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Gimme Shelter

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

James Earl Jones and Vanessa Hudgens star in a scene from the movie "Gimme Shelter."
Perhaps the best moment in the fact-based drama "Gimme Shelter" (Roadside) comes when its beleaguered, deeply sympathetic protagonist, played by Vanessa Hudgens, wonderingly recites a passage from the Book of Psalms that tells of God's promises to those who trust in him.

It's a moving scene precisely because such faith-based optimism seems so far removed from all that Hudgens' character, teenager Agnes "Apple" Bailey, has previously endured.

Long neglected by her drug-addicted, emotionally unstable mother, June (Rosario Dawson), Apple is also a veteran of numerous foster homes—in one of which, we eventually learn, she was sexually abused by the father of the family to which she had been entrusted.

As the film begins, Apple has understandably had enough of June's manipulative ways. So she flees the inner city, and seeks out her estranged, wealthy father, Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser), the owner of a luxurious mansion in an upscale New Jersey suburb.

Though taken aback by Apple's arrival Tom is at least tentatively willing to do his part for the girl. Apple gets a colder reception from Tom's wife, Joanna (Stephanie Szostak), who's intent on pursuing her ultra-respectable lifestyle undisturbed. (Tom and Joanna's two young kids look as though they've just stepped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog.)

Joanna's attitude grows even chillier when a bout of morning sickness tips all concerned off to the fact that Apple is pregnant. Both Joanna and Tom pressure Apple to have an abortion. But she insists on keeping her child, even if it means losing the security of her newfound refuge.

Back on the streets, Apple has an altercation with a predatory passerby that ends with her stealing—and crashing—the lowlife's car. This turns out to be a positive development because it brings her into contact with kindly hospital chaplain Father Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones).

Father Frank is, of course, wholeheartedly supportive of Apple's determination to preserve the life of her baby. He offers her the opportunity to take up residence with his redoubtable friend, Kathy (Ann Dowd), the founder of a home for expectant adolescents.

Modeled on Kathy DiFiore, who established just such a ministry—called Several Sources Shelters—in 1981, Dowd's character is gentle but firm, both with her charges and with any outsider who might threaten their welfare. Down-to-earth practicality, tough love and a belief in the need for structure characterize her approach.

Chaffing under such discipline, Apple finds herself tempted to escape it. But she simultaneously discovers a winning new aspect of life through her burgeoning friendship with the other moms-to-be.

A strong pro-life message obviously undergirds writer-director Ron Krauss' intermittently touching movie, which is also genuinely feminist, as witness the camaraderie cited above. And Hudgens' passionate performance provides the project with another important asset.

Yet, perhaps because fidelity to the facts has been prioritized over dramatic structure, the story unfolds at a deliberate pace that may be too leisurely for some viewers. Others may sense something approaching a documentary tone in this unhurried timing and the absence of artificial plot turns.

Whichever stance individual moviegoers may take toward Krauss' fictionalized account, the lifesaving reality standing behind it is worthy of universal support and celebration. The educational value and moral impact to be derived from the screen portrayal of this real-life work, moreover, allow for cautious endorsement of it for older teens, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains mature themes, including molestation, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and substance abuse, a scene of disturbing, though not gory, violence, at least one rough term and a handful of crass expressions. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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