Harry Potter goes out in style

One of the most successful movie franchises of all time goes out in style with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Warner Bros.).

Though this eighth installment in the series that began with 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone may bewilder newcomers — if there are any of the uninitiated left, they will not find themselves mollycoddled by patient exposition — director David Yates provides a gratifying wrap-up to a decade of blockbuster adaptations.

Based, like its immediate predecessor, on the last volume of J.K. Rowling's run of phenomenal best-sellers, Yates' fantasy is too intense for the youngest viewers. But scenes of combat, although frequent, are mostly bloodless, while the dialogue is marked by only one mildly improper turn of phrase, making this climatic adventure acceptable for most other age groups.

Vatican newspaper says Harry Potter film champions values

VATICAN CITY — The last battle of the almost-grownup Harry Potter may be too scary for young viewers, but it champions the values of friendship and sacrifice, the Vatican newspaper said.

"The atmosphere of the last few episodes, which had become increasingly dark and ominous, reaches its pinnacle," said one of two reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 printed July 12 in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

The darkness "may disturb younger audiences," said reviewer Gaetano Vallini.

"Death, which was a rare occurrence (in the previous Harry Potter films) is the protagonist here," which is another reason the film may not be appropriate for everyone, he said.

"As for the content, evil is never presented as fascinating or attractive in the saga, but the values of friendship and of sacrifice are highlighted. In a unique and long story of formation, through painful passages of dealing with death and loss, the hero and his companions mature from the lightheartedness of infancy to the complex reality of adulthood," he said.

A marriage guide for a ‘wedding crazy’ world

TORONTO — In Catholic Marriage: An Intimate Community of Life and Love, Dr. Patricia Murphy presents a booklet to help engaged couples preparing for the sacrament of Marriage.

“Sometimes it seems that the world has gone wedding crazy. Turn on the TV any evening and there is a good chance you will find a reality show dedicated to some aspect of planning the perfect wedding,” writes Murphy, an assistant professor of moral theology at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary.

The book invites engaged couples to look “beyond ‘Bridezilla’ ” and the myth of the “perfect wedding.” Instead, couples can look forward to their preparation for marriage by discussing important issues such as their future family and building a strong foundation for a lifetime commitment rooted in love and faith.

Murphy talks about marriage as a Christian vocation and life-long “commitment to love.” She also introduces couples to the beauty of the Catholic Church’s teachings on family and marriage as an “intimate community of life and love.”

Pope asks artists to fill the world with beauty

VATICAN CITY - Greeting 60 artists who were honoring him on the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Pope Benedict XVI asked them to give witness to the beauty of truth and love.

Meeting the artists July 4 at their exhibit in the atrium of the Vatican audience hall, Pope Benedict said the church and artists must intensify their dialogue and collaboration to make the world "more human and more beautiful."

The Pontifical Council for Culture organized the homage by the 60 artists -- the vast majority of whom were from Italy because of time constraints and the cost of shipping art, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, council president, told Vatican Radio.

Pope Benedict celebrated the anniversary of his ordination June 29.

Magazine aims to renew Judeo-Christian underpinning of Canadian culture

OTTAWA - An Ottawa-based think tank has launched Canadian Observer, a culturally conservative Canadian quarterly its editor hopes will engage Catholic readers.

“The culture has turned against Christians generally,” said Richard Bastien, a Catholic and retired economist who is a senior research fellow at the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies. Bastien also represents the Catholic Civil Rights League in the National Capital Region. 

The centre’s president, Joseph Ben-Ami, is the magazine’s publisher.

“We are constantly being challenged by various aspects of the culture and we must respond to that challenge by showing abandoning certain beliefs and practices will lead to chaos,” said Bastien.

“What we are defending through this magazine is not just particular policies or ideas, it’s a certain understanding of civilization — Judeo-Christian civilization.”

Rediscovering Augustine’s Confessions

Garry Wills has written a short book that teaches us how to read a longer book. If we follow Wills’ instructions we will discover new riches in St. Augustine’s seminal classic, The Confessions.

This book is the third in a new series called “Lives of Great Religious Books.” The series is meant to make classic religious texts accessible to the general public.

Wills is the right choice to make Augustine’s Confessions come alive for contemporary readers. Wills has studied the bishop of Hippo’s writings for a long time, both as an academic historian and a Christian believer. His ready familiarity, one might even say his friendship, with the person of Augustine shines through, making the Confessions come to life. Along the way, Wills provides helpful insights into thorny theological problems and breaks open elements of Augustine’s basic teaching on God, human beings and the spiritual life.

