Monday, January 31, 2011

"Every photo of St Bernadette"

Bernadette came from a very poor family. One that certainly could not afford to waste money on extravagences like photographs.

Nevertheless, against her wishes, Bernadette became quite a celebrity, and her superiors prevailed upon her to submit to photograph sessions. Often, the pictures were used on prayer cards that were sold. Thankfully, we have quite a number of these photographs of her.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bernadette Soubirous - Humility, Innocence, and Grace

Marie Bernarde (Bernadette) Soubirous was a very poor, unsophisticated, peasant girl. She was born January 7, 1844, and baptized the next day.

Bernadette was sensitive, with a pleasant and humble disposition, but, perhaps due to her poverty, she was undersized, and often physically weak due to asthma. Marie (Aravant) Laguës, foster-mother, said, "As a baby, Bernadette was already very loveable, the neighbors loved to see her and to hold her in their arms." Further,
"Bernadette, in spite of the tiredness which was caused by her shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing, always appeared happy and cheerful. She never gave us any trouble, she took what she was given, and appeared happy. We loved her very much as well."
Abbé Pène, Curate of the Parish of Lourdes in 1858, said that "everything about Bernadette radiated naïveté, simplicity, goodness."

In this sweet innocence and goodness, Bernadette was also widely thought to be backward and slow, including in her ability to learn the faith. By age 14, she still had not made her First Holy Communion. Her teacher, Jean Barbet, reported that
"Bernadette has difficulty to retain the Catechism word by word, because she cannot study, she does not know how to read, but she puts a lot of care into the appropriate meaning of the explanations. Besides, she is very attentive, above all very pious and modest."
Marie Laguës likewise stated,
"It was useless to for me to repeat my lessons; I always had to begin again. Sometimes I was overcome by impatience and I would throw my book aside and say to her, 'Go along, you will never be anything but a little fool.'"
Meanwhile, that era saw the rise of various corrosive secular humanist ideologies, including an exaggerated exultation of science against religion. France, in particular, was rampant with anti-clericalism, with substantial hostility being expressed toward the Catholic Church by the intellectual elite.

Young Bernadette, though, knew nothing of these ideologies and controversies. It was in her simple life that, on February 11, 1858, a Lady in White appeared to the 14-year-old Bernadette at Massabielle, a grotto on the bank of the Gave River near Lourdes, France. The Lady was young and no larger than Bernadette's own diminutive stature. Bernadette later recounted:
"I heard a sound like a gust of wind. . . . As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a Lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot."
On this first apparition, the Lady asked the girl to make the sign of the Cross piously and say the rosary with her. Bernadette saw the Lady, whom she called "Aquéro" (meaning "that" or "the one" in her native Pyrenees dialect), take the rosary that was hanging from her arms into her hands. This was repeated in subsequent apparitions. There were 18 appearances in all, lasting from February 11 to July 16, 1858.

During the visions, the Lady requested prayer and penitence, asked for the construction of a new church and a procession, and led Bernadette to a fresh water spring that is believed to have miraculous healing powers. Despite strong doubt and even opposition from political and church officials, including being detained for a time and questioned by the local police, Bernadette's faith in what she had witnessed remained steadfast and humble.

At first, the Lady did not identify herself, despite being asked. Although others were quick to identify her as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bernadette expressly did not make that claim, continuing instead to refer to her as "Aquéro" or "the Lady." However, Bernadette reports that, at the 16th appearance,
"The Lady was standing above the rose-tree, in a position very similar to that shown in the miraculous medal. At my third request her face became very serious and she seemed to bow down in an attitude of humility. Then she joined her hands and raised them to her breast . . . She looked up to heaven . . . then slowly opening her hands and leaning forward towards me, she said to me in a voice vibrating with emotion, 'Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou' (I am the Immaculate Conception)."
Before that time, Bernadette had not heard of the words, much less the doctrine of, "Immaculate Conception," which itself is grounded in simple humility and grace. And even when she heard the words, she did not know what they meant.

