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The Last Mountain

Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP

This feature-length documentary is about a group of people from Coal River Valley, W.Va. and their efforts to stop Massey Energy from blasting Cold River Mountain, the last of five hundred Appalachian mountaintops that had been blasted for coal.

Not only are local activists featured, but Robert Kennedy, Jr., an environmental attorney and activist lends his considerable support and legal knowledge to stop the destruction of Cold River Mountain.

The aerial cinematography of the vast destruction resulting from coal mining are especially powerful, as are Kennedy’s encounters with Massey Coal executives who are unable to respond adequately to charges of environmental and human destruction brought about by the corporation’s practices.

I was impressed by Kennedy’s passionate explanation of Big Coal’s greatest success: the destruction of the democratic process from the local level to the federal. At a recent press day he told film critics: “They (Massy Energy and others) have succeeded in doing catastrophic damage to the state (of West Virginia); they flattened an area the size of Delaware, 1.4 million acres over the last ten years according to the EPA, buried 2200 miles of rivers and streams, cut down 500 of biggest mountains in West Virginia.

“The problem,” Kennedy continued, “is where you see large scale destruction of the environment of this magnitude you also see the subversion of democracy and that is the real victory big coal has accomplished in West Virginia.”

“The Last Mountain” was written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Bill Haney of UnCommon Productions. Tim Disney, grandson of Roy and Edna Disney, is one of the executive producers as he was on another of Haney’s documentaries, “The Price of Sugar” (2007) that exposed grave human and social tragedy perpetrated by large corporations in the Dominican Republic.

The good news is that there are two remedies available to citizens and believers who care about people and the environment: become involved in the democratic process from your local zoning office to town and city councils and support alternative energy sources such as wind farming. The film concludes at Portsmouth Abby in Rhode Island where the Benedictine monks installed a windmill, inspiring the town to switch to wind energy as well.

“The Last Mountain” is the most important film I have seen this year.

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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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