Reading the Confessions is hard work, partly because we live in a very different kind of culture and world. With the passing of 1,600 years, we read, remember and reflect differently.

Spirituality on display at Caravaggio exhibit

OTTAWA - As Caravaggio’s personal life unravelled, his paintings became more deeply spiritual, perhaps due to his need for mercy, says an art historian and expert on the 17th century Italian master.

The more sorrow he experienced, the more spiritual his work became, said University of Vienna art historian Sebastian Schütze at a June 15 preview of the National Art Gallery’s international loan exhibition Caravaggio and His Friends in Rome that will be in Ottawa until Sept. 11.

As the hot-tempered artist became “the bad boy on the run” after having killed someone in a duel, his work became richer and more reflective and less inclined to show off his technical virtuosity Schütze said.

The painting that closes the exhibit, St. Francis contemplating a skull, was painted around the time that the artist fled from Rome, and shows a deep sense of spiritual reflection.

The artist’s short life did not reflect a one-on-one correspondence between a virtuous life and great art, but 400 years after his death at the age of 38 in 1610, Caravaggio remains one of the greatest painters of all time and the most topical of the great masters today, said Schütze.

The origins of Christian art

VATICAN CITY - A newly restored third-century family tomb shows the gradual flowering of Christian funerary art as it grew out of ancient Rome’s multireligious and pagan cultures, said Vatican archaeologists.

While early Christian catacombs offer clearer examples of early Christian iconography, the burial chambers of the Aureli family mix pagan, Christian and Gnostic symbolism, representing “an evolving cultural process” at work in Rome at the time, said Msgr. Giovanni Carru at the June 9 unveiling of the tomb.

The figures on the tomb’s walls are “the first step toward the religious transformation of the city” of Rome, from being a rich mix of pagan cults, Jewish thought and Christianity to a culture that came to embrace Christianity both as a religion and a new source of ideas and art, said Carru.

A Christian journey into our universe

TORONTO - Science and religion were never at war for the creators of Journey of the Universe, a film that will hit its first Canadian audience June 15.

The documentary film, co-written by religious historian Mary Evelyn Tucker and evolutionary philosopher Brian Thomas Swimme, is rooted in the work and ideas of cosmologist and Passionist Father Thomas Berry. It tells the story of the universe over 14 billion years, Tucker explains, integrating “the best discoveries of modern science with human history, art, philosophy and religion.”

“Where do we come from and why are we here? This film tries to address these questions,” said Tucker, who will accompany her film at its Canadian premiere, hosted by the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology at the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

Journey of the Universe opens with Swimme, the film’s host and narrator, on the Greek island of Samos. As Swimme travels the island, he guides the audience through time and space — using vivid footage of the natural world and beyond — from the beginning of the universe until now.

A Catholic apologist brashly gets it right

Michael Coren shows he is a defender of the faith in his book Why Catholics are Right. (Photo courtesy of Michael Coren)One thing needful in our confused time, it has long seemed to me, is a lively polemic in favour of the Catholic faith. Thanks to Michael Coren we have one in his new book Why Catholics are Right.

It is sure to confound and infuriate enemies of the Church while delighting and instructing Catholics who take the time to read and learn from it. Even the title is provocative; today’s ecumenist likes to gather around the campfire interspersing choruses of “Kumbayah” with choruses in praise of other denominations, even other religions, and here comes brash Coren suggesting that Catholics have got Christianity right and all others are (to a greater or lesser degree) wrong. Well, who does he think he is making such triumphalist assertions?

In our local paper a retired United Church minister was apocalyptic while unfavourably reviewing Coren’s book; now I cannot say how Coren reacted to this review, but I have long rejoiced in any criticism emanating from the United Church of Canada, which I consider the pons asinorum of contemporary churchmanship.

Bibby moves beyond his traditional theories

Reginald Bibby has always told the digital story of religion in Canada. Everything was explainable in numbers. In Beyond the Gods and Back, Bibby finds an analogue tale behind the numbers — a tale of shifting religious perceptions and motivations.

Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, has been studying religious involvement in Canada since the mid-1970s, producing four books on the subject. His approach has been shaped by two academic perspectives — secularization and rational choice theory.  

Bibby talks about a marketplace for religion that is characterized by constant but changing demand and a varying number of suppliers, each vying for a greater share of the market. According to this theory, religious organizations will be more or less successful in the religious marketplace depending on their ability to meet contemporary needs of their members.