'For Greater Glory': an inspiring message for today's Christians

'For Greater Glory': an inspiring message for today's Christians

Babette Francis

Catholic bishops and many leaders of other denominations have been active in opposing "gay marriage" and insisting on the conscience rights of priests and pastors to not be involved in such "marriage" celebrations. However, some church leaders appear to have overlooked the conscience rights of the laity - "the butcher, the baker and candle-stick maker" - who may also have conscientious objections to providing services for homosexual events.

In my view, the Catholic hierarchy should have drawn the battle lines years ago when an Anglican husband and wife refused to rent their residential property to a de facto (heterosexual) couple. The Anglicans were subjected to anti-discrimination legislation and suffered a substantial fine.

Since then the attacks on the consciences of lay Christians have escalated - a baker in the US has been subjected to legal action because she politely declined to provide a cake for a lesbian "wedding", the Boy Scouts organisation in the US endures constant harassment because it will not employ homosexual troop leaders, a schoolboy was threatened with expulsion for writing an essay opposing homosexual adoption, a beauty contestant was vilified because she said she supported traditional marriage - the list of small persecutions goes on.

We all need to remember that religious freedom applies not only to ceremonies in a church, but to the "marketplace" in general, and that if they do not oppose the "small" persecutions, eventually they - and all the faithful - will face much greater trials.

These thoughts have been prompted by my nostalgic remembrance of a preview screening at the World Congress of Families VI in Madrid in May this year of  For Greater Glory, a film about the Cristero War in Mexico in the 1920s.

Most Australians - and most non-Spanish speakers - probably have only a vague idea that in the 1920s there was a viciously anti-clerical regime in Mexico that violently persecuted the Catholic Church, stopped religious services and executed priests in public. If we knew about this at all, it was through the pages of Graham Greene's 1940 novel  The Power and the Glory about the tribulations, physical and spiritual, of a priest in Mexico during the persecution.

For Greater Glory, which had its general release in June, is about the three-year Cristero War, 1926-1928, fought by some Catholic groups who put up a passionate defence of Catholicism against the brutal government of Plutarco Elias Calles who was determined to destroy the Catholic Church in Mexico.

The film stars Andy Garcia as General Enrique Gorostieta who led the Cristeros, Eva Longoria as his wife, Peter O'Toole as an elderly priest, Fr Christobal Magallanes, and Mauricio Kuri as Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, a young teenager who is captured and tortured because he would not say "Death to Christ the King".

Jose Sanches del Rio's story is the most moving subplot in the movie. He was converted to serious Catholicism by Fr Magallanes and "adopted" in spirit by General Gorostieta when he asks to join the Cristeros. It was hard not to be moved by the depiction of the boy's martyrdom, as he defies torture and blandishments, all intended to get him to apostasise.

Instead he calls out "Viva Cristo Rey!" as the bullets hit him. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio was beatified on 20 November 2005 and his liturgical commemoration is on 10 February, the day of his death. Fr Christobal Magallanes was also beatified along with fifty other modern-day Mexican martyrs.

Benedict XVI, during his recent visit to Mexico, visited the Cristo Rey Monument that honours these Cristero fighters who eventually won freedom for the Church in 1929.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington DC has urged his priests and seminarians to see  For Greater Glory, suggesting the film might help form an understanding of religious freedom. 

Barack Obama is not Plutarco Elias Calles, and the United States in 2012 is not Mexico in 1926-29. But anyone who doubts that there are grave threats to religious freedom in North America today has only to consider the Health and Human Services "contraceptive mandate," the administration's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, its efforts to void the "ministerial exemption" in US employment law, and the bad habit of Canadian human rights tribunals of levying serious financial penalties against Christian ministers who preach biblical truth.

For Greater Glory will inspire and encourage those already committed to defending religious freedom today. It is even more important, though, that those who haven't yet seen the threat, or who deny that it exists, ponder this powerful depiction of the not-so-distant past, for the sake of the present and our future.

Late in the film the ruthless President Calles calls for a meeting with General Gorostieta, leader of the Cristeros, offering a compromise. Gorostieta responds: "There is no compromise of liberty, it comes not from the state but from God."

At the end of the film screening in Madrid, the Spanish audience spontaneously cried out "Viva Christo Rey". Perhaps for some it resonated with echoes of the Spanish Civil War, and for many recalled their own recent struggles against the previous socialist government which imposed homosexual "marriage" and abortion on demand.

I cannot imagine our more phlegmatic and secular Australian audiences calling out like that, but perhaps bishops and other church leaders could organise a mass reading from Leviticus and St Paul to the Romans in Federation Square. That would throw down the gauntlet to the "Marriage Equality" movement.

For Greater Glory (titled  Cristiada in Spanish) is essentially historically accurate says historian Ruben Quezada, who has written  For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada as a companion book to the film. The book was published by Ignatius Press in June 2012 in English and Spanish.

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