Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
Kenneth Brannaugh directs ‘Cinderella’ as Russell Crowe directs ‘The Water Diviner’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the June 18, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

Add a fascinating mystery to the story of two priests who have grown up in the Vatican, joined to the efforts of Pope John Paul II in 2004 seeking to unite the Roman and Orthodox churches together again. And then to top that off, you have the Shroud of Turin and a possible new find in biblical studies, and you have Ian Caldwell’s page-turning new novel The Fifth Gospel.

The Fifth Gospel is published in hardcover by Simon and Schuster for a list price of $25.99. Caldwell spent 10 years writing and rewriting his novel. This story stands up much better than the popular efforts of Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) and it has a section on Biblical interpretation that is both interesting and educational. The author has to push against reality more than a bit toward the end of the story to make it all fit together. But he sure does it well.

The book is written in the first person through the eyes of a Greek Catholic priest, Father Alex Andreou, who has grown up in the Vatican compound with his brother Simon, who has become a Roman Catholic priest and works in the diplomatic corps of the Vatican State. Alex teaches Biblical studies in a seminary. He has a five-year-old son, Peter, and his wife Mona has left him because of health issues after the birth of their son. So Alex is raising his son with the help of Religious men and women, and friends, some living in his apartment building.

Alex is asked to help with Biblical interpretation as Ugo Nogara prepares an exhibit at the Vatican Museum on the Shroud of Turin with new evidence that would counter the carbon dating issue. It involves a fifth Gospel and the town of Edessa in Asia Minor, where the shroud may have been from early apostolic times. At the same time, Orthodox leaders are gathering at the Vatican to hear Pope John Paul, in his years of illness, try to make a speech that will bring the two churches back together.

Suddenly Ugo Nogara appears to have been murdered and the chief suspect, Father Simon Andreou, is secretly hidden in the Vatican awaiting a canonical trial. In the midst of all this, Simon’s brother Alex desperately seeks to find and free his brother as he proves his innocence.

One of the most interesting sections in this heart-beating story is a discussion of the Gospel of John and the Synoptic gospels in reference to the post-Resurrection stories that ties into the reliability of the shroud. For example, in John’s Gospel, Thomas is asked to put his hand into Jesus’ side, while in Luke’s Gospel, the apostles are asked to see the wounds in his hands and feet. Since the Gospels are written some 30 years or more apart, do they prove or weaken belief that the shroud is the original, going back to the tomb of Christ?

If you enjoy a good mystery intertwined with historic figures and a puzzle-like course in Scripture, with a very human side, The Fifth Gospel is the book for you.

Movie Reviews

Russell Crowe’s new movie, The Water Diviner, has epic proportions as it takes on a melodrama wrapped in the history of a great battle of World War I.

Crowe not only directs for the first time, but also stars as Joshua Connor, an Australian rancher at the turn of the last century. His three sons enlist “for God and country” as part of the forces of the British Empire against Germany and her Ottoman Empire forces. They are sent on what becomes Winston Churchill’s biggest mistake: the Battle of Gallipoli in what is modern Turkey. Around 10,000 Australian and New Zealand volunteers are killed there.

The central story revolves on Joshua who, after his wife’s suicide four years after the war, goes to Gallipoli to find the bones of his sons and bring them home to be buried next to their mother. He runs into lots of opposition once he gets to Istanbul. One British officer (Dan Wyllie) does everything possible to stop Joshua from reaching the battle site.

While at a hotel in Istanbul, Joshua, after much suspicion, is helped by Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), who has lost her own husband. She tells him how to bribe a fisherman who will take him to Gallipoli. He reaches the site where the British, with the help of Ottoman officers, are trying to sort out the remains of the dead and bury them properly. After lots of difficulties Joshua is allowed to use his water diviner techniques and he finds the bones of his sons. In the process, one of the Turkish majors (Yilmaz Endogan) helps the Australian father discover that one of his sons was taken prisoner and may still be alive. The rest of the film is Joshua’s search for his son in the midst of a war between the Turks and the Greeks that the British are allowing to happen.

