Mexican ‘Cristero’ fight relevant to actor’s Cuban heritage

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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)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In the upcoming movie “For Greater Glory,” Catholic actor Andy Garcia plays a Mexican Revolution-era general lured out of retirement a decade later to head the insurgent “Cristero” forces doing battle against their own government’s severe curbing of religious freedoms, which included the murder of priests, the desecration of churches, and laws designed to reduce the visibility of the Catholic Church in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.

It is a battle that the Cuban-born Garcia feels strongly about.

Garcia, 56, was taken by his family out of Cuba when he was 5 years old after Fidel Castro grew more firmly entrenched in power. “I’m a Cuban exile,” Garcia says.

He followed Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Cuba in February.

“It’s good that he went,” Garcia told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview to promote “For Greater Glory.” “I’m glad the Catholic churches have a little more religious freedom now. Because Fidel Castro abolished the church when he took over. So it’s good that the church has more freedom. But what about the synagogues in Cuba? Are they open? Because Castro abolished them, too, at the same time.”

Garcia added, “There is this group in Cuba, the Ladies in White, who go out into the public after Mass and do peaceful, nonviolent protests to seek the release of political prisoners, who are their husbands, their brothers and their cousins. And sometimes they get beat up.

“The group requested an audience with the pope. And they didn’t get it,” he said. “I understand that this can’t always happen. Politics happens. Sometimes politics and religion are in cahoots, sometimes politics and religion are in complete opposition, as they are in this movie.”

Also starring in “For Greater Glory” are Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”) as Garcia’s wife, singer Ruben Blades as Mexican President Plutarco Calles, Nestor Carbonell (“Lost,” “The Dark Knight”) as a sides-switching mayor, and Peter O’Toole as a foreign-born priest whose life is in mortal danger from the new laws.

Some moviegoers may spot some connection between Mexico in the 1920s and the current debate in the United States over religious liberty issues. “There may be some relevance,” Garcia said, “but people can see relevance in other countries, like in my (home) country.”

Garcia’s character, Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, is portrayed as a man without much religious faith, especially compared to that of his wife or their two daughters, whose confirmation has been delayed due to their church being shuttered by the government. However, after he takes on the task of training a peasant Cristero army and leading them into raids against the better-armed Mexican government forces, his faith is reawakened within him.

The actor told CNS, “You don’t have to be a killer to play a killer. You don’t have to be in the Mafia to play Don Corleone. I’m Catholic and I play a guy who’s Catholic. He’s not really very Catholic at the beginning of the movie. He grows more into it as the movie goes on.”

Garcia was in Mexico in mid-April for the Mexican premiere of “For Greater Glory,” which he said broke box-office records there; the film does not premiere in the United States until June 1.

“It’s a very sensitive subject” in Mexico, Garcia said, “and it’s still taboo in many quarters. People don’t know the history and they don’t understand the history.”

Garcia, who had a string of film successes in the 1980s and 1990s, said he can afford to “work when I want to work,” taking on roles in film and television projects that interest him. An intensely private person, Garcia said he seems to stay out of the celebrity magazine spotlight because “I don’t have a publicist.”

— By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service 

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