Andy Garcia, right, and Mauricio Kuri star in a scene from the movie For Greater Glory. Garcia, a Catholic, plays a Mexican Revolution-era general lured out of retirement to fight his own government’s severe curbing of religious freedoms. CNS photo/ARC Entertainment

Viva the fight for Christian liberty!

By 
  • November 21, 2012

Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!

That was the defiant cry of the Cristeros, and the Feast of Christ the King is a fitting time to remember a dark period in history. Never heard of the Cristero rebellion? Most have not, including in Mexico. It is a story we should know.

In the 1920s, the Mexican government of Plutarco Calles waged war on the Catholic Church. Not metaphorically, but literally, with laws that proscribed worship, restricted the conduct of the clergy, interfered in the governance of the Church and trampled upon religious liberty — all of it enforced by the armed power of the state. It was totalitarianism just across the Rio Grande.

The Cristeros were faithful Catholics who rose up — both in armed rebellion and by other means — to defend their faith and their religious freedom. They proudly proclaimed they were fighting for Christ the King and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The Cristero war lasted from 1926 to 1929. Thousands of Mexicans suffered violent persecution for the faith — priests hanged in their churches, religious shot down by firing squad in the town squares, faithful men and women jailed, tortured and killed in hatred for the faith.

After this shameful period of Mexican history concluded, official Mexico decreed that it would not speak of its shame. Consequently, few people are even aware that a fierce religious persecution took place less than a hundred years ago in North America.

All this is remedied by a film every Catholic must watch, For Greater Glory, which tells the story in a magnificent way, comparable in acting and production to any major Hollywood film. Released in theatres in the United States in the spring, it did not have theatrical release in Canada. The DVD went on sale in the United States on Sept. 11, and will be released in Canada on Dec. 18.

Last week I wrote about the feminine soul and recommended as a Christmas gift a book — My Sisters, The Saints — that gives a compelling account of a distinctly contemporary path of Catholic feminine discipleship. This week, might I suggest this movie, martial in content, which highlights a complementary masculine path to holiness — and all the more compelling for those manly virtues are demonstrated heroically by a 14- year-old boy.

Blessed José Luis Sanchez joins the Cristeros after witnessing the martyrdom of his parish priest. This teenage martyr was beatified in 2005, and the cinematic portrayal of his heroic life is profoundly moving. Even more impressive, the heroism of the boy moves the mercenary general, hired to lead the Cristeros, to genuine conversion.

The general’s story is one of a great military man who no longer has a great cause to give his life to, and who does not share the tradition of faith with his own wife and the Mexican people. The general learns from the boy the heart of manly virtue, which is to embrace with great courage a noble cause, a cause greater than one’s own achievement.

Upon enacting the laws prohibiting worship, President Calles told the French ambassador to Mexico that “without Mass and the sacraments the Mexican people will soon lose their faith.” He was right about the consequences of being denied the sacraments, but he was wrong in thinking that the Mexican people would not fight for their faith, fight for the sacraments and fight for the Mass.

All of this is suitable to bring to mind on the Feast of Christ the King. Aware of the attacks on Jesus and His Church around the world — both the Russian and Mexican revolutions of 1917 turned viciously against religion — Pope Pius XI declared in December 1925 a new feast, the Feast of Christ the King. The Holy Father reminded the world that the kingship of Christ was not subject to the ambitions of tyrants.

“The annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them,” wrote Pius XI in his 1925 encyclical, Quas Primas. “While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim His kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm His rights. The way has been happily and providentially prepared for the celebration of this feast ever since the end of the last century. … The kingship and empire of Christ have been recognized in the pious custom, practised by many families, of dedicating themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; not only families have performed this act of dedication, but nations, too, and kingdoms. In fact, the whole of the human race was at the insistence of Pope Leo XIII, in the Holy Year 1900, consecrated to the Divine Heart.”

I saw the film in Michigan on the Feast of the Sacred Heart last June. I cannot recommend highly enough planning to obtain and see this film now, with Christ the King upon us.

Viva Cristo Rey!

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