Some of these happenings took place in the presence of many people, but no one besides Bernadette claimed to see or hear the Lady, and there was no disorder or emotional extravagance. However, reports of miraculous cures occurring at the grotto spread quickly and the more they spread, the greater the number of people who visited Massabielle. These included pious believers, sick people desperate for cures, curiosity seekers, skeptics and scoffers.

The publicity given these miraculous events and the manifest sincerity and innocence of the girl on the one hand, and the compelling need to protect the faith and the faithful from the scandal of fraudulent claims on the other, made it necessary for the Bishop of Tarbes, Bertrand Severe Laurence, to institute a judicial inquiry as to the authenticity, or lack thereof, of the apparitions. This inquiry required Bernadette to submit to intense questioning on multiple occasions. And, during those sessions, as had happened in the interrogation by the local magistrate during the apparitions, the ecclesiastical questioners would occasionally try to trap Bernadette or trick her into contradicting herself or otherwise show that she was lying or delusional. Each time they did this, however, Bernadette only proved herself to be more credible and sincere.

Four years later, he declared the apparitions to be supernatural and worthy of belief, and public veneration of the Immaculate Conception in the grotto was allowed. Bishop Laurence said of Bernadette,
"The testimony of the young girl is in every way as satisfactory as possible. To begin with, her sincerity cannot be doubted. Who that has questioned her can fail to admire the simplicity, the candour, the modesty of this child? Whilst everyone is talking about the wonders which have been revealed to her, she alone keeps silence. She only speaks when she is questioned and then she recounts everything without affectation and with a touching simplicity, and she replies to the numerous questions addressed to her without hesitation, giving answers clear and precise, very much to the point and bearing the stamp of intense conviction. She has been tested most severely but no menaces have ever shaken her; she has responded to the most generous offers by a noble disinterestedness. She never contradicts herself; in all the different examinations which she has undergone, her story never varies; she never adds to it or takes away from it. Bernadettes sincerity cannot then be disputed. we may add that it never has been disputed; even her opponents, when she has had opponents, have paid her that homage."
Soon the requested chapel was erected, and since that time numberless pilgrims come every year to Lourdes to fulfill promises or to beg graces.

For some years after, in addition to her poor health, Bernadette suffered greatly from the suspicious disbelief of some and the tactless enthusiasm, insensitive attentions, and outright harassment by others. Sometimes people would ask her to bless or touch some religious object of theirs, such as a rosary, and when she declined to do so, they would try to trick her into touching the object by feigning to accidentally dropping it on the ground, hoping that she would then pick it up for them. Bernadette bore these trials of her unwanted celebrity with impressive patience and dignity, although there were times when it frustrated her. She was especially uncomfortable with those who treated her as holy,
"They think I'm a saint . . . When I'm dead, they'll come and touch holy pictures and rosaries to me, and all the while I'll be getting broiled on a grill in purgatory. At least promise me you'll pray a lot for the repose of my soul."
Bernadette never sought publicity or name and fame, and she did not enjoy it when these things came, but despite the occasional giving into annoyance, overall, she bore those burdens with great grace. In her private notes, she wrote,
"I must die to myself continually and accept trials without complaining. I work, I suffer and I love with no other witness than his heart. Anyone who is not prepared to suffer all for the Beloved and to do his will in all things is not worthy of the sweet name of Friend, for here below, Love without suffering does not exist. . . .
"I shall spend every moment loving. One who loves does not notice her trials; or perhaps more accurately, she is able to love them."
Besides, the Lady had told Bernadette on the third apparition,"I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next."

In 1866, she was admitted to the convent of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, France. Here, Sister Marie-Bernarde was more sheltered from trying publicity, but not from the “stuffiness” of the convent superiors nor from the tightening grip of asthma.

“I am getting on with my job,” she would say. “What is that?” someone asked. “Being ill,” was the reply. Thus she lived out her self-effacing life, dying at the age of 35.

