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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Soul Surfer

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service

The true story of a teenage girl who overcame a horrific shark attack to rise to the top of her sport is translated to the big screen in "Soul Surfer" (Tri-Star), an uplifting film about the power of faith and perseverance.

Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a happy, ordinary 13-year-old living in Hawaii with her parents (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid) and two brothers. The entire family surfs, but Bethany shows the most promise, winning competitions and gaining a sponsor.

When not at the beach, Bethany's family is often in church, where sermons are given by youth-group leader Sara (country singer Carrie Underwood in her film debut).

Sara's message? Trust in the Lord and his purposes, as revealed in Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord."

No one could have predicted God's plan for Bethany on Halloween morning 2003: While paddling out with friends to catch a wave, Bethany is attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark, which bites off her arm. In a flash, her life and dreams are changed forever.

The depiction of the attack and its aftermath, while not overly explicit, is nonetheless disturbing.

Surprisingly, while her family and friends fall to pieces, Bethany is serene and composed. With only a few "Why me?" moments (including one where she snaps the arm off her Barbie doll), Bethany accepts her fate and is determined to surf again, whatever the odds. Faith in God remains her anchor, and the fuel for her inexhaustible determination.

"You can do all things through him who gives you strength," Sara reminds Bethany. "You pray and you listen for what comes next. Something good will come out of this."

And it does. Soon Bethany is competing—and winning—at surfing events again. And she uses her newfound celebrity to inspire the disabled and others to follow their dreams.

Bethany also travels to Thailand with her church to aid tsunami victims. "Love is more powerful than any fear, bigger than any tidal wave," she says.

Directed by Sean McNamara ("Raise Your Voice"), "Soul Surfer" is that Hollywood rarity: a film that is not afraid to talk about God or to show a happy, well-adjusted family that makes faith its foundation.

The cinematography is stunning. The Aloha State has never looked so beautiful, and the surfing scenes are thrilling, putting viewers out on the water and inside the waves. Digital effects convey Bethany's disability and her efforts to overcome it.

Despite the intensely emotional (but nongraphic) shark onslaught and its aftermath, "Soul Surfer" can be enjoyed by parents and mature young people alike. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Anthony Claret: The "spiritual father of Cuba" was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council. 
<p>In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: The future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers. </p><p>He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians. </p><p>He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for opposing concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: <i>Reflections on Agriculture</i> and <i>Country Delights</i>. </p><p>He was recalled to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony. </p><p>All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets. </p><p>At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, "There goes a true saint." At the age of 63, he died in exile near the border of Spain.</p> American Catholic Blog The greatest tragedy of our world is that men do not know, really know, that God loves them. Some believe it in a shadowy sort of way. If they were to really think about it they would soon realize that their belief in God’s love for them is very remote and abstract. Because of this lack of realization of God’s love for them, men do not know how to love God back. —Catherine de Hueck Doherty

 
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