A Complex Time: While Moving, Film Glosses over Aspects of Cristero War

By Pacatte, Rose | National Catholic Reporter, May 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

A Complex Time: While Moving, Film Glosses over Aspects of Cristero War


Pacatte, Rose, National Catholic Reporter


In 1917 the Mexican Constitutional Congress adopted a new constitution. It confirmed the separation of church and state first decreed in the 1857 constitution, returned subsoil rights to the government from ownership and control by foreign corporations, established the basis for secular education, and provided for land reforms. Five articles restricted the power and liberty of the Catholic church. These forbade public worship outside of churches, restricted the church's right to own property, closed monasteries, deprived clergy of civil rights, forbade the wearing of clerical or religious garb, and banned clergy from criticizing the government or commenting on public affairs in the press.

The rigid enforcement of these laws by President Plutarco Elias Calles led to the civil war known as the Cristero War, 1926-29.

Although this tragic conflict may be unknown by this name to many in the United States, many Catholics do know the story of Jesuit Fr. Miguel Pro (1891-1927) who was shot in November 1927 on the order of Calles under the pretext that Pro was part of a plot to assassinate former President Alvaro Obregon. The church canonized Pro in 1988. Calles ordered that the photographs of his killing were to be spread far and wide to discourage the Cristeros; it had the opposite effect.

The history of Mexico is complex and the Catholic church's place therein is complicated by its wealth and political influence, which stemmed from large land holdings and control over education. This was true in Mexico in 1857 and reiterated in 1917.

Obregon, who was president 1920-24, was not a friend of the church but did little to enforce the constitution and caused little or no upset. But when Calles, a fierce anti-Catholic, became president, he was determined to enforce the law uniformly throughout the land and added specific penalties to infractions. Catholic organizations began to resist. On July 26,1926, the Mexican episcopate suspended worship and Catholic organizations began a boycott. Federal troops began attacking churches, killing armed laypeople as well as priests. Uprisings began in earnest and this disorganized conflict was the beginning of the Cristero War.

A film about this era has dominated the Mexican box office since it opened April 20, and that film, which is in English, opens in the United States June 1. In many respects the film accurately depicts elements of the Cristero War and key personalities who played a part in it, but questions remain that may send thoughtful viewers straight to the Internet or library.

The original name of the film was "Crist iada" but changed to "For Greater Glory," possibly for the U.S. audience.

The film opens by introducing us to retired Gen. Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia), a religious skeptic. His wife (an almost unrecognizable Eva Longoria) implores him to allow their daughters to continue their religious education in the face of Calles' crackdown on the church. He loves his wife and humors her. Gorostieta owns a soap manufacturing company and he is growing bored. The Cristeros recruit him to organize their revolt against the government.

Next we are introduced to the key characters. Father Christopher (Peter O'Toole as a fusion of several characters) is an elderly missionary who refuses to leave when Calles orders all foreign priests out of Mexico. He takes on 13-year-old Jose Luis Sanchez (Mauricio Kuri) as an altar boy. The priest inspires Jose, who leaves mischief behind to serve the parish. Anacleto Gonzalez Flores (Eduardo Verastegui) is a lawyer and an advocate of nonviolence who continually ques tions the morality of taking up arms. Victoriano "El Catorce" Ramirez (Oscar Isaac) heads one of the guerilla groups. Adriana (Catalina Sandino Moreno as a fusion of characters, too) belongs to the women's group that assists the Cristeros fighters in an intricate underground network. …

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