Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
Diocese’s archivist tells the story of ‘China’s Saints’; ‘Win Win’ is ‘well worth seeing’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the May 19, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

Dr. Anthony E. Clark, who is associate professor of Chinese history at Whitworth University in Spokane as well as Spokane’s diocesan archivist, has written a new book on the Chinese martyrs.

The full title of his scholarly and beautifully written book is China’s Saints: Catholic Martyrdom during the Qing (1644-1911). It is published by Lehigh University Press through The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. The list price, sadly, is $75 for a hardcover copy. The e-book price is also very high at around $51. I am told the book is already sold out and there is a strong hope that a paperback edition will eventually be printed at a lower price. Right now I would assume the book might best be obtained through a college library or the Washington State Library Interchange system. This is a book that should be available to a wider audience.

Dr. Clark gives a wonderful history of missionaries to China. I was surprised to find out that there were Nestorian missionaries in China as early as 618. The Nestorians said that the acts of Christ the man remained distinct from those of Christ as God. Christ was said to have a dual personality.

The Franciscans arrived 1293. John of Montecorvino was the first Catholic missionary and first Catholic Bishop of China. He even met Kublai Khan.

The Jesuits arrived in 1582. They followed St. Ignatius Loyola’s remark of accommodation: “It is not that they must become like us, but we like them.” Matteo Ricci sought to convert the Emperor of that time. The Jesuits were close to the elites of the capital and special advisors on scientific knowledge. They sought permission to offer Mass in Chinese but that was refused. By 1640 there were 90,000 Chinese Christians. Much later in the early 19th century there were 200,000 Christians in China. They were affected by the whims of the emperor.

Most of the canonized Chinese martyrs are of the Boxer Rebellion period, around 1900. The Boxers were groups organized to drive out European colonists. The English in particular had angered the Chinese by developing an opium trade in which they sold opium to the Chinese population. European nations took over sections of China. Protestants and Catholics of the time were seen as enemies because there leadership was European and they were accused of taking people away from important Chinese customs.

The martyrdom of the roughly 200 canonized saints provides the main section of the book. At times this history reads like a thriller. And the violent forms of death are told by eyewitnesses in great detail. You can’t help but being affected by the willingness of both European and Chinese Christians to go forward to martyrdom.

Dr. Clark goes in great detail on the backgrounds of the various European priests and nuns who die for the faith, plus the many Chinese, some of whom were catechumens or seeking to become Christian with opposition from their families. In the future, when, I hope, Catholic Saints is more widely available, the book could be used in Catholic schools and religious education programs. It is scholarly but very accessible. These important stories are well told.

*****

Ten years ago or so I had the opportunity of being in Paris with six or seven persons who were attending a workshop in Leuven, Belgium. Someone in the group had a Rick Steves guidebook and said that it highly recommended visiting a memorial behind Notre Dame Cathedral. There was a very small sign identifying the memorial that one could easily pass by. I don’t remember the exact name of the memorial but it was something like “Remembrance of the Jewish persons who were placed on the trains and sent to their death during World War II.”

You walked down a stairway to an area that looked as if you were in prison with two open spaces looking out to the river. Then you entered an underground monument that named all the concentration camps where Jews from France were killed, and then there were 80,000 or so small lights that signified each person killed with the cooperation of French police and railway workers. All I can say is that it was an extraordinarily moving experience to visit the hidden memorial.

Tatiana de Rosnay has written a novel that describes the experience of a Jewish family from Paris in July of 1942 while at the same-time also telling the story of a reporter in our time trying to find out the story of the families placed on the trains from 60 years’ distance. The name of the novel is Sarah’s Key. It has been on the New York Times best-seller list for over 100 weeks. The novel is published in softcover by St. Martin’s Griffin of New York for a list price of $13.95.

Sarah’s Key tells the story of young Jewish girl who locks her younger brother in a secret hiding place in their Paris apartment as she and her parents are taken away to the Veldrome d’Hiver where Jewish people are being placed before they are forced on to trains traveling to concentration camps. The young girl, Sarah, does not fully understand what is happening and plans to return to the apartment with the key to the hiding place and let her brother out when the danger is over.

Every other chapter until the middle of the book tells the story of the journalist, Julia, who is on a quest to understand what happened in her own family and her own apartment so many years ago.

So we have a place playing an important role of a story in two different time periods. Sarah’s Key is very similar in its setup of two time periods centered on one place as Tom Stoppard’s famous 1993 play Arcadia, now on Broadway again.

Tatiana de Rosnay writes with emphasis on the fast-moving plot rather than on a deeper insight into the characters. She has chosen a topic that definitely should be more widely known. I enjoyed reading Sarah’s Key and understand why it has been such a popular book.

