Another Salt+Light gem

My friends at Salt + Light Television are in the cable television business — or perhaps better to say, in the evangelization business, cable television department. The greatest profit I gain from their work though is not their TV programs but their special documentaries, available on DVD. I have about a half dozen myself, but there are more than 30 to date, ranging from devotional materials for Lent and profiles of religious communities to lives of the saints and current controversies.

On the last point, their documentary on the Venerable Pius XII and the Second World War is a signal service, dealing with the historical slander that the late Holy Father was indifferent to, or even complicit in, the Holocaust. Given that Pope Benedict XVI has entered the war over Pius XII’s reputation in full battle armour — declaring last year that Pius likely did more than any other person to save Jews — the material assembled in the documentary, A Hand of Peace, is essential viewing.

Faith fuels teen after shark attack

The film Soul Surfer hit theatres April 8. It tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, left, who loses an arm during a shark attack. (photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions)NEW YORK - The true story of a teenage girl who overcame a horrific shark attack to rise to the top of her sport is translated to the big screen in Soul Surfer (Tri-Star), an uplifting film about the power of faith and perseverance.

Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a happy, ordinary 13-year-old living in Hawaii with her parents (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid) and two brothers. The entire family surfs, but Bethany shows the most promise, winning competitions and gaining a sponsor.

When they’re not at the beach, Bethany’s family is often in church, where sermons are given by youth group leader Sara (country singer Carrie Underwood in her film debut).

Does D&P not get it?

Is the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P) indisputably committed to the Gospel of life? Is the pro-life cause as important as, say, their campaign against bottled water? Recent events in Ottawa have brought into question D&P’s pro-life commitment, and therefore the prudence of contributing money to its annual Share Lent campaign.

D&P is the “official interna- tional development organiza- tion of the Catholic Church in Canada” and has the support of Canada’s bishops in raising funds in Catholic parishes. D&P isn’t a missionary organization in the traditional sense — it does not do explicit evangelization. Rather, it supports “partners in the Global South who promote alternatives to unfair social, political and economic structures. ... In the struggle for human dignity, the organization forms alliances with northern and southern groups working for social change. It also supports women in their search for social and economic justice.”

Its vision and mission statements say nothing about God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel, Christi- anity, evangelization, salvation or the proclamation of the kingdom. In its own self-presentation it is indistinguishable from a secular hu- manitarian organization, save for its official fundraising activities in Catholic dioceses.

Is capital punishment on the table?

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper let it be known earlier this year that he was “personally” in favour of the death penalty, the opposition New Democrats and Liberals exploded like firecrackers.

But was Harper’s support for the culture of death really so surprising? He and his governing Conservatives had already tried to reverse an important pro-life orientation of Canadian foreign policy when they decided to end the practice of seeking clemency for Canadians facing capital punishment in other countries. (The decision was eventually rebuffed by the courts.)

The Prime Minister’s personal preference is also unsurprising in view of the fact that most Canadians appear to agree with him. Harper is a crowd-pleaser, and that’s what crowd-pleasers do: go with the polls.

Openness to grace makes reconciliation possible

Michael O’Brien, the leading Catholic novelist in the English language, has sent millions of words into print. He has painted numerous sacred images which tell their own stories, pictures being worth thousands of words. Yet the words he spoke on March 28 at Saint Paul University in Ottawa had an uncommon power, for they were a personal testimonial of grace.

“I am proud to say that I am a Roman Catholic. It is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful that we have a Saviour who dwells with us in this magnificent Church. This is our home. The Church is full of Judases, but it is overwhelmingly full of saints.”

Regarding the Judases, O’Brien knows of what he speaks. The artist was speaking as part of a panel organized by the Cardus Centre for Cultural Renewal, Canada’s leading Christian think tank, and Conversations Cultural Centre, a project of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. The panel addressed the Indian residential school system under the title, “From Darkness of Heart to a Heart of Forgiveness.” The evening was sombre, with the weight of sin clearly felt, and also hopeful, with the liberation wrought by mercy also evident.