The events of 1858 resulted in Lourdes becoming one of the greatest pilgrim shrines in the history of Christendom. But St. Bernadette took no part in these developments; nor was it for her visions that she was canonized, but for the humble simplicity and religious trusting that characterized her whole life.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Lourdes" by Jessica Hausner

Preparing for the February 10 presentation of Jean Delannoy's beautiful film Bernadette (1988), I came across a trailer for Lourdes (2009), directed by Jessica Hausner. The tag line says, "In order to escape her isolation, wheelchair-bound Christine makes a life changing journey to Lourdes, the iconic site of pilgrimage in the Pyrenees Mountains."

It looks quite interesting. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble finding it on regular DVD.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A World Without Babies . . .

. . . is a world without hope.

What would it be like if there were no more babies? What if every woman in the world were infertile and could no longer get pregnant? What if it had been over 18 years since the last baby was born?

That is not too fantastic or preposterous a question to ask in this post-Roe, anti-child age of abortion, which has claimed the lives of 50 million innocents in the last 38 years in the United States alone. What if the abortion mentality and contraceptive mentality were realized to the fullest degree? What if there were no more babies?

(spoiler warning)

Theo (played by Clive Owen): I can't really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can't remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what's left to hope for?

Miriam (Pam Ferris*): As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices.

The truth is -- it is a baby who is the savior of the world.


* I saw Children of Men a few years ago and never realized that this is the same woman who played the ghastly Miss Trunchbull in Matilda. I recognized Clare-Hope Ashitey immediately though when she was in Beyond the Gates.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Venerable Servant of God John Paul II to be Beatified

With news of the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul the Great, if you have a chance, this would be a good time to watch the film Pope John Paul II, starring Cary Elwes and Jon Voight. It is very well done.

Also, here is the Litany of Saints from the funeral of our beloved Papa --

Venerable Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Power to do the Impossible

The film Beyond the Gates is about one of the great atrocities and horrors of the 20th century, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, during which an estimated 800,000 people were butchered to death (see further descriptions in the movie reviews posted below). The film is very disturbing, with its graphic depictions of violence, but in the end, it is just a film, and it pales in comparison to the evil of the real thing. If it is difficult for the viewer of the movie to watch it, how much worse was it to live through it -- or die in it.

Some hardships are simply so great, some calamities and evils cause so much suffering and anguish, that it is impossible for us to carry on, it is impossible for us to persevere through them. And some crimes are simply too awful, some hurts are simply too large, some injuries are just too great (or sometimes we allow ourselves to get so self-centered that even little injuries seem great) that it is impossible for us to move beyond it once it is over, it is impossible for us to do that which Jesus asks of us, to forgive the wrong-doers. How could one forgive such evil?

Or, perhaps, what we should say is that is it impossible for us to endure on our own, it is impossible for us to forgive by ourselves. But with God, all things are possible, and by His grace, we can do that which is “impossible” too.

The theme of Cinema Catechism for Winter/Spring 2011 is the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity). The Greek word “Theo” means “God,” so these virtues relate directly to God. (CCC 1812-1829, 2087-94) They are intended to lead us to Him, and we should always strive to live these virtues.

But in leading a virtuous life, God does not leave us to struggle to do this on our own; being related to God, the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love open us up to grace. At the same time, in conferring such grace, God does not simply wipe out our humanity; He does not treat us as puppets or impose Himself upon us against our will. Rather, grace builds on our nature and works within it to heal, perfect, elevate, and transform that nature. Thus, it is necessary that we do what we can, as much as we can, ourselves, but then we must ask God for help to do the rest.

The theological virtues involve especially sanctifying grace, which adapts our faculties for participation in the divine nature, that is, it helps us to be more like Christ. They are the foundation and energizing force of the Christian’s moral activity, and they give life to the human virtues, including prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being.

