Food for thought for Lent

With Lent almost upon us, the latest edition of the Arkansas Catholic in the Diocese of Little Rock has two articles you might find interesting:

— Instead of just giving the rules for Lenten fasting, the paper talked to Scripture scholars and others on why we fast and what we gain from the practice. As the headline notes, “God doesn’t want a fulfilled obligation; he wants our hearts.”

— Another article reports on how Lenten observances are growing in other Christian churches.

Film prof’s take on ‘Slumdog’

By the time I got hold of  David Schaefer, a communication arts professor for the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, it was 11:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time — but 12:15 a.m. Singapore local time on Tuesday the 24th.  Schaefer has been examining India’s films since 2002, and his examinations take him close to the source of the “Bollywood” industry.

Schaefer enjoyed “Slumdog Millionaire,” which captured eight Oscars, including statuettes for best picture, best director, best song (competing against itself!) and best original score. “Jai Ho,” the song winner, “is a great song,” Schaefer told CNS, while he was admittedly rubbing his eyes as he worked on his laptop not long after the clock had struck 12.

He noted how English director Danny Boyle had taken some flak from Indians about portraying only the slum life of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in “Slumdog” — which is not how the Bollywood directors would have treated it. Still, the English are probably better than Americans at depicting Indian life because of “greater long-term interest,” according to Schaefer, but “better than Indian directors? Not a chance.”

The U.S. bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting had classified “Slumdog” A-III — adults for various thematic elements, including crude language. Non-Hindi speakers wouldn’t know the half of it. The first word uttered in the movie is the Hindi equivalent of the F-word, Schaefer said, and it’s repeated often — “not all of it subtitled,” he adds.

Even though “Slumdog” had garnered more than $98 million in U.S. box office through the weekend of Feb. 20-22, the multiple-Oscar wins will prompt many more to see it. And therein lies another cautionary note from Schaefer: “The young boys have to overcome being exploited by gangsters masquerading as operators of an orphanage,” he says. “These are tough scenes to watch — not for children. Deliberate maiming, suggested child prostitution, etc.”

But some of the best-loved movies have happy endings, and “Slumdog Millionaire” is no different, according to Schaefer: “The ending is still emotionally satisfying, and I think that’s what audiences seem to be taking away from the film. There is a sense of social justice with Jamal’s (the lead character) outcome.”

Who gets the tips …

During her Feb. 21 presentation at the Catholic Labor Network’s Washington luncheon on wage theft, Kim Bobo, head of the Chicag-based group Interfaith Worker Justice, told of her surprise at learning that at her favorite restaurant if she left a tip for the server on her credit card, the server would not get that money.

After the presentation, it was announced that Bobo would be selling copies of her book, also called “Wage Theft.” The cover price was $18, but luncheon guests were told that Bobo would not make change, so … in good humor Bobo was asked if she got to keep those tips . “No!” she replied. “It all goes to Interfaith Worker Justice!”

Bobo’s talk, about how so many U.S. workers are underpaid for an honest day’s work, was part of a weekend “wraparound session” preceding the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

A mother’s prediction: “He’ll be a cardinal”

Sam Lucero, editor of The Compass in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., told a tale about Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s mother a couple weeks ago when speculation was rife that the Milwaukee archbishop would be named Cardinal Edward M. Egan’s successor.

Lucero, who once worked in Milwaukee at the archdiocesan paper, the Catholic Herald, recalled that when then-Bishop Dolan was appointed to Milwaukee in 2002, the Herald interviewed Shirley Dolan for its special installation edition. The story was headlined “‘A boy any mom would be proud of’: Mother not surprised by accomplishments of her first born,” and included Mom’s prediction, “He’ll be a cardinal” someday. Odds are, that will come true.

Sure, the story is six-and-a-half years old, but it’s still fun to read about a proud mom and her up-and-coming son.

UPDATE: Lucero, who also is one of the best photographers in the Catholic press, today posted an extraordinary slideshow of photos of Archbishop Dolan from Lucero’s days on the staff of the Catholic Herald. You can click here to read Lucero’s blog and see the slideshow at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!

Double standard at the Vatican?

VATICAN CITY — Following up on Paul Haring’s post below and the comments in response, it was in fact striking to compare the Vatican’s very different treatment this past week of two political leaders who support legal abortion: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

If the Vatican statements reflect the content of their papal audiences, Pelosi received a sharply worded lesson on the pro-life responsibilities of legislators. Brown (who last year helped defeat legislation that would have cut the upper time-limit of abortion from 24 to 22 weeks of life) explored in “cordial conversations” with the pontiff practically every other issue under the sun: the economic crisis, the Middle East, global poverty, the environment, etc.

