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Scorsese says a boyhood of church and movies continues to inspire him

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Cindy Wooden

QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- Faith and films have been lifelong obsessions for director Martin Scorsese, obsessions that he said have given him moments of peace amid turmoil, but also challenges and frustrations that, in hindsight, he will accept as lessons in humility.

"For me, the stories have always been about how we should live who we are, and have a lot to do with love, trust and betrayal," he said, explaining that those themes have been with him since his boyhood spent in the rambunctious tenements of New York and in the peace of the city's St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, where he was an altar server.

Scorsese spoke June 21 in Quebec City at a joint session of the Catholic Press Association's Catholic Media Conference and the world congress of Signis, the international association of Catholic media professionals. That evening, both groups presented him with a lifetime achievement award for excellence in filmmaking.

Before Scorsese answered questions posed by author Paul Elie, conference participants watched his film "Silence," which is based on the novel by Shusaku Endo. The book and film are a fictionalized account of the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan; the central figures are Jesuit missionaries, who are ordered to deny the faith or face death after witnessing the death of their parishioners.

Although "Silence" was not nearly as controversial as his 1988 film, "The Last Temptation of Christ," Scorsese said the two films are connected and not just because an Episcopalian bishop gave him Endo's book after seeing the 1988 film.

Even before filming began on "The Last Temptation of Christ," which is based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and explores the human side of Jesus, people were writing letters to the studio and producers complaining about plans to bring it to the big screen.

Recounting the story, Scorsese said a studio executive asked him why he wanted so badly to make the film.

"To get to know Jesus better," Scorsese said he blurted out. "That was the answer that came to mind. I didn't know what else to say."

If one affirms that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, he said, people should be able to look at his humanity.

But Scorsese told his Quebec City audience that his explorations of who Jesus is and what faith really means were by no means exhausted by "The Last Temptation of Christ."

"The journey is much more involved," Scorsese said. "It's just not finished."

In reading Endo's novel, working on and off for two decades to make the film and in finally bringing it to completion, Scorsese said he was "looking for the core of faith."

The climax of the film is when one of the Jesuits gives in and, in order to save his faithful who are being tortured, he tramples a religious image. However, the character believes that act of official apostasy is, in reality, a higher form of faith because, by sacrificing his own soul, he is saving the lives of others.

"It's almost like a special gift to be called on to face that challenge, because he is given an opportunity to really go beyond and to really get to the core of faith and Christianity," Scorsese said.

In the end, the priest "has nothing left to be proud of" -- not his faith or his courage -- and "it's just pure selflessness," the director said. "It's like a gift for him."

"I think there is no doubt it is a believer's movie," he said. "At least for me."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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In lieu of visit, pope makes major donation to South Sudan charities

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With a trip to South Sudan postponed indefinitely, Pope Francis is sending close to a half-million dollars to help two church-run hospitals, a teacher training center and farming projects for families as a way to show the people there his solidarity and support.

Because a planned trip with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury couldn't happen this year as hoped, Pope Francis "wants to make tangible the presence and closeness of the church with the suffering people through this initiative 'The Pope for South Sudan,'" Cardinal Peter Turkson told reporters at a Vatican news conference June 21.

"He fervently hopes to be able to go there as soon as possible on an official visit to the nation; the church does not shut hope out of such an afflicted area," said the cardinal, who is prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

An official visit was meant to draw the world's attention to a silent tragedy, give voice to those suffering, and encourage conflicting parties to make renewed and greater efforts in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, the cardinal said.

Already in March, Pope Francis had expressed doubts about the possibility of making the trip, saying in an interview with Germany's Die Zeit newspaper, that visiting South Sudan would be "important," but that "I don't believe that it is possible." The pope approved the project funding in April, a month before the Vatican announced the trip's delay.

The initiative is meant to supplement, support and encourage the ongoing work of religious congregations, Catholic organizations and international aid groups on the ground that "generously and tirelessly" help the people and promote peace and development, the cardinal said.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence and abuses. The fighting, displacement, insecurity and drought have led to large-scale hunger and malnutrition across the country. It's estimated that 3.8 million people have been displaced and at least 28 million are in need of food aid.