Fortified by grace, the power of God Himself, the virtues of faith, hope, and love provide the disposition to not only do that which is good and avoid evil, but they allow us to do things that otherwise would be unthinkable. With grace-infused faith, hope, and love, the weak and terrified Apostles, who had gone into hiding after the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, were empowered to go out and bravely and loudly proclaim the Gospel; the persecuted, such as Saints Lawrence and Polycarp and Perpetua and Felicity and Isaac Jogues, were able to gladly endure the suffering of martyrdom, sometimes in gruesome ways.

The theological virtues, which combine the will and effort of the person with the power of the Holy Spirit, allows us to what we otherwise could not humanly do, including that which is perhaps the most impossible thing to do at times — endure with fortitude in the face of horrific evil, love our enemy, and forgive the unforgiveable, forgive the debt that can never be paid.

An excellent example of this is described in the book Left to Tell, by Immaculée Ilibagiza, who survived the Rwandan genocide while the rest of her family was hacked to death, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Eventually, the man who had led the group that killed members of her family was caught, and the jailer who held him allowed Immaculée to confront him (and take her revenge).

She writes in her book that, as the murderer knelt before her, she
"wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man."
And when the jailer shouted at the killer and hauled him to his feet, Immaculée touched his hands lightly and quietly said, "I forgive you."

The jailer was stunned and furious. After the killer was dragged out, he said,
"What was that all about, Immaculée? That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question . . . to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him?"
She says that she "answered him with the truth: 'Forgiveness is all I have to offer.'"

But the forgiveness she gave did not come entirely from Immaculée. As she says in the Introduction, her book "is the story of how I discovered God during one of history's bloodiest holocausts." And this discovery, this lesson, forever changed her.
"It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me -- and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family."
Forgiveness is sometimes easy for us, but sometimes it is impossible for us. Some crimes are simply too great. But God gives us the power to do the impossible. With faith, hope, and love, the graces of the Holy Spirit allow us to endure and withstand hardship and carry those crosses which are far too heavy for humans to carry.

These graces allow us to do the impossible of accepting suffering, the power to do the impossible of forgiving the "unforgiveable," of loving our enemy, of reconciling with those who have done great evil to us. In this way, by the transformative power of the Cross, we are redeemed from such pain and suffering and hardship, not merely in some far off life in the next world, but here and now. We are able to move on, we are able to heal. We are saved.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Evil and Suffering in Beyond the Gates

When evil triumphs
Movie Review
by Abigail Coleman
Shooting Dogs (entitled Beyond the Gates in the United States), set in Kigali, depicts vivid and historically accurate images of the traumatic events that took place all over Rwanda in 1994. Although the characters are fictional, the experiences of BBC news reporter David Belton were used to enrich the film’s relaying of the real events. We learn of the suffering and pain inflicted upon the Tutsis by the Hutu extremists, and of the delayed response by the UN, which led to over 800,000 deaths in 100 days of oppression. The film is based around the Ecole Technique Officiale where Father Christopher (John Hurt), an English Catholic Priest, and gap year teacher Joe (Hugh Dancy) attempt to shelter Tutsis with the ‘help’ of the Belgian UN troops.

Survivors of the atrocities were involved in the production of the film, with some being co-producers in order to ensure good accuracy. The title of the film alludes to the frustration which Christopher and Joe face as they witness the UN troops’ lack of involvement in the events. The UN soldiers have a mandate not to shoot the rebels, and so do nothing to prevent the Tutsi from suffering. However, they do decide to shoot the dogs that are eating the dead bodies beyond the gates of the school because ‘they are becoming a health problem.’ It is this tension between the inactivity of the UN soldiers and Christopher and Joe’s desperate need to help the Tutsis which highlights the struggles of the war. . . .

The film follows the events of the genocide, starting with the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane by Tutsis, which triggered the mass killings by the Hutu rebels. . . .