Movie Reviews

Tom McCarthy’s independent film The Station Agent was on my list of the 10 best films of 2003 (“Media Watch,” IR 2/5/04). It was certainly a unique and thoughtful story of four rather quirky individuals going through the ups and downs of life near a train line in New Jersey.

McCarthy has just released through Fox Searchlight Pictures his new serious and humorous film Win Win. It is well worth seeing.

Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a small town lawyer in suburban New Jersey who is struggling financially. He is married to Jackie (Amy Ryan) and they have two young children.

Mike makes a deal with the courts to be a guardian of an aged client of his for which he will receive $1,500 a month. Burt Young of Rocky fame plays the senior Leo Poplar who is having some forgetfulness issues. Mike promises to do something that he does not do. This becomes the moral issue of the movie.

On the surface, Win Win appears to be a movie about high school wrestling in the tradition of many sports dramas where the team that seems hopeless goes to state. Mike is the head coach in his spare time, with help from law partner Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambor) and long-time friend Terry Delfino (Bobby Cannavale). As a group they appear to be like the three stooges when it comes to being coaches.

Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) from Ohio seeks to get away from his mother and arrives at Mike’s, hoping to live with his grandfather. He ends up living with Mike’s family and he turns out to be a really nice kid who happens to be a very good high school wrestler. Somehow he rather immediately is enrolled in the local school and is on the wrestling team. However, things don’t play out, as the moviegoer might have anticipated.

This film is not The Blind Side (“Media Watch,” IR 12/17/09).

The acting of all the principals in the film is terrific. There is lots of humor as we walk through life with some very ordinary people who are trying to pass through life without letting the pain and suffering that sometimes happens get them too far down.

The surprise of the film is the young wrestler played by Alex Shaffer. Alex has not acted before and was picked from a large casting call where the candidate needed to be a good wrestler. He is a very good actor.

Paul Giamatti as always acts his heart out, and with all his human weakness as Mike, becomes the moral center of Win Win. It is not too often contemporary films have a moral center.

And don’t forget Amy Ryan, who is terrific as a wife and mom who really cares about others.

As A.O Scott said in The New York Times, Win Win is “a good movie about trying to be good.”

Win Win is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) because of language by the Motion Picture Association of America. Catholic News Service has not yet rated the film.

*****

One of the most powerful religious films of all time appeared in Spokane at the AMC at the end of April. I am told the French film, the 2010 Grand Prize Winner of the Cannes Film Festival, Of Gods and Men, will later move to the Magic Lantern Theater in downtown Spokane.

Xavier Beauvois’s film is equal to a Day of Prayer or the high point of a retreat. This is a film that stays in your memory and may even change your life.

Religious themes are hard to portray realistically on film. You almost have to have voiceovers to tell what is happening within the characters.

Somehow, in a beautiful, laconic, way Beauvois is able to take us to the haunting Algerian Atlas mountains in 1996, where a group of nine Cistercian monks live their life of prayer and service to the Muslim community. We walk with them through their chanting of the Office and their helping the poor village near them, especially through medical service to sometimes hundreds of those in need.

Overarching their story is the fact that they are caught between a military government and extremist guerrillas. Algeria has long been free of the oppressive French colonial government. But because of their French background and their Catholicism, the monks are disliked by both sides in the conflict. The monks are popular among the people that live near the monastery. The monks are invited to celebrations and are truly loved.

The great French actor Michael Lonsdale, now in his 80s and a familiar actor in French and American movies for over 40 years, wonderfully plays Brother Luc, who dispenses medicine, kindness and shoes. The religious superior, Brother Christian, is played with strength and tenderness and devotion by Lambert Wilson.

The potential conflict escalates as Croatian traders nearby are killed by an Islamic extremist group. Brother Christian stands up to the leader of the same group when that leader demands all of the monks’ medicine. His fellow monks are divided over his action, because it puts all their lives in jeopardy. The “give and take” debate as the monks face life and death is a high point of the film.

The military government is also angry with the monks because they treated the leader of the extremists when he had been shot. So death may be imminent from either side.

The chanting of psalms and the singing of hymns are memorable, especially as the monks know the end may be near. After Eucharist one day they have a meal where Brother Luc brings out two bottles of wine and puts on a tape of one of the most famous sections of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. You will not forget this scene.

Seven of the nine monks are eventually killed. Thankfully the film never shows that event in a realistic way. It is still somewhat of a mystery who killed them. Before they die, Brother Luc quotes from the philosopher Pascal: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction.”

Of Gods and Men is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. It is rated A-III – for adults, by Catholic News Service. There are some bloody, violent scenes.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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