As Wally Watson suggests in his comment to Paul’s post, one key was the fact that Pelosi is Catholic; Brown is not. That said, Italy is full of Catholic legislators who support legal abortion but have escaped a dressing-down by the pope — in fact, some of them have received Communion at papal Masses.

The real reason Pelosi got such a cool reception at the Vatican was that she challenged the church’s teaching publicly during last year’s election campaign, and even suggested that church leaders could not agree on when human life begins. Several U.S. bishops rushed to correct her and invited her to review her thinking.

Unlike many U.S. Catholic debates, this one registered at the Vatican. So when Pelosi came seeking a papal audience, Vatican officials felt the issue was being laid at its doorstep. Thus the strongly worded statement, which not only gave strong backing to U.S. bishops, but highlighted a position that’s been refined and underlined by the Vatican in recent years: that on issues like abortion, Catholic legislators cannot check their faith at the door.

Did Pelosi’s meeting with the pope really happen?

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, seen with a rosary on her left wrist, kisses Pope Benedict XVI's ring during a welcoming ceremony for the pontiff on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington April 16, 2008.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, seen with a rosary on her left wrist, kisses Pope Benedict XVI's ring during a welcoming ceremony for the pontiff on the South Lawn of the White House April 16, 2008. (CNS/Joshua Roberts)

If there are no photos, it didn’t really happen. As a professional photographer, it’s natural for me to obsess about photos and occasionally joke about how if there are no photos of an event, it didn’t happen.

When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi met Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday, the meeting was closed to reporters and photographers. The Vatican did not release photos either, as is the normal custom when press photographers are not permitted. In fact, it appears that L’Osservatore Romano photographers, who capture almost everyone the pope meets, did not take photos of the encounter.

So why did Pelosi get the no-photos treatment?

Before Pelosi’s visit, false rumors had been swirling on the Internet that the pope was going to present her with an award. Instead, the pope told her that all Catholics, especially lawmakers, must work to protect life at every stage. The pope’s message to Pelosi, a Catholic Democrat, was clearly aimed at reversing her support for keeping abortion legal.

In not releasing photos, the Vatican minimized the encounter and at the same time carefully controlled perceptions of the meeting. A Vatican statement released after the meeting said the pope “briefly greeted” Pelosi. The statement said “His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”

While the Vatican’s statement focused on abortion, Pelosi’s statement after the meeting had a different take. She said that she praised “the church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel.”

Two very different views of the same meeting, each party carefully controlling the message.

Would a photo of Pelosi and the pope together change perceptions of their meeting?

Pope Benedict XVI poses for a photo with Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown during their meeting at the Vatican Feb. 19.

Pope Benedict XVI poses for a photo with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during their meeting at the Vatican Feb. 19, one day after Pelosi got the no-photos treatment. (CNS/Reuters)

On walls throughout the world hang countless images of individuals meeting the pope. The formula used in the photos is tried and true: A smiling pope and a smiling subject meeting each other and shaking hands. The images convey an implicit connection with the pope and imply a sense of the pontiff bestowing his favor on the subject.

For all their simplicity, these images are very powerful. For many they are treasured keepsakes, but they are also used by countless people to promote themselves and their causes.

In not allowing photos of Pelosi meeting the pope, the Vatican recognized the power of the still image and its ability to be interpreted and used in many ways. Unlike a written statement, a still image is much more open to having many different interpretations.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House, arrives with her husband, Paul, at an interfaith service for members of Congress at St. Peter's Catholic Church near the Capitol in Washington Jan. 4. A handful of protesters from the American Life League held signs outside the church.

In her first week as the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi encounters pro-life demonstrators as she arrives with her husband, Paul, at an interfaith service for members of Congress at St. Peter's Catholic Church near the Capitol in Washington Jan. 4, 2007. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Ironically, Pelosi showed the pope a photo of her at a papal audience with her parents in 1950s as well as a recent photo of her children and grandchildren. Clearly, photos are important to Pelosi and one wonders if she brought her own camera to document the occasion.

Colorado teens urged to replace cruelty with kindness

I’ve always said that middle school was one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to get through in life.

Your body is making all of these changes, newly raging hormones are unfamiliar to you, and some of your peers seem to be mean for no reason.

Those young adolescent memories came flooding back to me as I read over a story about a middle school rally in Colorado that used a spiritually fueled message to promote an end to cruelty, and a beginning for kindness.

The story is in The Colorado Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, and it details some inspiring lessons.