He who is without sin...

{mosimage}Just last year, a Pakistani couple was stoned for adultery, a Somali woman met a similar fate on the same charge and two Iranian men were executed in this excruciating manner. Five of the world’s predominantly Muslim countries, as well as about one-third of Nigeria’s 36 states, still include stoning among the penalties in their criminal codes.

This barbaric practice is depicted unflinchingly in The Stoning of Soraya M. (Roadside/Mpower), a compelling, often moving film version of Freidoune Sahebjam’s 1994 best-seller, based on an actual incident in 1986. Set in a remote Iranian village, the narrative charts a harrowing chronicle of oppression and community corruption.

Harry Potter's continuing struggle against darkness

{mosimage}NEW YORK - Played out on a vast — sometimes overcrowded — canvas, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) is a richly textured adventure narrative in which good and evil are clearly delineated, but characters present a range of moral shading.

As they did in the franchise's earlier films, magical elements in this sixth adaptation of J.K. Rowling's hugely popular fantasy novel series serve merely as props in a study of loyalty, friendship and the varied human responses to temptation. Unlike the moral lessons on display, these spells and potions are not intended to have any more application to real life than the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.

Film fest highlights religious people and social activism

{mosimage}TORONTO - The spirituality of making the world a better place gets a close look at the Conscious Activism Doc Fest.

The documentary film festival at the University of Toronto’s Hart House will present four movies that examine how religious people take on social and political issues.

The Book of Eli surprisingly reverent

{mosimage}More contemplative and lyrical than advertised, the first big action movie of 2010 incorporates religious faith and Judeo-Christian principles to a surprising degree.

Directed by twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes, The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.) prompts the question whether, assuming a minimum level of respect, the attempt to integrate religion and Scripture into a mass-appeal film is by itself laudable.

Repo Men shows how capitalism is a part of us

{mosimage}A certain kind of reviewer, many of them working for the religious press, is going to object to Repo Men because of all the blood and swearing. As if morality consisted of a list of banned words and bodily fluids.

Catholics know morality has nothing to do with purity codes or legalisms. When legalists (sometimes Pharisees and sometimes Scribes) confronted Jesus over purity issues (ceremonial washing before meals), His response was derisive.

Doug Barry brings the Passion to life

Doug BarryPICKERING, ONT. - When Doug Barry gets to the scourging of Christ in his one-man performance of the Passion, he plays the part of the soldier who wields the whip. The soldier turns to the audience and says, “You sit there thinking you are 2,000 years removed from this in your little, sanitized, religious box.”

The rest of the hour to hour-and-15-minute performance is an elaboration of that one, central point.

“If we do not make that connection — that this was not just an historical event that happened 2,000 years ago — then it’s easier for us to detach ourselves from our sin today,” Barry told The Catholic Register.

Out of the rubble emerges a ministry of reconciliation

Coventry CathedralCOVENTRY, ENGLAND - Most of the ruined churches of England are the outcome of the violence of an early age, the dissolution of the monasteries. But the ruins of St. Michael’s Church in Coventry are the consequence of the violence of modern times.

On the night of Nov. 14, 1940, the German Luftwaffe devastated the city of Coventry. And as it burned, the cathedral burned with it. A total of 568 people lost their lives.

This past summer I co-led a group on a Reconciliation and Unity study pilgrimage, and Coventry, the only English city to lose its cathedral as a result of aerial bombardment, was one of the places we visited. It would not have been surprising if, following the raid, another kind of flame were to have been fanned into being — the fire of bitterness and hatred. It was largely due to the inspired, prophetic leadership of the cathedral provost at the time, Dick Howard, that a different spirit prevailed.

No conspiracy against Catholic TV, says Rosica

Fr. RosicaTORONTO - Salt + Light Television CEO Fr. Tom Rosica is trying to convince a vocal segment of Canada’s Catholic TV audience there is no dark conspiracy against Catholic television.

Since news broke of Bell TV’s decision to drop the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) from its satellite offerings, Salt + Light has been bombarded with e-mails, phone calls and letters from “people who automatically jumped to conclusions that this was an all-out attack against the Church,” Rosica told The Catholic Register.

Responding to angry blog posts, many of the callers and writers seem to believe in a conspiracy against Catholics rather than a straight business decision on the part of Bell, Rosica said.

Can't find a chant choir? Well, start your own

Surinder MundraTORONTO - Looking for a choir to join, Surinder Mundra couldn’t find what he was looking for. He went to one Mass where the choir was singing Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during the homily. In contrast, during the drive home from Mass, he was listening to Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a composer of sacred music in the Renaissance.

“It was backwards,” the concert pianist, piano teacher, organist and music director at both St. Patrick’s Church in Toronto and St. Georges Anglican Church in Pickering, Ont., told The Catholic Register. “I was listening to secular music in a Church. I had to leave the Church, go into my car and drive home to listen to liturgical music.”

Disillusioned by this, along with the emphasis that many parish choirs have on performance instead of spirituality, Mundra decided to start his own choir. In 2006, he founded St. Patrick’s Gregorian Choir, which specializes in Gregorian chants in its proper liturgical context. One of the only of its kind in Toronto, the choir currently has 15 members.

Bell drops EWTN from digital service

Thousands of loyal and faithful watchers of Eternal Word Television Network across Canada are losing their favourite station as Bell TV will drop EWTN from its digital satellite television service as of Feb. 27.

“EWTN had a low viewership and Salt + Light (Canada’s national Catholic television channel) is a strong alternative. This channel capacity is needed for new and high-demand channels,” said Bell spokeswoman Marie-Eve Francoeur in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

For Toronto EWTN fan Glen Burke, the network is a big part of his TV habit.

John Paul II's army was greater than the most powerful armies of his time

Pope John Paul IIOn Oct. 16, 1978, the day that a relatively obscure Polish cardinal named Karol Wojtyla stepped onto St. Peter’s Square and announced himself as Pope John Paul II,  Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn was living in exile in Cavendish, Vermont. Informed that a Pole, a man with firsthand experience of communism, had just been chosen to lead the world’s oldest and largest Christian church, Solzhenitsyn said: “It’s a miracle! It’s the first positive event since World War I and it’s going to change the face of the world.”

How right he was! Solzhenitsyn and John Paul ll are now both dead, but each man irrevocably altered history: Solzhenitsyn, by his heroic witness to truth amidst the freezing darkness of the Gulag Archipelago and Karol Wojtyla — “a man from a far country” as he called himself — by the 27 years of his papacy.

George Weigel, the Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington, D.C.,  is a leading authority on Catholic matters and the author of the definitive (and bestselling) 1999 biography: Pope John Paul ll: Witness to Hope. Weigel has now returned to this subject in The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul ll, the Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, and the Legacy (Doubleday, 2010).