The United Nations initially viewed these events in relation to cultural identities, and took a culturally relativist stance. It saw Rwanda’s crisis as a cultural problem, and not something the West should have to deal with since it was part of a different culture. It also failed to see the need to aid Rwanda in a crisis which it did not recognise as being genocide. Shooting Dogs highlights the frustration that this caused many Westerners and Tutsis. . . . Through this tension, the film raises questions of how people can commit such evil acts, how humanity deals with such suffering, why innocent people suffer, and why God allows suffering at all.

The relationship between Christopher and Joe shows the contrasting responses people have when faced with suffering. Father Christopher, whose worldview is based around his Christian belief, constantly refers to his faith in God to try to explain how they should deal with the crisis. Joe, however, refers to his inner sense of justice and knowledge of morality, believing that practical help for the Tutsis is what is needed. A prime example of their differences is when Christopher prepares for mass shortly after the Tutsis start to shelter in the Ecole. Joe questions if this is the best thing to do in time of crisis stating, ‘I think maybe they’d prefer some food. Water. A spot of reassurance.’ Christopher replies, ‘Well, come to Mass. Get all three on the same ticket.’ Here we see how Christopher’s faith motivates his actions to help the Tutsi, and suggests that what Joe thinks the Tutsis need can be provided by God. . . .

Joe especially struggles with [the question of why there is suffering if God loves us]. As he witnesses more and more atrocities whilst attempting to save those he cares for, he comes to realise that he will not be able to save them himself. He therefore starts to question Christopher as to where God is in the crisis. . . . [Christopher responds], ‘You asked me, Joe, where is God in everything that is happening here, in all this suffering? I know exactly where he is. He’s right here. With these people. Suffering. His love is here. More intense and profound than I have ever felt.’ Once again, here we see the Christian understanding that God is not the cause of the evil and suffering; rather that it is the work of humanity’s sinful nature. But because God loves those he created, he is with them in their time of trouble, as someone they can turn to for peace. God is present in his followers, such as Father Christopher, as they provide comfort to people in their time of struggle. As Christopher conducts his final Mass before the UN soldiers leave the school, the Rwandans are aware of God’s love for them and they feel a sense of peace.

As today’s situation in Darfur, Sudan, continues, mirroring in some ways what took place in Rwanda, we can question why lessons were not learnt from this previous genocide. We can once again ask why the UN is not providing more aid to the people of Darfur, preventing more deaths. And we can again question why more people are being allowed to suffer unnecessarily. The creators of Shooting Dogs obviously felt that the Christian worldview, which is so prominent within the film, is a valuable one to consider in such times of crisis. In recreating the events on screen, and paralleling them with the questions many of us find ourselves asking God in times of crisis, we can be challenged to seek God for ourselves.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Beyond the Gates Movie Reviews

Variety Movie Review
by Scott Foundas
Eleven years [after it happened], the Rwandan genocide continues to intrigue filmmakers, even if the full horror of the bloody events seems too demanding for many of them to confront. Although in many respects a more stylish, authentic, tougher-minded film than "Hotel Rwanda," director Michael Caton-Jones' respectable and well-intentioned "Shooting Dogs" (Beyond the Gates in the U.S.) still falls into the trap of filtering an inherently African story through the eyes of a noble white protagonist -- in this case, two of them. . . .

Like the Hotel des Mille Collines that provided the inspiration for "Hotel Rwanda," the Ecole Technique Officielle was a real place -- a secondary school located in the capital city of Kigali that similarly came to serve as a makeshift shelter for Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the height of the killings. The school, which also served as base camp for a company of Belgian UN peacekeepers, came to harbor some 2,500 refugees until, some five days after the start of the genocide, the UN pulled its troops out of the school, consigning those left behind to the knowledge they would soon be killed.

Slightly fictionalized screenplay by David Wolstencroft unfolds through the eyes of Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), a young British schoolteacher spending a year at the Ecole. There, he is taken under the wing of the avuncular Father Christopher (John Hurt), whose weary face fails to conceal the ethnic violence he has witnessed during his long African sojourn.