I enjoy most any movie that attempts to make history come alive. Crowe’s film that is “inspired by true events” is based on one document that tells of one Australian man who went to Gallipoli to search for his son’s remains. Evidently the rest of the complications in the movie are based on writers seeking a movie with lots of conflict, a little romance, Indiana Jones scenes, and several tearful scenes.

The movie does try to do too much. There are way too many times of coincidence. I do think the parish priest, so cruel when Joshua seeks Christian burial for his wife after her suicide, is way-over-the-top. Might it have happened in 1919? Yes. But for him to ask for a truck if he does the service, goes against every argument for not doing it. Teaching cricket in a train going through the middle of a war zone also seems a little much.

All that being said, some of the scenes in Australia and Turkey are filmed in an extraordinary way. The complicated story does hold your attention throughout. And Russell Crowe is very good as the grieving Australian father. It is a flawed film well worth seeing.

The Motion Picture Association of American rates the film R-restricted, because of war violence.

*****

A gentle reader from the Palouse who saw Kenneth Branaugh’s live-action Cinderella four times asked me to see the film. So I finally did. The film, released by Disney, is a lavish production with lots of fabulous castle scenes and beautiful scenery helped along by computer-generated technology.

Lily James of Downton Abbey plays Ella, the beautiful daughter who is taught by her parents to “Be kind and courageous.” He mother dies and her father marries Ella’s stepmother (Cate Blanchet) who has two daughters who take over Ella’s house when her father dies on a trip. I am a little slow. I didn’t realize that the name Cinderella comes from Ella sleeping by the fire with its cinders when her attic room got too cold. It is the name the stepdaughters used to make fun of her.

A moment of joy comes when Ella’s fairy godmother prepares her to go to the ball after her stepmother has made it all but impossible. She had already met the prince (Richard Madden) when she found a stag in the woods and begged the prince (who did not identify himself) not to kill the animal. The prince, who loves her, has the ball at the castle to try to find her by inviting all the maids of his kingdom.

The prince loses Cinderella as she has to leave at midnight, and later finds her when her foot fits in the lost glass slipper. In this version of the classic story, Cinderella clearly forgives her wicked stepmother.

The acting is very good and the story is well done. It is almost operatic in its impressive settings and costumes.

In a blog that I found at “Church Pop,” Father Robert Barron of the Chicago Archdiocese finds strong Christian overtones throughout the film. He sees Cinderella’s mistreatment as the Fall. The Stag is a Christ figure in ancient stories. The Prince, the son of the King, who falls in love with Cinderella, is also a Christ figure who in a sense redeems through love the human race. And there is a strong note of forgiveness in Ella’s words to her stepmother.

So in the end, I saw a movie I would not have seen without a little pressure. It was a good experience.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-parental guidance – because of mild thematic elements. The Catholic News Service rates the film A-I – general patronage.

Magazine Notes

The New Yorker for March 9 of this year has a fascinating article of around 20 pages on the history of the Plowshares anti-war group. The group historically has had a strong Catholic presence. The early section on Dorothy Day is powerful. The piece by Eric Schlosser titled “Break-In at Y-12” then moves into the late ’60s with the story of brothers Philip and Daniel Berrigan. Dorothy Day did not feel comfortable with the direct action that the brothers and their followers advocated. Later, Elizabeth McAlister plays a major part in the movement.

The more recent history is of the entry into the major National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn., by the pacifists Gregory Boertje-Obed, Michael Walli and Sister Megan Rice on July 28, 2012. The amazing thing about Sister Rice is that she was 82 years old when this break-in took place. The article goes beyond the anti-war issues to ask how this handful of individuals could access such an important national facility. They clearly revealed the vulnerability of America’s nuclear-weapons sites.

*****

Ross Douthat, a former writer and editor at The Atlantic magazine and is presently an opinion writer at The New York Times has an interesting article on the vision of Pope Francis. The May 2015 issue includes his article, titled “Will Pope Francis Break the Church?”

The article, about 20 pages in its Internet incarnation, includes some of the history of Francis’s life in Argentina, his efforts after two years as pope, and some critique from Douthat’s conservative point of view. It is a thought-provoking piece.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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