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John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in a scene from the movie "Invictus."
"Forgiveness liberates the soul." So says South African President Nelson Mandela, as adeptly impersonated by Morgan Freeman, in the uplifting sports drama "Invictus" (Warner Bros.).

Director Clint Eastwood's account, based on actual events and adapted from John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy," effectively chronicles how Mandela transformed the race for a rugby championship into an opportunity to put that philosophy into widespread practice.

The initial situation, as detailed in the opening scenes, was hardly promising. With racial divides still deep, despite the recent downfall of apartheid, Mandela—fresh from his swift elevation from imprisoned dissident to chief executive—confronted a host of problems, including a rising crime rate and the lack of foreign investment in a state that had been an international pariah for decades.

Instinctively recognizing that interracial reconciliation must be his primary goal, however, Mandela settled on an unlikely means of achieving it, launching a campaign to unite his country behind the national rugby team as it competed in the 1995 World Cup competition, which South Africa hosted.

Despite the fact that the Springboks, as the team is known, though cherished by the white Afrikaner community, were widely hated by the soccer-playing black majority as the embodiment of pale privilege under the old regime, and undaunted by the crew's dismal record in the lead-up to the international meet, Mandela enlisted the help of their captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to accomplish his long-shot goal.

As recounted by South African-born screenwriter Anthony Peckham, the two leaders' partnership sees Francois touched and changed by Mandela's forbearance as well as by the plight of black children in the impoverished townships to which Mandela dispatched Pienaar's squad in an effort to widen their game's popularity.

William Ernest Henley's Victorian-era poem, which Mandela cites as having strengthened him in prison, and from which the film takes its title, is at best spiritually ambivalent, since the poet thanks "whatever gods may be" for his "unconquerable soul." But the script's themes of generosity, openness and human solidarity are enhanced by religious references to the South African national anthem, "God Bless Africa," and by the prayer of thanksgiving offered, at a climactic moment, by the lone black player among the Springboks.

The moral and artistic merits of this inspiring tale, together with its salutary message, counterbalance the elements listed below, making it probably acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains brief scenes of violence, at least one use of the F-word, a few instances of crude and crass language and some mild sexual references. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting 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 the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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