Pic's early sections do an accomplished job of mapping out the simmering tensions between Rwanda's Hutu and Tutsi factions: The bright Tutsi pupil, Marie (Claire-Hope Ashitey), to whom Joe has taken a particular liking, is teased and pelted by Hutu classmates, while the school's Hutu custodian (David Gyasi) is shown to be one of the many Rwandans whose sensibilities have been corrupted by the incessant hate propaganda of the infamous RTLM radio station. Location shooting in Kigali is also a major plus.

In many respects, the character of Joe seems a surrogate for "Shooting Dogs" producer and co-story writer David Belton, who was himself a BBC news cameraman on location in Rwanda in 1994 and who, in the pic's press notes, expresses a feeling of guilt over the speed with which he -- like nearly all other Americans and Europeans -- evacuated the country as soon as the going got tough. . . .

"Shooting Dogs" is unquestionably at its most compelling in its depiction of Father Christopher's steadfast reliance on spirituality, even when confronted with such a startling display of inhumanity. Even as the violence reaches its zenith, he continues to perform Mass and seems more concerned with making sure each child receives Communion than in formulating a possible exit strategy. . . .

With a drawn, harrowed face like a relief map of suffering, Hurt proves one of the pic's chief assets, as does newcomer Ashitey, though Dancy's performance rarely advances beyond one-note outrage. Despite its many shortcomings, pic benefits immeasurably from the fluidity of Caton-Jones' direction and the depth, texture and immediacy of d.p. Ivan Strasburg's lensing.

National Catholic Register Movie Review
by Steven D. Greydanus
Beyond the Gates focuses on a Catholic priest named Father Christopher (John Hurt) and an idealistic young teacher Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy) who offer sanctuary to Tutsi refugees at a Christian school near Kigali.

Fr. Christopher and Joe, along with BBC reporter Rachel (Nicola Walker), are fictional composites, but the school is real, along with the substance of the events portrayed in the film. In fact, the film was shot on location at the actual school, the École Technique Officielle, with the active involvement of survivors of the genocide among the cast and crew.

Beyond the Gates played abroad in many markets last year under the title Shooting Dogs, a bitterly ironic reference to the wild dogs shot in the street by Belgian U.N. forces near the school, where the U.N. has set up a base of operations.

The dogs are attracted by Tutsi corpses lying at the feet of the Hutu mob surrounding the school, and the U.N. forces decide that the animals constitute a “health risk.” Fr. Christopher is beside himself over the mendacity of the U.N. forces, which won’t do anything about the murderous mob itself unless directly attacked. “I suppose,” the priest says in a voice dripping caustic fury, “that the dogs were firing on your men.” . . .

Although Michael Caton-Jones’s film focuses on its European protagonists, some of its most haunting moments involve the African characters, particularly a young student named Marie (Claire-Hope Ashitey, Children of Men) and a doomed Tutsi father whose chillingly fatalistic acceptance recalls the title of the book that inspired Hotel Rwanda: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families. . . .

Essentially, Fr. Christopher is the voice of Western conscience, and Joe is the embodiment of Western guilt. . . .

Refreshingly, Fr. Christopher is equally concerned with the spiritual and temporal well-being of his flock. He insists on the importance of celebrating Mass, and baptizes a newborn baby, but furiously upbraids the Belgian U.N. commanding officer (Dominique Horwitz) for his refusal to take action. . . .

Perhaps his best lines come toward the end, as he offers a familiar but worthwhile answer to the perennial question “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” . . .

Beyond the Gates is most worth seeing for its uncompromising portrait of an episode more representative of the Rwandan genocide than the events depicted in Hotel Rwanda.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Coming Soon: Beyond the Gates

Beyond the Gates (originally titled Shooting Dogs)
Based on true events and filmed in Rwanda at the Ecole Technique Officielle and other actual locations.

Movie Review
Catholic News Service
"Beyond the Gates" (IFC) towers above most current films, with even the more worthy ones seeming like fluff in comparison. It's a gripping film about one of recent history's most regrettable episodes: the international community's failure to come to the aid of the thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives during the Rwandan genocide.

