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John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

David Duchovny stars in a scene from the movie "Phantom."
Set primarily on a Soviet submarine in the midst of the Cold War, writer-director Todd Robinson's "Phantom" (RCR) pits a crew of seasoned sailors against a handful of the KGB's most ruthless bad guys.

His drama also implicitly contrasts the Christian faith adhered to by at least some of the former with the cynical atheism prevailing among the latter.

Robinson's speculative thriller plays off one of the most mysterious incidents in the long struggle between East and West: the 1968 sinking of K-129, a nuclear-armed Soviet sub whose loss has never been fully explained. His screenplay presents a possible scenario of what might have preceded—and caused—the disaster.

The plot centers on honorable but troubled Capt. Demi (Ed Harris). The son of a distinguished World War II-era naval commander, Demi's own career has been blighted by an incident we initially glimpse only in strobe-lit flashbacks.

On the verge of retirement, Demi is entrusted with a final mission, one seemingly designed to humiliate him. He's ordered to take the helm of an obsolete, diesel-fueled clunker, and steer it through its final voyage.

Accompanying him will be a group of unwanted guests: intelligence operatives led by steel-willed Agent Bruni (David Duchovny).

Demi's dislike of Bruni and his ilk turns to suspicion after he discovers that Bruni is bent on a high-stakes clandestine operation that may or may not have been sanctioned by Moscow. As he and Bruni struggle for control of the creaky vessel, with its vast destructive power, the lower ranks are forced to choose sides.

Comparisons between this dive and 1990's "The Hunt for Red October" are perhaps inevitable; they are unlikely to prove advantageous for Robinson. In fact, this routine military exercise sometimes feels like a warmed-over version of that Sean Connery gripper.

"Phantom" can be honored, though, for its exploration of the nature of heroism. And viewers of faith will be pleased—if not, perhaps, entirely satisfied -- by its sporadic showcasing of Demi's frayed but enduring ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. While Bruni is motivated by a narrow and fanatical patriotism, Demi's broader humanism can be read as an outgrowth of his Christian beliefs.

The film contains some gory violence and intense gunplay, a suicide, fleeting semi-graphic sexual activity, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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John of Monte Corvino: At a time when the Church was heavily embroiled in nationalistic rivalries within Europe, it was also reaching across Asia to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Mongols. John of Monte Corvino went to China about the same time Marco Polo was returning. 
<p>John was a soldier, judge and doctor before he became a friar. Prior to going to Tabriz, Persia (present-day Iran), in 1278, he was well known for his preaching and teaching. In 1291 he left Tabriz as a legate of Pope Nicholas IV to the court of Kublai Khan. An Italian merchant, a Dominican friar and John traveled to western India where the Dominican died. When John and the Italian merchant arrived in China in 1294, Kublai Khan had recently died. </p><p>Nestorian Christians, successors to the dissidents of the fifth-century Council of Ephesus’ teaching on Jesus Christ, had been in China since the seventh century. John converted some of them and also some of the Chinese, including Prince George from Tenduk, northwest of Beijing. Prince George named his son after this holy friar. </p><p>John established his headquarters in Khanbalik (now Beijing), where he built two churches; his was the first resident Catholic mission in the country. By 1304 he had translated the Psalms and the New Testament into the Tatar language. </p><p>Responding to two letters from John, Pope Clement V named John Archbishop of Khanbalik in 1307 and consecrated seven friars as bishops of neighboring dioceses. One of the seven never left Europe. Three others died along the way to China; the remaining three bishops and the friars who accompanied them arrived there in 1308. </p><p>When John died in 1328, he was mourned by Christians and non-Christians. His tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage. In 1368, Christianity was banished from China when the Mongols were expelled and the Ming dynasty began. John’s cause has been introduced in Rome.</p> American Catholic Blog We look ahead to the coming of the Son of Man, standing erect and with heads held high. We live in hope, not in fear. Our experience of God is no longer limited by human weakness or even human sinfulness. God has always been one step ahead of us, with a plan that exceeds our greatest desires.

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