people under different disguises and outwitted his persecutors. Finally he was caught and placed in front of a firing squad as a public show with newspapers invited to cover it. As the soldiers were given the command: Ready, aim........, the future saint cried out the rallying cry of the Cristeros: “Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live Christ the King!)” and was mowed down by a shower of bullets. For more detail and pictures of it, go to my Blog #42 at, http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com/2011/11/martyr-for-christ-king.html.
Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio, a passionate and happy youth, had a great love and enthusiasm for the Blessed Sacrament from an early age and encouraged his friends to have more devotion to Our Lord and Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the age of 14 in 1928, he wrote a letter to the Cristero General Prudencio Mendoza, pleading to be allowed to be part of the army. They used him as a gofer for such tasks as taking ammunition to the soldiers as needed. One day he noticed that the commander-in-chief, General Gorostieta's horse was shot from under him and was on foot. At risk to himself, he gave the general his own horse.
Soon José was caught by the Federalists. They put him into a church, turned into a prison. Four days before his death, he wrote: “I am resigned to the will of God. I die happy because I die beside Our Lord. Do not afflict yourselves because of my death, since to die for God gives me joy.” He was heard saying the rosary and singing sacred hymns. José not only kept the faith; he actually desired martyrdom. A guard kept some of his prized fighting roosters there. Repulsed by this sacrilege, José wrung their necks.
Blessed José refused to give information or deny his faith. The soldiers cut off the skin from the soles of his feet and forced him to walk to the cemetery barefoot. Concerned about their souls, he told his executioners: “I forgive all of you since we are Christians……I want you all to repent.” After each torture, each blow with a machete, each stab with a bayonet, Blessed José cried out: “Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe! Long live Christ the King! Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe”. Those were also the last words of this martyr before he was finally shot on February 10, his feast day. Obtain more detail on his life by clicking on https://www.google.com/#q=Blessed+Jose+Sanchez+del+Rio. Particularly good is
Blessed José was one of the chief characters of the movie described as follows on the cover of the DVD: “In the exhilarating epic FOR GREATER GLORY, an impassioned group of men and women risk everything for family, faith, and the very future of the country --as the film’s adventure unfolds against the long-hidden, true story of the 1920s Cristero War-- the daring people’s revolt that rocked 20th Century North America. Academy Award winner Andy Garcia headlines an acclaimed cast as General Gorostieta, the retired military man who at first thinks he has nothing personal at stake as he and his wife (Golden Globe Winner, Eva Longoria) watch Mexico fall into a violent civil war. Yet the man who hesitates in joining the cause will soon become the resistance’s most inspiring and self-sacrificing leader, as he begins to see the cost of religious persecution on his countrymen…….and transforms a rag-tag band of rebels into a heroic force to be reckoned with. The General faces impossible odds against a powerful and ruthless government. Yet it is those he meets on the journey –youthful idealists, feisty renegades, and most of all, one remarkable teenager named Jose—who reveal to him how courage and belief are forged even when justice seems lost.”
That’s much better than I can describe the movie. After seeing the movie twice, I can only enthusiastically second that description. I can see no essential contradiction with historical facts. However, the movie does take some liberties that cause historical inaccuracies in some details. José never did meet General Gorostieta. He was really the flag bearer for General Rubén Guízar Morfin. Margaret Galitzin gives an excellent historical critique of the movie at http://www.traditioninaction.org/movies/016mrCristeroMartyr.htm.
Events that Followed After the End of the Cristero War
The movie is unclear as to what actually happened later. The Vatican and U.S. diplomacy, naively trusting the Calles government, brokered a peace in which the president signed an agreement, promising to modify the laws and stop the persecutions. Although the anti-Catholic laws remained on the books, religious worship was allowed. For the sake of peace the Vatican and the Mexican bishops asked the Cristeros to lay down their arms. Reluctantly, they obeyed. They felt betrayed because Calles later rounded up the Cristeros for mass executions. Almost all of their officers were executed…….5000 of them. Ironic was the fact that at the time, the Cristeros had control of close to three fourths of the country although the government remained in control of the cities. The Cristeros were winning; victory was in sight and it would have been a matter of time before this dictator would fall as so many had been overthrown in Mexican history.
Overall, the clergy was decimated…….having been killed or in exile. Christ remained with the Church and the few priests who remained; seventeen states had no priests at all. Catholic publications and institutions remained suppressed. Are we in the United States headed in the same direction where we will be free to worship within the confines of our homes and church buildings while church institutions are regulated out of existence?
Through the 1940s and 1950s the governments continued to mellow and these strict laws were being enforced less and less. By April 1965 which I spent in Mexico learning Spanish, these anti-clerical laws were still on the books, but many were no longer enforced. I was blessed to be placed with a Mexican family within the same neighborhood as the old Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thousands visited the shrine every day, many would walk the two hundred or so yards from the entrance to the altar of the beautiful image on their knees. Some were organized pilgrimages such as the one which brought a float of flowers which said: “Estamos a tus pies, Madrecita (We are at your feet, Mother)”. On Easter, Indians in traditional native garb danced at the shrine. Nuns and priests were still forbidden from wearing their religious garb and one of the old churches was still being used as a warehouse, but there was freedom of worship if not freedom to publish newspapers, open schools, and run charitable institutions.
By 1998 most of the stringent laws of 1917 were repealed. Today Mexico has very secular governments, but there is relative religious liberty. As always Christ remains with His Church; as he promised, the gates of hell will never prevail and the Church in Mexico is reviving while Plutarco Calles and his henchmen are relegated to the ash heap of history the same as Soviet Communism in Russia. There too the faith is reviving. Today Our Lady of Guadalupe has a new basilica financed by the money that the people raised.
