Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Friday, June 28, 2013

DVD review: Ponyo is safe for families

We subscribe to Netflix, and I'm always on the lookout for kid-friendly films, particularly ones that are rated "G". This is how I came to be aware of Ponyo. Its thumbnail repeatedly popped up in my perusal of kids' movies. However, it's Japanese anime, and I find that such movies/cartoons are usually cheesy and badly acted, at least in the way they are translated into English.

I am happy to say Ponyo is the great exception to what I have found to be the rule. Its cinematography is beyond gorgeous (eat your heart out, James "Avatar" Cameron), and it has a cute, family-safe story about the love between a little 5-year-old boy and his little friend, who happens to be a girl.

Actually, she happens to be a girl fish. But she wants badly to be a human. She is a goldfish, to be precise, whom the boy, Sosuke, finds in the shallows by the sea ("Ponyo" means "by the sea" in Japanese) and wants to keep as a pet.

Here's where the next plot point comes in, and it is what may give some parents pause before they rent this for their family. The father is a formerly human, now sea dwelling sorcerer. He's very concerned about the earth and the elements being "out of balance." Ponyo's mother, we learn, is a sort of female Neptune. It's never said like that, but it's sort of the impression with which one is left. If there is a Mother Earth, Ponyo's mom is Mother Ocean. So there is magic and recourse to magic. If parents have let their kids watch movies where magic happens, then, trust me, this factor won't pose a problem for said offspring. However, if parents have taught their children that depictions of magic are always and everywhere evil and thus anti-Christian (unless they're embued with a Christian ethos a la the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis), then this movie isn't for such a household.

For myself, I didn't find it problematic. I got caught up in the cute story and intoxicated by the beautiful animation. This is anime that is true art, and art that is accessible to the common man, at that. My kids liked the film, too, even though my older sons behaved throughout as though they were the robots in an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," for which I finally had to banish them from the room. I love that show, mind you, but when I want to watch an episode, I'll go to YouTube or something. I don't need it happening while I'm watching a film I want to see.

In any event, this features a star-studded cast: Matt Damon as Sosuke's father, Tina Fey as his mother, Liam Neeson as Ponyo's father, Cloris Leachman and Betty White as seniors at a retirement home where Sosuke's mom works, Cate Blanchett as Ponyo's mom, Lily Tomlin as the annoying senior home resident Toki, and SNL alum Laraine Newman in a very small part ("additional voices").

Finally, there is an enviro message, but it's very subtle, blink-and-you'll-miss it. Most children will utterly miss it, I believe, although that presumes I can get into their little skulls, which I can't.

The film's overall message is, "Love someone for who they are, not what they look like" or, if you prefer, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Not a bad message.

On a scale of 1-5 stars, I give this a 4.

Movie Review: World War Z

The other day my oldest son and I took in the matinee of World War Z, the apocalyptic zombie thriller starring Brad Pitt. It was a 2:00 pm showing, and the place was about 75-80 percent full. And while all of us paid matinee prices, we would still have received our money's worth had we paid full price.

The story involves a mutant virus or bacteria that kills those infected and then turns them into zombies, who voraciously attack live humans, who in turn get infected and become zombies.

I don't want to spoil any of the plot points nor do I want to reveal too much because it would make the impact of the film less palpable. What I can safely say is that if you don't like films that are a) ceaselessly suspenseful and b) relentless in their action, don't go see this film. Usually, zombie films have a healthy dose of humor, some off the cuff one liner to lighten the tension. Not this one. From roughly 10 minutes into the film until the roll of the credits, it is non-stop action and suspense. I had to force myself at various intervals to let out air and take a deep breath because it was all so suspenseful, I sometimes forgot to breath. Even when I knew what would happen next ("Here comes a zombie ..."), the filmmaker(s) still orchestrated everything to make it take the viewer's breath away. Indeed, had I taken my own advice (see above a and b), I wouldn't have seen this movie. I'm glad I did, however.

