The film “For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada,” starring Andy Garcia, Mauricio Kuri, Eva Longoria, Eduardo Verástegui, Peter O’Toole, Santiago Cabrera and Oscar Isaac, is now available on DVD and very timely as Catholics, some 25 percent of the U.S. population, prepare to vote on November 6. Verástegui, who plays Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, and Kuri, who plays Blessed José Luis Sanchez del Rio, both actors from our neighboring country Mexico, spoke to Crisis about the film.
“For Greater Glory” tells the true but widely unknown twentieth-century story of Los Cristeros (the Men of Christ), the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc, the Union Popular, and the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, who laid their lives on the line to defend the Catholic Church against Mexico’s Marxist government during the 1920s. These Catholics could have escaped torture and execution by denying Christ. Instead, their rallying cry was “Viva Cristo Rey!”—“Long live Christ the King!”
Today in the United States, President Obama and his administration are imposing socialist dictates upon the Catholic Church, organizations and individual citizens, including orders to violate the fundamental human right to life. Shortly before this ensued, Pope Benedict warned the Catholic bishops of the United States about coming assaults on the Church and urged them to fight the good fight.
In part, the Holy Father said: “[I]t is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.”
“For Greater Glory”—a beautiful, inspiring epic about what it means to be the Church Militant—debuted in U.S. movie theaters on June 1. However, the DVD is better because it includes a Special Features section with photos of the real Cristeros, plus interviews with historians, the filmmakers, Teresa Gorostieta, granddaughter of Andy Garcia’s lead character General Enrique Gorostieta, and Juan Daniel Macias, a surviving Cristero. Among my favorite details on the DVD is Garcia’s stunning likeness to photos of the great general and the filmmakers’ fidelity to Gorostieta’s personal letters.
As Eduardo Verástegui said, “Somebody was asking me: ‘Is this a Catholic film? What is this?’ And I say this film just shows historical facts. It’s like the ‘Schindler’s List’ of Mexico.”
Yet as Christopher Check says in his Crisis review of “For Greater Glory,” Verástegui’s character, founder of the Union Popular, is underemphasized and the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc also go unnamed. Still, all the key characters—heroes and villains alike—are well played. When I met him in April, producer Pablo José Barroso said the movie length had to be cut for theater distribution.
Adding insight into his character, Verástegui said, “Everyone is different. I don’t see myself as a pacifist, but I don’t see myself like Father Vega.” The gun-toting Padre Reyes Vega, played by Santiago Cabrera, is one of the most exciting characters. Instead, said Verástegui, “I try to be a peacemaker like Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, who is called the Mexican Gandhi.”
Focusing on Flores, Verástegui further explained: “He was a big deal and I fell in love with his character: this man who was a very well educated attorney, a family man, a man of faith and character. He was against fighting back with violence and gave his life for something beautiful. The federales tortured and executed him, but the last words out of his mouth were love and forgiveness. He’s a true example of how a layperson should be living his life.”
The producer of “For Greater Glory” was drawn to the Cristeros after witnessing the Mexican government’s repression of his Catholic-school teachers. Barroso grew up to become a successful businessman and in 2005 established Dos Corazones Films to produce entertaining family films.
Like Barroso and Verástegui, screenwriter Michael Love grew up in Mexico but earned acclaim in Hollywood for writing “Gaby: A True Story” about Mexican poet Gabriela Brimmer.
Verástegui said he introduced “For Greater Glory” director Dean Wright to the filmmakers. Wright’s many Hollywood credits include special effects work on “Titanic,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” movies and “Lord of the Rings” features.
James Horner, composer of the “Braveheart” and “Titanic” soundtracks, among scores of others, wrote a beautiful, haunting soundtrack for this film.
Eva Longoria, a Mexican American, tenderly plays Tulita, the Catholic wife of Gen. Gorostieta and mother of his children. While the filmmakers offer nothing but praise for her talents, Longoria is co-chairman of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, which could confuse many voters.
“The most important thing about this film for me—when I saw it—is that it’s impossible not to question yourself,” said Verástegui. “‘Am I willing to die for my faith? Am I willing to give my life like these heroes?’ They were not playing games. They went all the way. We are called to give our lives for others every day, but that’s the highest level of love: to become a martyr. And this kid, José Luis Sanchez del Rio, who starts as a rebel and goes all the way—it challenged me to find the best person in myself.”
“For Greater Glory” highlights three years in the life of young Cristero Blessed José Luis Sanchez del Rio, who was martyred at age 14. When 12-year-old Mauricio Kuri auditioned for the film, he had no intentions of playing José. However, Kuri’s uncle went to pray for him, he found a prayer card with Blessed José on it and Kuri was chosen to play José.
Kuri, now age 15, said, “It was another of a lot of coincidences that happened during [filming on] the set. But I just don’t believe in coincidences. I believe everything happens for a reason and God was over there preparing everything. It was really cool.”
During the four-month filming of this epic, Kuri grew to love his character and witnessed many conversions.
“During the final scenes of my character, something wonderful happened,” said Kuri. “I just closed my eyes for three minutes and I just prayed to José to give me the strength to represent his character because he’s a strong character it was going to be really, really tough.
“So I just prayed to him and I put myself in his hands and when I opened my eyes I started improvising,” Kuri continued. “And the scene turned out great. I think it was him that helped me because I started saying stuff that I wasn’t aware of and when they said ‘Cut!’ everybody on the set was crying and everybody was moved.
“It was such a journey of emotions and experiences,” Kuri said, further revealing that many atheists on the crew decided to become Catholic. “Watching the stuff during the filming of the movie, they became Catholic. So it was beautiful—an environment of love and peace.”
“For Greater Glory” calls us like Venerable Father John Hardon called us: “We cannot be ordinary followers of Christ. Only those who are holy and heroic Catholics will even survive, not to say thrive, in today’s society.”
Editor’s note: Click here to view the “For Greater Glory” movie trailer.