A papal donation of about $200,000 will support a program run by Caritas South Sudan, providing fast-growing seeds and farming tools for 2,500 families in areas where it is still possible to grow food.

Some $112,000 will go to fund Solidarity With South Sudan -- an international Catholic network, supporting 16 scholarships and a training program for primary school teachers. The teacher training center takes in students from every ethnic group so they can learn and later teach values of tolerance and reconciliation along with basic education.

A contribution of $150,000 will go to fund two hospitals run by the Comboni Missionary Sisters. Comboni Sister Laura Gemignani told reporters that they have extremely few resources to support their small staff and numerous patients.

For example, she said their hospital in Wau sees 300 patients a day -- 40,000 a year -- but there is only one doctor, who comes in every day and responds to every emergency.

"It's hard to pay his salary," she said, but he, the nurses and other staff stay on despite the insecurity and danger.

When they were told to evacuate because of intensified fighting, she said the staff said that as long as they had even just one patient to attend to, they would never leave.

Cardinal Turkson said, "The Holy Father does not forget the unheard and silent victims of this bloody and inhumane conflict, does not forget all those people who are forced to flee from their homes because of abuses of power, injustice and war. He holds all of them in his prayers and his heart."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Holiness means being open to God, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Being a saint doesn't require spending long hours in prayer, but rather living life open to God in good times and in bad, Pope Francis said.

Christians should live with the "hope of becoming saints" and with the desire that "work, even in sickness and suffering, even in difficulties, is open to God," the pope said June 21 during his weekly general audience.

"We think that it is something difficult, that it is easier to be delinquents than saints. No! We can become saints because the Lord helps us. It is he who helps us," he told the estimated 12,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

Pope Francis rode around in his popemobile, stopping along the way to greet pilgrims and kiss babies. One child casually waved goodbye to the pope as he was handed back to his parents.

In his talk, the pope reflected on the intercession of the saints, who are "older brothers and sisters who have gone along our same path, (gone through) our same struggles and live forever in God's embrace."

"Their existence tells us above all that Christian life isn't an unattainable ideal. And together, they comfort us: We are not alone, the church is made up of innumerable brothers and sisters, often anonymous, who have preceded us and who, through the action of the Holy Spirit, are involved in the affairs of those who still live here," he said.

Just as their intercession is invoked in Baptism, the pope continued, the church asks for their help in the sacrament of marriage so couples "can have the courage to say 'forever.'"

"To live married life forever; not like some who say, 'as long as love lasts.' No, it is forever. On the contrary, it is better you don't get married. It's either forever or nothing. That is why their presence is invoked in the nuptial liturgy," he said.

The lives of the saints, he continued, served as a reminder that "God never abandons us" and in times of trial and suffering, he "sends one of his angels to comfort us and fill us with consolation."

There are "angels, sometimes with a face and a human heart because God's saints are always here, hidden among us," the pope said.

Another sacrament in which the saints are invoked is Holy Orders, in which candidates for the priesthood lay prostrate on the ground while the bishop and the entire assembly pray the litany of the saints, he said.

"A man would be crushed under the weight of the mission entrusted to him but, in feeling that all of paradise is behind him, that the grace of God will not fail because Jesus is always faithful, he can go forward serenely and refreshed. We are not alone," the pope said.

Pope Francis told the pilgrims that Christians need saints who lived their lives "aspiring to charity and brotherhood" because without them, the world would not have hope."

"May the Lord give us the grace to believe so profoundly in him that we become images of Christ for this world," he said.

Before the general audience, Pope Francis met with members of the U.S. Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who will be inducted into the prestigious association Aug. 5.

"As many of you know, I am an avid follower of 'football,' but where I come from, the game is played very differently!" the pope said, referring to the fact that "football" refers to the game of soccer in most parts of the world.

The pope said the values of "teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence" aren't just important on the field, but are "urgently needed off the field, on all levels of our life as a community."

"Our world, and especially our young people, need models, people who show us how to bring out the best in ourselves, to use our God-given gifts and talents and, in doing so, to point the way to a better future for our communities," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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