Saturday, August 29, 2009

Young Women Participate in Service in the City - Boston 2009

The Joy of Giving to Those Who Cannot Give Back

August, 27, 2009

In Social Initiatives of the Opus Dei website

While summer is synonymous with TV reruns and midnight burritos for many high school students, fourteen girls from around the US gathered in Boston this summer to spend part of their vacation in service. Service in the City is a program for high school women that engages them in community service opportunities around the city, and teaches that true citizenship starts in everyday life among family and friends.

This year the girls spent many hours every day volunteering at different charitable organizations: playing with children at the Salvation Army day care; performing a talent show at the Vernon Hall nursing home in Cambridge; compiling clothing packages at Cradles to Crayons, an organization in North Quincy dedicated to providing children with the necessary items they need to flourish. After a full day around Boston, the high school girls returned to the residence in Back Bay for workshops on topics like human dignity, moral personality, identity and freedom.

When asked for the themes they thought inspired Service in the City, the participants volunteered: Love. Friendship. Perseverance. Service. Dignity. Respect. As one explained, “Service is not only work, but also the way you interact with the people you are working for.”

Service in the City is sponsored by Bayridge Residence, a student residence for young women in Boston’s Back Bay and a corporate apostolate of Opus Dei. Bayridge residents Emily Austin, a doctoral student at Boston University, and Helen Keefe, an undergraduate at Harvard, organized and led this year’s program.

“The goal is that these girls go back home with a greater sense of love and responsibility for those around them, manifested in little deeds of service,” said Emily, director of Service in the City. “I know we’re succeeding when one girl tells me that after her experience washing dishes at Rosie’s Place, a resource center for homeless women in Roxbury, she wants to work on not complaining at home when it’s her turn to do the dishes.”

More on the Movie on St. Josemaria

Filming starts on biography of Opus Dei founder Print E-mail

By Mark Pattison - Catholic News Service

Friday, 28 August 2009

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Filming has begun in Argentina on a biography of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. The movie, "There Be Dragons," is expected to be released in the summer or fall of 2010.

Directing the film is Roland Joffe, whose past films include "The Mission" and "The Killing Fields."

Joffe, who also wrote the screenplay, said he was not told what to write or how to present either the saint or the group, a personal prelature within the church, after earlier rejecting an offer to film a script provided by Opus Dei.

The film is set at the time of the Spanish Civil War, which tore apart the European nation during the second half of the 1930s.

And, likening it to his own creative freedom, Joffe said St. Josemaria "made no attempt to influence the people he worked with in terms of their politics." The director spoke at an Aug. 23 press conference in Argentina that was conducted in English, Spanish and Portuguese; U.S. reporters were allowed to listen in.

"At that time, that's pretty heroic. That's a time when almost all human beings were faced with making extraordinary choices," he said.

Charlie Cox, whose past film credits include "Stardust" and "Casanova," plays the priest. Wes Bentley, who had parts in "Ghost Rider" and "American Beauty," plays Manolo, a friend of Josemaria's who goes in and out of his life. Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, who has acted in "Quantum of Solace," "Hitman" and "Max Payne," plays Ildiko, a Hungarian woman who casts her lot with the Republican movement, which falls to the Francisco Franco-led rightist rebels.

Other actors in "There Be Dragons" include Dougray Scott, Geraldine Chaplin, Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance.

"We found ourselves making a film about love -- human love and divine love. About hate -- which I guess is human -- about betrayal and mistakes," Joffe said. Further, "I don't know if there's anybody who wants to live his life without meaning. So it's also a story about people trying to find meaning about their lives, and that's a powerful kind of story."

Responding to a question about source material for the script, Joffe said, "I researched as much as any writer can. History is not available to us; attempts at history are available to us. As an artist, one takes a difficult step that fiction is a way of understanding the truth.

"There were certain liberties I could take if those liberties could take us to the personal issues that people felt," Joffe continued, saying he was taken with St. Josemaria's idea that "a way to God is found through everyday life. And that life is also found through the Spanish Civil War. That is still felt by Spaniards very much today."

"I've been to many Opus Dei centers, and met many Opus Dei members (in doing research for the movie). And I've yet to encounter anything odd-seeming," said Cox. "I've been brought up a Catholic. I'm not a great practicing Christian. I've been to church infrequently, but I've never stopped going."

Cox added there is "an inner journey I've been going on during this film. I don't know where it will lead. My relationship with the Catholic Church and with God has certainly been profoundly affected for the better throughout this process," he added.

Asked whether he thought St. Josemaria was really a saint, Cox answered, "It's an impossible question to answer. ... I have to leave that up to the Catholic Church and not to myself."

Joffe recalled that when he made "The Mission," which dealt with Jesuit missionary activity in South America at the time of the slave trade, he used two Jesuits as advisers: a "very, very right-wing Jesuit -- those things do exist -- and a left-wing Jesuit, Father Daniel Berrigan."

He said he asked Father John Wauck, an Opus Dei priest who is a professor of literature and communication of the faith at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, "whether he'd serve the same purpose as Daniel Berrigan -- explain to Charlie (Cox) what he knew about Josemaria ... in as open and honest way as he could, what it means to be a priest. That's what he gave up his rather precious time to do, and I'm grateful for it."

When one questioner asked whether he thought "There Be Dragons" was some kind of response to the movie "The Da Vinci Code," which characterized Opus Dei as a bizarre cult, Joffe replied, "Well, it'd be a very expensive response." The price tag of "There Be Dragons" is estimated at $30 million.

