For months, buzz has been building, especially among Catholics, around the film For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada. Many Catholics who are aware of the Cristero Wars of the 1920’s and the persecution of Catholics by the Mexican government have learned about it through the story of Mexican Jesuit martyr Bl. Miguel Pro, but this film follows the story of two other Church-approved martyrs: 14-year old Bl. Jose Sanchez del Rio, and peaceful resistance organizer Bl. Anacleto Gonzales Flores, played by Bella star Eduardo Verastegui.
Shortly after the surprise success of Bella, Verastegui was looking for other uplifting stories to tell, and it was suggested that he do a project centered around this conflict. He admitted to being embarrassed that he didn’t know a thing about the massive popular uprising that had taken place only about 50 years before he was born.
Compelled by the script and the history on which it was based, Verastegui chose to take on the role of Flores, one of the peaceful resistors of the laws against the Church enforced by the Mexican government, led by President Plutarco Elias Calles. Building an underground network of communications to connect Catholics from all over Mexico, Flores was able to coordinate a boycott that pinched Calles’ administration in an uncomfortable place. As a result, Flores was eventually hunted down and brutally murdered by agents of the Mexican government.
The events on which For Greater Glory is based happened less than 100 years ago– recently enough that there are still people alive today who knew Cristeros. Academy Award nominee Andy Garcia, who plays General Enrique Gorostieta in the film, actually received a letter from the granddaughter of his character, thanking him for restoring honor to her family name. Gorostieta had been a decorated military leader during the Mexican revolution, but his heroism in the Cristero Wars (during which he was killed in battle) had been scrubbed from popular Mexican historical records, since this period of persecution is commonly seen as an embarrassment to Mexico’s government.
The decision to commit to films like For Greater Glory is a relatively recent one for Verastegui, who started his career in pop music and Mexican telenovelas, even appearing in a music video with Jennifer Lopez. But in recent years, he’s committed himself to projects that show his faith and his culture in a more positive light. “One day, somebody asked me, ‘do you know your Latino community has been stereotyped in a very negative way in the media?” Verastegui recalls. He was confronted with the concern that Mexican men were typically cast in the media as “bandidos, criminals, narcotraficantes, and if you’re good looking, you’re the Don Juan ‘Latin lover,’ Casanova, womanizer.” That’s why Verastegui was thrilled to play Flores, a person who was, as he puts it, “a normal man, a family man, a man of faith, a man of character, a man of integrity, a lawyer, well-educated, who was not afraid to do the right thing and fight for something bigger than himself.”
One of the breakout stars of the film is Mexico City-born Mauricio Kuri, who plays the teenage martyr Bl. Jose Sanchez del Rio. He, like many who worked on the film, knew next to nothing about this dark time in his nation’s history prior to working on the project, but now has a devotion to the young man whose character he portrayed, and currently wears a medal of Bl. Jose around his neck.
The years of severe persecution of Catholics that began in 1926 had a devastating effect on the Mexican people, claiming the lives of some 90,000 of them on both sides of the conflict. Prior to the Cristero Wars, there were 4,500 priests serving the Mexican people, but by 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve some fifteen million Catholics. Verastegui says he hopes that this movie helps people learn from the mistakes of history.
“That’s what history’s for; to learn from the past. Just a few years later, (persecution) happened in Spain, in their Civil War, and in Cuba, and in many other countries… we don’t learn sometimes. We want to (make) the same mistakes, expecting different results.”
For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada, is currently in theaters nationwide. Check local listings for theaters and times, or visit www.forgreaterglory.com.