What price would you pay for freedom? In “For Greater Glory” (releasing June 1) which tells the story of the real-life martyrs and heroes of the 1920s Cristero War, which arose in response to government oppression of Catholicism in Mexico, each of the characters must answer this question. This April, actors from the film, along with director Dean Wright, met with media outlets including Catholic Digest to discuss the film and, in many cases, their personal Catholic faith. The questions are from Catholic Digest and other media outlets. Please note that the content contains some spoilers.
After a successful career as a singer and as an actor in Mexican telenovelas and Hollywood films, Verástegui had a change of heart about his lifestyle and career choices that led him to co-found Metanoia Films and play the male lead in the pro-life movie “Bella.”
“For Greater Glory” deals with religious freedom. Was that something that drew you to this project?
Yes, for sure. I got very passionate when I [learned about] this dark period of Mexico when more than 200,000 people died in very horrible ways. I’m from Mexico; we’re very used to celebrating the beauty of our country. But at the same time, I learned that the reason why public schools were not taught all these historical facts was because it was an embarrassment for the government, and it was like this wound; it was almost like, “Let’s bury this; nothing happened, and let’s move forward.” And I thought, It should be the opposite. Let’s bring the wound out, let’s heal it, let’s go back in history, let’s learn from the mistakes that we commit so we don’t do it again in the present. And at the same time, let’s show some of the heroes of Mexico who were not afraid to stand for something bigger than themselves, to the point that they gave their life and became martyrs for what they believe, and especially for what they were fighting for at the time, which was religious freedom.
I think it’s a beautiful, positive message where we have to take responsibilities and stand for something that we believe, especially when the government wants to take away religious freedom from the people in many countries. Let’s learn from the past — that’s what history’s for.
Do you have any stories about the making of this film you’d want to share?
I could write a book about these experiences; there are so many. As an actor, to do the scene where he gets killed (was a powerful experience), only because it’s impossible not to ask myself, Are you willing to die for your faith? Am I willing to die for something bigger than myself? To be tortured, to become a martyr? And of course, humanly, I would say “No.” But then, you know that they received a supernatural strength and graces that helped them in a way that is not logical.
When you see this character — Blessed Anácleto González Flores — for him to find, through his wisdom and his intelligence, ways of fighting back with peaceful means, that’s amazing, at least for me, because I have to find those peaceful means every day in my daily life, when I’m facing problems with friends or family members or my career. That’s why I always like as an actor to be involved with projects where the characters are big heroes, so I can learn from them, so by the time I finish the film, I feel I’ve become a better person. I put into practice the virtues I’ve learned from them, so they become like my older brothers. And I hope audiences will leave with that treasure for themselves as well.
You’ve said that prayer is an important part of your life. What role did prayer play for you in your preparation for the role and in your playing of the role?
Prayer for me is like the oxygen of the soul. It helps me to see things with clarity, especially when I’m under a lot of pressure and I have a lot of projects and things going on and problems. If I don’t have those moments of silence in prayer, I just go crazy. It gives me the strength I need just to keep walking, and so when I’m facing temptation, I can be victorious; otherwise, if I don’t have the strength, I will completely fail. And so prayer for me is one of the most important things in my life. It’s the center of my life; it carries me. In anything that I do, I always want to start with a prayer so I can at least try to do my best and ask God to help me to become a better person, a better son, a better brother, a better friend, a better business partner, a better everything, and become the person He wants me to be.
Verástegui on playing a hero:
Anácleto González Flores, one of the Mexican heroes, is a true inspirational role model for me and called the Mexican Gandhi because he was a peacemaker. When he found out that the government wanted to take away the religious freedom, he, in a very wise way, started defending [religious freedom] but with peaceful means; he was against fighting back with violence. He was a man who was not just talking but actually gave his life, and the last words that came out of his mouth in real life were “Viva Cristo Rey.” In the movie you just hear his words of love and forgiveness, which actually were there too in real life. He forgave the people who killed him.
For me, it’s a challenge, you know? I think I received more from him than what I gave to him in the movie. He has changed so many people, including my own life, and I hope when people see this film, [they] will learn from all these Mexican martyrs.
His hopes for audiences seeing the film:
My hope is when people see For Greater Glory that they will leave, of course, entertained, but more important, with a spark in their heart and not afraid to be heroes. I hope that they will leave wanting to be a better person, I hope that they will leave wanting to love more and judge less, I hope they will leave inspired to do the right thing, and especially [that they will leave understanding that] there is nothing more beautiful than to fight for something bigger than yourself, and to be willing to die to yourself to serve that cause, religious freedom, and to learn from the mistakes of the past. CD
To read Catholic Digest’s latest in-depth interview with Verástegui, and more coverage of the film, see the June/July issue of Catholic Digest. For more material from Catholic Digest’s interview not featured in the print issue, click here.
To read Catholic Digest’s 2008 interview with Verástegui, click here.
To learn more about the film, visit ForGreaterGlory.com.
To read more interviews from this film click here.