"'The Da Vinci Code' stands on its own legs, whatever they may be," he added. "I think they took a rather cliched view and created a character and said he came from Opus Dei, and that is a bit much. But it's a fine movie."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Opus Dei to be in a movie again

August 22, 2009

Bringing a Saint’s Life to the Screen

The film director Roland Joffé, who has yet to regain the acclaim he won a generation ago for “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” is shooting a movie in Argentina focused on the founder of Opus Dei, an elite and powerful organization within the Roman Catholic Church.

The film, “There Be Dragons,” set during the Spanish Civil War, weaves fictional characters created by Mr. Joffé with the story of St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the Spaniard who founded Opus Dei and was canonized by the church.

The project was initiated by a member of Opus Dei, is partly produced and financed by the group’s members and has enlisted an Opus Dei priest to consult on the set. News of the project has set off criticism among some former Opus Dei members that the movie will be little more than propaganda for the organization. But Mr. Joffé, in the first interview he has given about the film, said that he had been given complete creative control and that Opus Dei never had any influence on the project.

He ditched the script he was originally given, he said, because he did not want to make what he called a “biopic” about Escrivá’s life. But, he added, he was intrigued by Escrivá’s ideas about the power of forgiveness and the capacity of every human being for sainthood. Opus Dei — the name is Latin for work of God — teaches that ordinary work can be a path to sanctity if the believer maintains a demanding regimen of religious practices intended to achieve holiness.

“I was very interested in the idea of embarking on a piece of work that took religion seriously on its own terms and didn’t play a game where one approached religion denying its validity,” Mr. Joffé said.

When pressed, he called himself a “wobbly agnostic” but added, “I do believe that rigid atheism is a rather intellectually short-sighted position.”

The Opus Dei members behind the project were delighted to enlist Mr. Joffé, whose reputation was that of a political leftist who made films that asked profound ethical questions.

In the 1980s Mr. Joffé was nominated for Academy Awards as best director for “The Killing Fields,” about the genocidal war in Cambodia, and “The Mission,” about Jesuit missionaries who try to defend a South American tribe from Portuguese slave traders. But his career has sputtered since, with movies like “The Scarlet Letter” and “Captivity,” a horror movie, earning him nominations for the Golden Raspberry Awards, which honor the worst of the film industry.

Mr. Joffé’s portrayal of Escrivá’s actions during the 1930s is likely to be provocative, especially in Europe. Some historians have accused Escrivá of collaborating with Franco. Mr. Joffé said he concluded after doing extensive research that Escrivá had been eager to avoid doing anything that would jeopardize the church’s position in Spain.

“Josemaría himself left Spain, and basically stayed out, and my sense is that he didn’t agree with and didn’t want to get involved in politics at the time,” he said.

Opus Dei has received tremendous publicity in recent years, most of it negative, from “The Da Vinci Code,” the 2003 novel by Dan Brown, and the 2006 movie based on the book. In both, Opus Dei, which claims more than 80,000 priest and lay members worldwide, is portrayed as a murderous cult whose members flog themselves with whips and wear barbed chains around their thighs.

Some members do practice what they call a mild form of “corporal mortification.” But what has made the group even more an object of suspicion is that some of its members do not readily identify themselves as such, and occupy influential positions in business, politics and other professions.

Heriberto Schoeffer, an independent film producer in Los Angeles and a member of Opus Dei, said he first conceived of a film dramatizing the life of Escrivá after reading a book about his escape over the Pyrenees during the Spanish Civil War. “All I wanted is for people to see a good side of him, because so many bad things are said about him and Opus Dei,” Mr. Schoeffer said.

With financing from a friend who is also an Opus Dei member, Mr. Schoeffer contracted a screenwriter, Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun and conservative Catholic who started a training program for Christians in Hollywood. She said in an interview that it took her two years, and three research trips to Spain, to write the script, an “Indiana Jones adventure story about a guy who was motivated by Jesus.”

Mr. Schoeffer said that he showed the script to Hugh Hudson, the director of “Chariots of Fire,” who thought the screenplay “smelled pro-Franco, so he didn’t want to do it,” and then brought it to Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director whose films include “Babel” and “21 Grams,” who found it too complicated.

Mr. Joffé also turned it down initially, but he said he reconsidered after he saw video of Escrivá answering a question from a Jewish girl who wanted to convert to Catholicism. Escrivá told her that she should not convert, because it would be disrespectful to her parents. “I thought this was so open-minded,” Mr. Joffé said.

In writing the new script, Mr. Joffé came up with a convoluted plot in which a young journalist discovers that his estranged father has a long-buried connection to Escrivá.

To perform research, Mr. Joffé traveled to South America, Spain and Italy. Mr. Schoeffer, who has since left the project, said they met in Rome with two prominent members of Opus Dei: Joaquín Navarro-Valls, who was the Vatican spokesman under Pope John Paul II, and the Rev. John Wauck, a priest who is a professor of literature and communication of the faith at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, in Rome. (Father Wauck is now the on-set adviser).

The British actor Charlie Cox (“Stardust”) plays Escrivá, and Wes Bentley (“American Beauty”) plays the journalist’s father. The ensemble cast also includesDerek Jacobi and Geraldine Chaplin.

The financing of about $30 million came from about 100 investors, and raising it was a struggle, said Ignacio G. Sancha, the lead producer, a Spanish financier and lawyer who is also a member of Opus Dei.

The film’s backers are not avoiding controversy, and may even be anticipating it. They have hired Paul Lauer, the publicist for Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” another religious epic with a no-name cast and a big-name director, which cashed in on all the attention it generated.