Film revisits the many sides of Mexico’s Cristero Rebellion

June 12, 2012

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Even as modern-day Church-state relations improve, the impact of Mexico’s three-year Cristero Rebellion in the 1920s on the Catholic Church remains widely debated in Mexican society.

The rebellion saw Catholic clergy and laity taking up arms to oppose government efforts to harshly restrict the influence of the Church and defend religious freedom. In the end, the rebellion of the Cristero — soldiers for Christ — was quelled in 1929, leaving the Church sidelined for much of the last century and its role limited to a pastoral concerns with no say in the public policy arena.

Now the conflict comes to the big screen at a time with improved Church-state interaction — even if the interpretations of one of Mexico’s defining events remain controversial.

“What price would you pay for freedom?” posed the synopsis for the movie, “For Greater Glory,” which stars Andy Garcia and Eva Longoria and opened in the United States, June 1.

The synopsis continued, “An impassioned group of men and women each make the decision to risk it all for family, faith and the very future of their country.”

Gen. Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, the protagonist played by Garcia and leader of the Cristero forces, is a “retired military man who at first thinks he has nothing personal at stake. ... Yet the man who hesitates in joining the cause will soon become the resistance’s most inspiring and self-sacrificing leader, as he begins to see the cost of religious persecution on his countrymen.”

Like various histories of the rebellion, Gorostieta’s actions remain open to interpretation. Some question his motives for leading the rebel cause despite being a nonbeliever; others wonder if he really did have a conversion late in life.

Victor Ramos Cortes, a professor at the University of Guadalajara, said any reading of history must consider the factors of religious intolerance, agrarian land issues in a country with numerous landless farmers and the threat posed by the Church hierarchy to the liberal elites of the time.
Such nuanced readings of the era are rare.

“In our country, each history is presented as if it were the only true version and the other is erroneous,” Ramos said.
The Cristero legacy remains somewhat divisive, with the conflict and the beatification and canonization of Cristero martyrs at the center of the Church’s agenda.

The Archdiocese of Guadalajara is building a large sanctuary on a prominent hilltop to memorialize Mexico’s martyrs, and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass during his visit in March for 640,000 people at the foot of the Cerro del Cubilete, site of a giant Christ statue built to remember those fighting the rebellion.

Father Manuel Corral, Mexican bishops’ conference spokesman, has seen the film and speaks well of its message of “showing young people that there’s something worth fighting for.”