Religious freedom gets Hollywood treatment
Just in time to inﬂuence an American presidential election comes a cautionary tale of a socialist tyrant imposing his will on the faithful of Christ to a theater near you. No, For Greater Glory, released on June 1, isn’t about cries of “religious freedom” in opposition to the requirement that health care providers cover women’s contraception. No blood has been spilled over that yet.
What director Dean Wright’s debut feature does do is import the little-known story of Mexico’s Cristero War of 1926-1929. The largely western conﬂagration was sparked by President Plutarco Calles’s long-delayed implementation of the strict anticlerical measures of the 1917 Constitution, and by the church hierarchy’s suspension of services in response. While political and religious elites jockeyed for power, lay Catholics—bereft of sacraments—rose up in arms.
Michael Love’s script develops several sympathetic, if stock, characters, both historical and composite: a reluctant retired general (played by Cuban-American actor Andy García), a principled non-violent resister (played by telenovela heartthrob Eduardo Verástegui), a dashing priest-turned-general, an arms-smuggling urban heroine, and an altar boy whose martyrdom at the hands of a local army ofﬁcer will remind viewers of the gruesome ﬁxations of Mel Gibson.
The villains, also from central casting, include the dastardly ofﬁcer, the altar boy’s vacillating godfather (the town’s mayor), and the conniving tyrant in the capital city. Some morally complex characters do add a welcome nuance to the otherwise Manichaean saga, including U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow and high-ranking prelates who, in the end, broker a modus vivendi accord between Calles, his successor and Rome.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Glory’s producer Pablo Jose Barroso ascribed the timing of the ﬁlm’s release in both countries to a higher agency. In Mexico it coincided with the Congress’s hurried alteration to the Constitution to expland freedom of belief to include freedom of conscience, Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the cristero stronghold of Guanajuato state, and a papal ﬂyover (in the presidential helicopter) around the Cristo Rey monument near León. (Mexicans go to the polls on July 1.)
The U.S. also stands in need of the ﬁlm’s message right now, according to Barroso: “The movie is about conscience. No one ever wins when religion is oppressed. As believers we need to band together. This is the perfect time for this ﬁlm. Hopefully, it will help wake people up to the things that are taking us from God. In the end, this will harm us. We have to be faithful.”
The litigious American bishops must agree. Many diocesan websites throughout the country linked the movie to last week’s Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies and continue to do so in advance of the U.S. Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom,” which starts next week. [More]