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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

There Be Dragons

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Wes Bentley stars in a scene from the movie "There Be Dragons."
What many people think they know about the Catholic spiritual movement Opus Dei likely comes—unfortunately—from the slanderous misrepresentations of it fobbed off on the public by author Dan Brown in his 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code." Brown's fallacies, moreover, were only perpetuated by the 2006 screen version of his feverish fantasy, helmed by Ron Howard.

A healthy antidote to such sensationalized misconceptions—a murderous albino monk, you say?—comes with the release of "There Be Dragons" (Samuel Goldwyn), a generally powerful, partly fictionalized dramatization of passages in the life of Opus Dei's founder, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (1902-75), intensely yet appealingly portrayed by Charlie Cox.

As fictional Spanish-born reporter Robert Torres (Dougray Scott) investigates Escriva's life, he's surprised to discover that his own father Manolo (Wes Bentley)—from whom Robert has long been estranged—was the future religious leader's childhood friend and seminary classmate.

With the tumult of the Spanish Civil War looming, however, the two men took diametrically different paths.

Once ordained, Escriva labored for the establishment of a community dedicated to achieving personal sanctity through everyday work, an organization whose structure—unprecedented in the modern church—would embrace women as well as men, laypeople as well as priests.

Having rejected the faith in favor of a bitterly cynical materialism, meanwhile, Manolo is shown pursuing a duplicitous role in the conflict engulfing his society.

Not the least of the obstacles Escriva confronted in furthering his "Work of God" (the English meaning of the Latin phrase "Opus Dei") was the increasingly violent anti-clericalism of the Loyalist side in the Spanish struggle.

Yet when these leftists begin desecrating churches and murdering priests in cold blood, Escriva remains evenhandedly neutral, sympathizing with his adversaries' motivations and aspirations and urging his handful of early followers to react with Christian forbearance.

This nuanced and charitable approach to the situation belies Escriva's reputation, in some circles, as an unabashed devotee of Franco's fascist vision.

The striking portrait of an anything-but-plaster saint that forms the heart of writer-director Roland Joffe's hybrid tale grippingly conveys its subject's struggle to discern his vocation and to live out the Christian message of peace, even in the most trying circumstances.

But the impact of these fact-based biographical elements is blunted by the fictive framework with which Joffe has chosen to surround them, a storytelling device that turns out to be more burden than enhancement. Thus, imaginary subplots such as the conflict between Robert and Manolo never seem quite convincing, and only serve to distract from a primary story which is both spiritually valuable and ably depicted.

The significance of that central chronicle is such, however, as to make "There Be Dragons" probably acceptable for older teens.

The film contains occasionally bloody action violence, a few sexual references, a couple of crude and a half-dozen crass terms. 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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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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