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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

There Be Dragons

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org


Wes Bentley stars in a scene from the movie "There Be Dragons."
The death of a Spanish priest by the name of Josemarie Escriva in 1975 generated a lot of talk about his holiness.

A Spanish journalist living in London, Robert Torres (Dougray Scott) , is assigned to investigate the life of Escriva, the founder of a Catholic group called Opus Dei. Robert is surprised when he learns that his father Manolo (Wes Bentley) and Escriva (Charlie Cox) were from same village and actually studied at the same seminary for a brief time. Robert return to Spain hoping to learn more about Escriva from his father, but Manolo will not speak with him.

However, Manolo has recorded and written his memories and this new film by the Oscar nominated director, Roland Joffe (“The Killing Fields” 1984 and “The Mission” 1986), uses this method to flash back to tell the story of these two men and the separate paths they take in life.

Most of the film is set during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Josemaria becomes a priest and founds a community called “Opus Dei” to help everyone become holy in daily life. Manolo chooses the dark side, his heart consumed by envy, jealousy, and rage.

“There Be Dragons” is not a biography of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. Instead, Joffe decided to use a dualistic formula and created a fictional character whose flaws and evil choices offset the holiness of Josemaria. One chooses good, the other chooses evil.

The title, “There Be Dragons” is taken from ancient maps that termed mysterious regions as “Here be dragons.” Joffe assigns many dragons to Manolo, but Josemaria has few interior struggles, if any.

The film was shot in Spain and Argentina and is gorgeous to look at. The acting is good. I had hoped to learn about Josemaria and Opus Dei but was disappointed. Alas, the film is more about Manolo, his violence and need for forgiveness and reconciliation than about the saint’s interior life and an understanding of his work. Nevertheless, there are some luminous moments that can inspire.




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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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