The story line is mostly solid. The only holes/things I didn't fully understand were 1) how Brad Pitt was so blithe to the occurrence of a certain factor that would attract the zombies (maybe the fact that normality was no longer normal hadn't fully sunk in?) and 2) how military personnel didn't see an enormous pile of bloodthirsty zombies amassing when they were in a perfect position to do so, looking to shoot anything at all dangerous.

The acting is solid. I especially appreciated how Pitt didn't not play this role as if he was always and everywhere the brave hero, fearful of no man or man-beast. He shows his character is scared, that certain periods of action have left him breathless and terrified.

If you're looking for a star-studded cast, Pitt, David Morse, and Pierfrancesco Favino, a British actor playing a World Health Organization scientist were the only remotely familiar faces. Actually, I didn't notice until I went looking for Favino's name, but Matthew Fox of "Lost" fame is in the film, listed as "Parajumper." I didn't even notice him, and I watched "Lost" every week unless I absolutely couldn't help it. A case of "How fleeting is fame?" In any event, everyone else is anonymous. Maybe that's on purpose.

One final note: One reviewer claims the movie "culminates" in Pitt walking down a hallway. This could be said in terms of the action, maybe, but it's not the end of the film. And given the ensuing voice-over narration, the ominous tone never fades.

On a scale of 1-5 stars, I give this 4, with points off for no humor to relieve the tension and the aforementioned head scratchers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Happy Feast of St. Gregory Barbarigo of Padua

            “St. Gregory (see below for picture) was born at Venice on September 16, 1625. Desiring to give him experience of diplomatic negotiations, his father obtained for him a post with a Venetian legation (what we would call special envoys or special ambassadors) that went to Münster, Germany, to draw up the Treaty of Westphalia (see here: There Providence awaited him in the person of the papal legate Fabio Cardinal Chigi, who became his friend and gave him spiritual advice.
            “On his return to Venice, haunted by the thought of giving himself to God, he once more applied to his spiritual director, who helped him discern his vocation really was to the priesthood and not to married life. Shortly after his ordination, in 1657, Pope Alexander VII (1655-57) consecrated him bishop of Bergamo. Three years later, he created him cardinal and in 1664 transferred him to the see of Padua.
            “At Padua, as at Bergamo, the holy bishop showed himself as a very model of pastors, imbued with watchful zeal and boldness of initiative. He took special care in carrying out the reforms ordered by the Council of Trent (1545-63), of the seminaries, watching over the studies and conduct of the future priests, etc.
“In many ways he was a man before his times. For instance, he made use of lay catechists, and his ecumenical concern was shown by the foundation of a chair in eastern languages and in setting up a printing press with all the necessary characters for producing work in these languages.
“After a life filled with apostolic labours, of untiring generosity, deep humility, and great piety, he died at Padua on June 18, 1697. He was beatified in 1761. Bl. John XXIII canonized him on May 26, 1960.” 

~ St. Andrew Daily Missal (Bruges: Biblica, 1962)