Most Mexicans don’t know anything about the Cristero Wars and these violent persecutions because succeeding governments have kept this chapter of Mexican history out of the school textbooks. Private Catholic schools, now allowed to function in Mexico, do however teach that chapter in Mexican history. In 2012 during his visit to Mexico Pope Benedict XVI had an open air Mass on one of the battlefields of the Cristero War.
I suggest that parishes show this great movie, “For Greater Glory” as a Movie Night with a Cine Forum instead of paying $7.00 to see a trashy movie at the local cinema. I guarantee that it will hold you at the edge of your seat. I often fall asleep during movies, but not this one. Everyone who has seen this movie loved it. DON’T MISS IT! You can obtain the DVD from Ignatius Press by clicking on www.ignatius.com or call 1-800-651-1531. The edition in Spanish is under the title of “La Cristiada” also at Ignatius or http://www.defiendetufe.com.
We can identify with the Cristeros to an extent, because our own government is encroaching upon the religious freedom of Catholic institutions in regard to the health care mandate on abortifacients and contraceptives as well as attempting to force Catholic Charities to arrange for adoptions by gay couples. Catholic nurses who refuse to participate in abortions have lost their jobs. It won’t be long before Catholic doctors will be forced to prescribe abortifacients and drug stores owned by Catholics to sell them. Priests, who preach against the immorality of the homosexual lifestyle, will be open to arrest for committing a “hate crime”. The secularists are already advocating that church property should be taxed. But unfortunately, most Catholics just go along with it all and continue to vote for those in power instead of fighting to preserve our precious religious liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
Michael J. Miller wrote in the Catholic World Report a beautiful summary of the lesson to be learned from this great movie: “We Americans in 2012 live in a different land in a different time. We’re blessed with freedoms the Cristeros could only imagine. But those freedoms depend on our willingness to defend them. Religious liberty is never guaranteed by anything but our own vigilance. Even in this country, contempt for religious faith, and especially the Catholic faith, is alive and well. For Greater Glory captures with memorable power and grace where that bigotry can lead—and the cost of resisting it.”
Archbishop Chaput Reviews "For Greater Glory"
By Michael J. Miller
Friday, June 01, 2012
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is an insightful commentator on the culture, as he demonstrated in his book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (2008) and his recent e-book, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America. He regularly writes a column (posted at www.CatholicPhilly.com) in which he addresses current events from a pastoral perspective. Around Memorial Day, as vacation season was beginning, he devoted his column to the theme of quality recreation and “enthusiastically” recommended For Greater Glory as “a film that no Catholic should miss this summer”.
Written, directed and acted with outstanding skill, it’s the story of Mexico’s Cristero War (also known as La Cristiada, 1926-29). Largely ignored until recently—even in Mexico—the war resulted from Mexico’s atheist constitution of 1917, subsequent anti-religious legislation and fierce anti-clerical persecution by the government of President Plutarco Elias Calles, who came to power in 1924.
The Catholic response to the Calles regime first took the form of non-violent petitions, suspended religious services and economic boycotts. But bloody popular resistance broke out in 1926. By 1929, 50,000 Cristero rebels were fighting the federal government. A small number of priests took up arms with their people. More than 90,000 persons died in the fighting. In the process, the authorities murdered thousands of Catholic laypeople and dozens of priests.
Blessed Miguel Pro, a Jesuit priest, was executed without trial in 1927. Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio, age 14, was shot to death for refusing to deny his faith in 1928. In both cases, the martyrs’ last words were Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live Christ the King!) The Church has since honored dozens of other Mexican martyrs for their heroism during the Calles persecution.
By 1929, pressured by Cristero success and U.S. diplomacy, federal authorities agreed to ease some restrictions on the Church and end violent persecution. Mexico’s bishops accepted the brokered peace. The Cristero rebellion slowly died out. But the government soon betrayed its promises….
Federal authorities murdered hundreds of former Cristero leaders and thousands of former Cristero fighters in reprisals. And the government continued its belligerence against the Church throughout the 1930s—a campaign of atheist violence and anti-religious hatred that provided the backdrop for two of Graham Greene’s finest books: his travelogue, The Lawless Roads (1939), and arguably his greatest novel, The Power and the Glory (1940).
Of course, gripping history does not automatically translate into good drama. Too many films for the family and religious markets suffer from lots of good intentions, but a lack of resources, inadequate talent and weak professional skills. For Greater Glory succeeds where so many similar films have failed.
Archbishop Chaput praises the “superb” cast and a screenplay that “gives them the kind of robust material they need to work with: strong dialogue, fully developed characters, vivid moral conflicts in a time of revolutionary violence, and a compelling story”.
For Greater Glory is … an extraordinary portrait of ordinary people struggling to defend their convictions. It’s among the most absorbing films by any director or movie studio that I’ve seen in the past few years.
We Americans in 2012 live in a different land in a different time. We’re blessed with freedoms the Cristeros could only imagine. But those freedoms depend on our willingness to defend them. Religious liberty is never guaranteed by anything but our own vigilance. Even in this country, contempt for religious faith, and especially the Catholic faith, is alive and well. For Greater Glory captures with memorable power and grace where that bigotry can lead—and the cost of resisting it.
From Catholic World Report | Copyright © 2012 Catholic World Report All Rights Reserved.
"For Greater Glory" is probably the last film in which Peter O'Toole played. He died on December 14, 2013.