This dramatization focuses specifically on the 1994 siege of a secondary school there. Father Christopher (John Hurt), a dedicated Catholic priest who runs the Ecole Technique Officielle and Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), an idealistic young British teacher who hopes to "make a difference" -- both fictional characters -- view with growing alarm the escalating violence just outside their gates by the Hutu majority against their Tutsi brethren whom they regard as mere "cockroaches."

Father Christopher is inspired by an actual Bosnian priest named Father Vjeko Curic who sheltered Tutsis during the genocide.

The school grounds -- guarded by Belgian security forces on the behest of the United Nations (but only to maintain the peace, not enforce it) -- become a sanctuary against the violence just outside its gates. Among the students is a sensitive young Tutsi girl, Marie (Clare-Hope Ashitey), to whom the priest and Joe form a paternal attachment.

When the violence reaches a critical stage, Father Christopher finds hundreds more Tutsis begging for shelter. The U.N. security forces are inclined to refuse entry, but Father Christopher insists they be let in.

Some 2,500 Tutsi citizens ultimately found refuge there, but it would only be temporary.

Even with machete-wielding Hutus hovering with deadly intent, the U.N. -- which refused to label the Rwandan atrocities "genocide" as it would oblige them to intervene (a stance echoed by the United States and the United Kingdom) -- would recall its troops, leading to a hasty evacuation, but shamefully, of only the white people. The decisions made by Father Christopher and young Joe at this point are pivotal to the film's theme of personal choice.

The Catholic element here is strong. Father Christopher believes in saying Mass no matter what the outside danger, and throughout, is shown carefully explaining the significance of Catholic doctrine and rituals. Despite a short-lived despair, stemming from his helplessness at the violence he's powerless to alleviate, his character is one of the most positive cinematic depictions of a priest in recent memory.

Hurt -- in real life, a clergyman's son and monk's brother -- gives a wonderfully committed and believable performance, and Dancy -- currently winning raves on Broadway for his terrific performance in the classic World War I drama "Journey's End" -- convincingly conveys the growing horror and disillusionment of his character.

Director Michael Caton-Jones has shot the film (from a compelling script by David Wolstencroft) at the actual locations of the horrific events with survivors among the cast and crew, some of whom are poignantly showcased in the closing credit sequence.

This important film -- with its cautionary reminder of worldwide indifference that must not be allowed to happen again -- is acceptable for mature teens, despite the primarily adult classification.

The film contains much disturbing if discreetly handled violence, description of atrocities, images of dead and wounded, some rough language and mild profanity uttered under duress, and a childbirth scene. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cinema Catechism in 2011

Happy New Year!

Cinema Catechism is pleased to announce its Winter/Spring schedule, focusing on the theme of the Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love --

(the second Thursday of each month)

January 13, 2011
Beyond the Gates – in the midst of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, a priest provides faith, hope, and love. Starring John Hurt (A Man for All Seasons, I Claudius, The Elephant Man, 1984, Alien).

February 10, 2011
Bernadette – a beautiful Lady in White appears to the lowly Bernadette Soubirous at the grotto of Massabielle. Shown at Lourdes. Starring Sidney Penny.

March 10, 2011
Joseph of Nazareth: The Man Closest to Christ – the first feature film on the just and righteous St. Joseph, defender and protector of Jesus, Mary, and the Church.

April 14, 2011
Edith Stein: The Seventh Chamber – the powerful story of Carmelite St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the philosopher who converted to Catholicism and was martyred in the death camp at Auschwitz. Starring Maia Morgenstern (who played Mary in The Passion of the Christ).

May 12, 2011
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien – Fr. Damien brings hope to those who had lost hope at the hell that was the leper colony at Kalaupapa. Starring David Wenham (Lord of the Rings), Peter O’Toole, and Derek Jacobi.

June 9, 2011
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days – the gripping true story of the fearless anti-Nazi heroine of The White Rose group, which had urged Germans to oppose and resist the Hitler regime.