When the Mexican government of Plutarco Elías Calles began persecuting the Catholic Church in the 1920s, priests were not immune. In fact, they became targets of the regime.
One of the hundreds of priests killed during that time for simply carrying out his priestly ministry was Father José María Robles Hurtado. His martyrdom in 1927 at the hands of Mexican troops is depicted in the film For Greater Glory, which premiered in the United States in 2012.
The film sets the story of his martyrdom in the broader context of the persecution of the Church in Mexico at that time.
During that same period, the Knights of Columbus in Mexico was instrumental in founding the League of the Defense of Religious Liberty, which organized economic boycotts and petition drives in response to the persecution. When a civil war broke out between the government and Catholics, the Knights of Columbus worked to bring about peace. Standing in solidarity with the persecuted Catholics in Mexico, the Knights raised funds for humanitarian relief of those displaced and for the education of the American public about the horrific acts of the persecution. A delegation of Knights even met with President Calvin Coolidge in 1926 to discuss ways in which the U.S. government could influence the Mexican government to end the persecution.
The K of C did this in the face of attempts by the Calles regime in Mexico to eliminate the organization and despite strong support for Calles in the United States from powerful groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
In the end, the pressure brought by the Knights of Columbus and others to end the conflict, and restore peace had an effect, and in 1929 the U.S. government helped broker an agreement between the Mexican government and the Catholic Church, which ended the worst of the persecution.
“For many years, this period of history has been all but forgotten on both sides of the border,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson. “With the release of For Greater Glory, the story of the struggle for religious freedom in Mexico will begin to be told. With religious freedom now an important issue of discussion here in the United States, every American who values faith and freedom should see this film. As we watch it, we should rejoice that we live in a country where we settle debates over religious liberty with ballots, not bullets, and in courtrooms rather than on battlefields. Seeing how Catholic Mexico remains today, this film also serves as a timely reminder that — from the earliest days of the Church’s history to the present era — persecution does not stifle the faith, but emboldens it.”
The relics of Father. José María Robles — and those of five other Knights of Columbus priest martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000 — are currently housed in the Sanctuary of the Martyrs of Christ the King in Guadalajara.
A fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary with historical background, titled For Greater Glory – The True Story of the Cristeros, is available on KofC.org. Click here to watch.
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