Picture Copyright 2013, by the owner of this blog, all rights reserved

Friday, June 7, 2013

Saints News for May

Vatican names new blesseds and venerables 

On May 3, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints released a list of those approved for beatification, as well as those designated as “venerable” by Pope Francis.
The Holy Father approved miracles attributed to Ven. Queen Maria Cristina of Savoy and Ven. Maria Bolognesi, an Italian laywoman who died in 1980.
He also declared as venerable Fr. Joaquim Rosello Ferra, founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and Mother Maria Teresa of St. Joseph, foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Child Jesus.
Queen Maria Cristina “was described as beautiful but also timid and shy: modest and reserved, she was never comfortable at the royal court. Her relationship to Ferdinand was not happy, and he had little patience for her nervous modesty.”
She tried to refine the customs and repression experienced by faithful Catholics because of her husband’s policies, but she was only moderately successful. Because she recognized that her efforts would be better spent elsewhere, she devoted herself to good works for the poor and the sick.
One day, when the queen was sitting at the piano, Ferdinand pulled back her chair laughing as she fell. She calmly replied, “I thought married the King of Naples, not a rascal.”
She died in 1836, five days after giving birth to their only child, a son named Francis.
Interestingly, even though he never learned to love his beautiful, talented, gracious, and holy wife, it was her husband Ferdinand II who petitioned for the opening of her beatification cause. She was declared venerable in 1859.
As for Maria Bolognesi, she was a laywoman who had a life of endless suffering.
Starting in 1940, she became subject to battles with demonic possession so that she couldn’t even enter her parish church and she would flee at the sight of a priest. This took place for two years, when in 1942, everything reversed. At that point, she began having mystical visions of Our Lord who gave her three rings, each with five inlaid rubies, meant to signify His stigmata.
She wrote down her mystical experiences, and these came to 2,000 handwritten pages. And while she was free from demonic harassment, from 1942 until her death in 1980, this very pretty woman suffered from one debilitating disease after another. She overcame this, however, living this suffering in secret and in the meantime teaching catechism to the young and taking care of the sick.
Her postulator has written, “Mary remained poor among the poor, a sign of the divine presence in humble souls. Although the mystical gifts that enriched her relationship with the Lord remain far from our own experience, her love for the needy, her dedication to the sick, her participation in the suffering of others are also an example for us to behold and a reason why we should ask her to intercede with God on our behalf.” 

China’s potential saints stymied by politics? 

China has roughly 12 million Catholics, a small percentage, granted, of its 1 billion souls, but nonetheless significant given the fact that since 1947, the persecution of the Church has been tremendously horrific. In fact, the number of Catholics is remarkable in that at the end of World War II, there were four million Catholics. And yet despite some of the most bloody and brutal martyrdoms the Church has ever known, the number of its Chinese adherents has grown three times.
Well, those who remember their history lessons from school know the person who was the first person to successfully plant the seeds of Christianity in that huge nation was Jesuit priest Fr. Matteo Ricci. What they may not know is that he has a cause for beatification going forward. Sorta.
The problem is politics. When Bl. John Paul canonized the first group of Chinese martyrs whose deaths dated to the Boxer Rebellion circa 1900, the date picked for the canonization was October 9. That’s the same day as Chinese Liberation Day. In all east Asian cultures, the notion of saving face is tremendously important. You never want to do something that will make someone else lose face. And this was seen as the ultimate in-your-face move ever. The Chinese were furious and have ever since demanded an apology.
So in mid-May, the postulator of Fr. Ricci’s cause admitted that what is holding up the cause is the political situation between China and the Vatican. China wants the Holy See to jettison its relations with Taiwan, which it claims as one of its provinces, and which the free Chinese who rule it call the Republic of China. This is to say, both nations claim to be the true China. The Chinese also want the Holy See to promise no outside interference in the affairs of the nation’s Catholic Church. In other words, no loyalty to the Pope and hardly ever giving the Pope a say in naming bishops to vacant sees.
The politics at play are really unfortunate because Fr. Ricci was amazing. His books, which he himself wrote in fluent Chinese, were what converted thousands of not only Chinese but Koreans, as well. His contributions to math and science aided both Asian and European scholars, and those contributions also opened many people’s hearts to the gospel.
That which hampers Fr. Ricci’s cause is also holding up the cause of the Servant of God Bishop Frank Ford, who died in 1952, not to mention the 33 martyrs of Yang Jia Ping, who died between 1947-48.
Fr. Ricci’s beatification is much easier because he wasn’t so readily identifiable with the “imperialism” to which the Chinese are always hyper-sensitive. China’s history would be much different and poorer without him. However, to lessen potential sensitivities even more, the Jesuits want to also beatify Father’s lay collaborator Xu Guanqi’s, sort of a co-beatification. However, there is no current bishop of Shanghai (where Xu lived), and so there is no one to push the beatification. This complicates the Vatican’s attempt at presenting the most diplomatic, face-saving solution possible for the Chinese.
In the meantime, things nonetheless are moving forward with Fr. Ricci, whose cause has forwarded his case for “heroic virtue” to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It will now decide on whether he did live a life of heroic virtue. If so, and Pope Francis approves, we can call him Ven. Matteo Ricci. 

