June 15, 2012

For Greater Glory brings back memories, provides inspiration

Andy Garcia stars in a scene from the movie For Greater Glory. Garcia, a Catholic, plays a Mexican Revolution-era general lured out of retirement a decade later to fight his own government’s severe curbing of religious freedoms. (CNS photo/ARC Entertainment)

Andy Garcia stars in a scene from the movie For Greater Glory. Garcia, a Catholic, plays a Mexican Revolution-era general lured out of retirement a decade later to fight his own government’s severe curbing of religious freedoms. (CNS photo/ARC Entertainment)

By Sean Gallagher

“Viva Cristo Rey!”

That rallying cry echoed across the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse during a June 8 gathering held there in support of religious freedom.

Tim O’Donnell, grand knight of the St. John Vianney Council of the Knights of Columbus in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, led the approximately 800 people at the event in shouting those words after speaking about For Greater Glory, a movie that premiered in the U.S. on June 1.

It tells the story of Mexicans who took up arms to defend their religious freedom in the 1920s after the government there started a severe persecution of the Church.

“Viva Cristo Rey” was the rallying cry of the Cristeros, the Catholics who fought back against that persecution.

Teresa Trujillo de Aguayo, 61, participated in the Indianapolis rally with her children and grandchildren.

The daughter of parents who experienced the horrors of that time of persecution 85 years ago, she grew up living with its consequences and hearing stories about it.

While working outside near a cemetery in her Mexican hometown of Tala in the 1950s, her parents would point out trees where they had seen people hanged during the struggle. And her husband’s grandfather was executed by government forces simply for displaying religious images on the outside of his home.

Her parents’ memories led them to instill the Catholic faith strongly in Aguayo and her siblings.

Hearing so many people shout the Cristeros’ rallying cry made her feel proud.

“I was so overwhelmed with happiness,” said Aguayo, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis. “My family was there. My kids, my grandkids, were there. It would have been a great moment to die—listening to that. I would have been happy to have died at that moment.”

The story shared in For Greater Glory may seem a world away for Catholics in central and southern Indiana who have lived their entire lives with religious liberty as a way of life.

But to Aguayo and Catholics in the archdiocese, the story of that struggle for freedom in Mexico, known as the Cristiada, serves as the bedrock of the faith that they strive to live out here and now.

The blood of martyrs

Father Juan Valdes, administrator of St. Mary Parish in Lanesville, is a distant relative of a priest portrayed at the beginning of For Greater Glory, St. Christopher Magallanes, who was martyred in 1927.

For 17 years, St. Christopher Magallanes was the pastor of the parish in Totatiche, Father Valdes’ hometown. He gave first Communion to Father Valdes’ father, and founded the minor seminary in Totatiche that he attended. And Father Valdes was ordained a priest in the parish church where St. Christopher Magallanes ministered for many years.

When Father Valdes thinks of the influence of St. Christopher Magallanes, he recalls the words of Tertullian, the third-century Christian writer, who wrote that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

In Totatiche, that blood was also the seed of vocations, including his own.

“Before the killing of Magallanes, there had been no priests from my hometown,” Father Valdes said. “Since then, there have been a lot of priests from there.

“You were always hearing people speaking about him, his good example, his martyrdom, his hard work in serving the people. That was an inspiration for me.”

Father Valdes wants the stories of St. Christopher Magallanes and other saints from the Cristiada to inspire young immigrants from the region of Mexico where that struggle occurred.

Because some of these youths and young adults have moved to central and southern Indiana, they may not have heard these inspiring stories like Father Valdes did during his childhood.

While he shares those memories with them, he hopes they can visit their homes in Mexico to make those stories come alive.

“Many of them don’t know about it,” Father Valdes said. “They can visit the churches where the saints are [buried]. When they come back, they know about it.”

He said that For Greater Glory can also help young Mexican immigrants who are unfamiliar with their heritage to “reflect on our faith, our traditions and our ancestors.”

Heroes for the faith

Seeing For Greater Glory brought back many memories for Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, whose parents grew up in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where the Cristiada was centered.

“We sat around the dinner table, and my mom told us all the stories of her father, my grandpa, helping priests and sisters hide for their safety,” said Brother Moises, archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic ministry. “I never met my grandfather. But by hearing those stories, I thought of my grandfather as a hero.”

Those stories played a key role in forming the faith of Brother Moises as a boy. Like Father Valdes, he is concerned that young Mexicans who have immigrated here or were born here won’t be able to hear those stories like he did.

He thinks that helping them to learn about their past—something that a film like For Greater Glory can do—would benefit them in many ways.

“One of the things that we’re trying to teach our young generation of Latinos is to embrace their identity,” Brother Moises said. “If we don’t embrace our identity, then we are lost. We’re rootless. This [movie] is a good chance to help them understand their identity, and that there are good things about their history as Latinos, as Mexicans, as people coming from Jalisco.

“You can be proud of that. Embrace your identity. And the repercussion of that is that you can become a better American.”

Sharing a common bond

Brother Moises thinks that For Greater Glory can bring immigrant Catholics and Catholics whose families have lived in the U.S. for generations closer together, especially during this time when religious liberty is in question because of the federal government’s abortifacient, sterilization and contraception mandate.

“I believe that it is important for all of us to find common experiences because they will help us appreciate each other,” Brother Moises said. “By understanding the history of people, we become more compassionate people.”

Aguayo grew up with the consequences of the Cristiada. Until the mid-1990s, Catholics in Mexico still had restrictions on how they could live out their faith in public.

“When I was in school, if we heard that the supervisor from the government was coming for an inspection, we had to run and hide our religious images,” she said. “We would hide our catechisms. Sometimes I had to sit on top of it to hide it.”

After living in Indianapolis for the past 15 years, Aguayo is concerned about the future of religious liberty in the U.S.

“If this tendency with the government keeps on going, we will go back to that period of time [of the Cristiada],” she said. “That’s painful to me.”

Father Valdes knows that pain. When he was ordained a priest in Mexico in 1991, he lost his Mexican citizenship, and his right to vote and be protected by Mexican law.

But after ministering in central and southern Indiana among both immigrant Catholics and those with deep roots here, he knows that both groups can help each other grow in their faith.

“The practice of religion affects others,” Father Valdes said. “When immigrants come here, they enrich the faith of others. And the faith of the people here enriches the faith of immigrants who come here. It is an interchange.”

(For more information about For Greater Glory, including theaters where it is being shown, log on to www.forgreaterglory.com.)

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