This time, it's right that the bombs fly

At the time of this writing, missiles and bombs launched by the United States, Britain and France are raining down on Libya, provoking yet another crisis in the political conscience of the West. We must ask ourselves hard questions. Is such military intervention by our governments justified in this instance? By what authority, and under what circumstances, does any sovereign power have the duty to attack another country?

Catholic citizens must also ask themselves what, if anything, in the Church’s social teaching prepares us to deal with the urgent possibility that many Libyans could be killed if the regime in Tripoli succeeds in crushing the current rebellion.

The set of principles for the conduct of just and justifiable warfare was crafted in the Middle Ages in a bid to govern international conflicts. The idea behind the doctrine of just war was noble and optimistic. It held that, in a fallen world where war is a constant fact of life, some semblance of civilization could prevail even in violent confrontations.

Libya intervention brings no clarity to the duty of moral intervention

Canadians have entered another war. This time in Libya, along with a range of allies, led diplomatically by Europeans and Arabs, and militarily by the Americans.

The Holy Father was circumspect in his comments on March 20, saying that his heart was full of “trepidation” and “apprehension.” But should Pope Benedict have been celebrating this latest war instead?

The world does not need the Church to be a cheerleader for war, which always represents a failure of politics to secure liberty and justice. But what of those occasions when armed force is necessary to secure liberty and justice against a malevolent regime — as is the case in Gadhafi’s Libya? While war itself brings its own horrors, if it is a moral duty, ought not the attempt to discharge that duty bring encouragement from Christian pastors?

The Pope’s latest book shows he is the most learned man alive

Why does Pope Benedict XVI bother to write books? Long before his election to the See of Peter he was established as a leading theologian of his generation. Being universal pastor of the Church is a crushing job, so why add to it by embarking on a massive scholarly project?

Evidently the Holy Father enjoys writing theology. The deeper reason though is that Benedict knows, with all humility, that he is better at it than anyone else. Just as the soon-to-be-Blessed John Paul II knew that he had a special gift for leading massive, history-changing public manifestations of the faith, Benedict likely concludes that if the Lord wanted him as Pope then he should do what God gave him the talent to do.

Quebec struggles to deal with its spiritual death

A culture expresses itself in what it chooses to build. Ancient Egypt gave us the pyramids, tombs of their god-kings. Medieval France gave us the Gothic cathedral. Twenty-first century Texas gives us a $1.2-billion football stadium.

Recently the Quebec provincial government and the Quebec City municipal government announced $400 million in funding for a new hockey arena. It will be the new home of what remains, as of now, an imaginary Quebec City NHL team.

Juxtapose that with the news, reported in The Catholic Register last week, that Quebec’s Catholic bishops have asked the province to assist with the maintenance of the hundreds of historic churches that are no longer sustainable by the dwindling number of Quebeckers who practise their faith.

Personal animus comes through in artist’s nonsensical works

Toronto artist Peter Alexander Por is an angry man.

As I found on a visit to his controversial show of paintings and sculptures at Toronto’s Bezpala Brown Gallery (which ended Feb. 25), Por is angry, in a general way, with the mostly 20th-century tyrants who have killed millions of people and made life miserable for many millions more. Most of the 30 canvasses on display are crudely sketched portraits of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and other modern political monsters, emblazoned with the numbers of those who, Por claims, died as a result of their wars and persecutions. Though we have heard such statistics before, these numbers still have the power to stagger and amaze: Mao (4.5 million dead), Ayatollah Khomeini (700,000), Rwandan leader Theoniste Bagosora (one million), Pol Pot (two million), and so on.

The passing of Archbishop Zycinski is a great loss for the Church

One of the brightest lights in the Catholic episcopate died suddenly in Rome on Feb. 10, at only 62 years old.

I just met Archbishop Jozef Zycinski once — almost 17 years ago now. It was July 1994, and he was then the bishop of Tarnow, a rural diocese just outside Krakow. I was a student on the celebrated seminar led by Fr. Maciej Zieba, the Polish Dominican, and his American friends, Michael Novak, George Weigel and the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Bishop Zycinski came to speak to us about religion and public life in the newly liberated Poland.