Fr. Rother to soon become Bl. Stanley? 

The postulators of the cause of the Servant of God Fr. Stanley Rother, a native of Oklahoma, say the Vatican is very close to determining whether Father was martyred. Furthermore, they express great confidence that it will rule in favor of his designation as such.
Fr. Rother served in the dioceses of Tulsa and Oklahoma City before moving to Guatemala as a missionary. There he served the dreadfully poor Mayan population. Because of his unrelentingly strong advocacy on behalf of this impoverished people, a right-wing death squad executed him in his rectory on July 28, 1981. The killers have never been brought to justice. 

La Crosse diocese priest’s beatification cause inaugurated with a Mass 

             According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, “The Roman Catholic Diocese of La Crosse on Wednesday officially kicked off its cause for Walijewski, a priest who served in both central Wisconsin and South America, to become a saint. A service was held at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph the Workman. About 250 people attended, according to the diocese.
            “During the Mass, members of the tribunal who will conduct the investigation into the life of Father Walijewski were sworn in. The group includes priests and laypeople, and will be responsible for tasks including interviewing witnesses and producing documents that eventually will be sent to Rome for consideration…. 
           “Walijewski, who died in April 2006 at age 82, served in the priesthood for more than 50 years. In addition to [the] Casa Hogar [orphanage], Walijewski founded parishes in Bolivia and Peru that served the poor of those countries. That put him in opposition of terrorists and even government officials, who both opposed help of the poor for fear they would rise up against the oppression they suffered.” 

“3P” beatified 

            On May 25, in Palermo, Sicily, Padre Pino Puglisi – or 3P as he is also known – was beatified. He was assassinated for his defiance of the Mafia. As you might imagine, Palermo, Sicily, is a Mafia stronghold.
            As columnist John Allen, Jr., points out, 3P’s beatification is important not only because he gives us a modern day and extraordinary example of holiness and phenomenal courage, but because it represents something of a sea change in how the Vatican looks at the concepts of martyrdom and persecution.
            According to Allen, “approximately 100,000 Christians around the world have been killed ‘in a situation of witness’ each year in the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed every hour. Other experts question that number, but even the low-end estimate puts the tally of Christians killed every day in circumstances somehow related to their faith at 20, meaning almost one per hour.”
           “The rise of this new generation of martyrs is the most important Christian story of our time,” he says, “and Puglisi is an ideal patron saint for making the defense of believers at risk a transcendent Christian cause.”
           Puglisi’s main mission as a priest was convincing youth in Palermo’s most impoverished neighborhoods that life was not about material goods and that they had other ways of obtaining a good life than by joining the mob. In a culture where the notion of vendetta is, perversely, sacrosanct, he also worked to get aggrieved parties in various Mafia feuds to forgive one another. 
           His effort to bring goodness, hope, and peace to troubled neighborhoods angered the mafia, and he received regular death threats. His last words were to his executioners, “I’ve been expecting you.”
           Therefore, it wasn’t hatred of the faith that got him killed (and hatred of the faith is the traditional test of whether someone is a martyr). Rather, it was the hatred of his virtue and the truth he proclaimed by his words and deeds. 
           Thus, Bl. 3P’s beatification could impact the causes of people such as Archbishop Oscar Romero and the late Pakistani politician Shabaz Bhati, to name just two. 

Archbishop Oscar Romero’s cause unblocked, starts to move forward again 

At a meeting with El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Pope Francis assured his guest that the beatification cause for the Servant of God Archbishop Oscar Romero will go forward of its own accord. It had been blocked for some years due to concerns that His Excellency was either too sympathetic or even an open proponent of the communist-influenced “Liberation Theology,” a school of thought the Church has repeatedly condemned. For those not familiar with the late archbishop, His Grace was assassinated by right-wing militiamen during the consecration at a Mass.
During the meeting with Pope Frances, President Funes gave the Holy Father a reliquary containing a blood stained portion of the vestment Romero was wearing when he died.