FaithWorld

This time around, Dan Brown hero is Vatican ally

photocall-2After exposing a Church cover-up in “The Da Vinci Code,” symbologist Robert Langdon returns to the big screen as an unlikely Vatican ally in the latest movie adaptation of a novel by author Dan Brown.

“Angels & Demons,” again starring Tom Hanks as Langdon and directed by Ron Howard, premieres in Rome on Monday at a theatre a mile (0.6 kilometer) away from Vatican City. It’s due to open in the United States on May 15. (Photo: Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer and Ron Howard (L-R) at a photocall at CERN near Geneva, 12 Feb 2009/Valentin Flauraud)

In the film, Langdon is recruited by the Vatican after the pope dies and four cardinals tipped  to succeed him are kidnapped. Langdon races through the “Eternal City” deciphering clues linked to a centuries-old secret society, the Illuminati.

“He is not the man the Vatican trusts — he is the man the Vatican needs,” Howard said in production notes for the movie.

The Vatican deeply disapproved of” The Da Vinci Code,” especially its portrayal of the life of Jesus, and the Archdiocese of Rome refused permission for “Angels & Demons” to be filmed in historic churches there, photocallforcing the crew to recreate them in Los Angeles. The Vatican has declined to comment on reports it would call for a boycott of the new film.

“Sister Smile” film tells sad story of the Singing Nun

singing-nun-posterRemember the Singing Nun? If you’re old enough to recall the song “Dominique”, you might want to see a new Belgian film“Soeur Sourire” (“Sister Smile”) about the nun whose hit song topped the charts in Europe and North America in 1963. Then again, you might not … The song was far more upbeat than the sad story behind it.

Jeanine Deckers, or Sister Luc Gabrielle — better known by her pseudonyms Singing Nun in English and Soeur Sourire in French — was a Belgian Dominican sister who scored a one-hit wonder with “Dominique” in 1963. The record was released under her pseudonym. But the song became such an international hit that she finally went public and even appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the United States She never had another hit and the 1966 film “The Singing Nun” starring Debbie Reynolds ended with her giving up music to work in Africa. Deckers later described that film as “fiction”. “Soeur Sourire” sticks closer to the facts (Photo: film poster for Soeur Sourire/Ocean Films)

As the film depicts it, the rebellious Deckers enters the convent to find refuge from her heartless mother and her youthful confusion at advances by male and female admirers. She has trouble adjusting to convent life but her singing catches the attention of Belgium’s Catholic television and her mother superior is persuaded to let her record “Dominique.” Celebrity goes to her head, she leaves the convent and moves in with Annie, the female admirer. When she tries to launch a new career, she cannot not use the pseudonym Soeur Sourire because it belongs to her order.

Pope meets Devil in Düsseldorf

Pope Benedict met the Devil in Düsseldorf on Monday. To be more precise, a large papier-mâché figure of the German-born pontiff shook hands with another figure depicting the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. The mock encounter was part of the annual carnival parade on Monday, known as Rose Monday in Germany, where the parade floats traditionally poke fun at public figures.

Benedict’s decision to readmit four excommunicated bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) last month sparked off loud protests among Catholics and Jews, especially in the German-speaking countries because Williamson appeared in a Swedish television interview only days before and denied the Nazis used gas chambers or killed six million Jews. The wing on the Williamson figure says “Anti-Semitism” and the brush at the end of his tail says Piusbrüder (Pius Brothers, the German term for the SSPX priests).

Just so there’s no confusion, the Williamson figure sports an armband clearly identifying who Benedict is shaking hands with. Thanks to Ina Fassbender for these shots.

“Religulous” — a film call to atheist arms

Maher and director Larry Charles pose during Toronto International Film Festival, 7 Sept 2008/Mark BlinchComedian and talk-show host Bill Maher has issued the latest “call to atheist arms” in his recently released documentary “Religulous.”

He wants his fellow non-believers and doubters to “come out of the closet” to counter what he views as religion’s dangerous influence on the world. To do so, he preaches to the converted in “Religulous”, a scathing documentary that skewers Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The film is part of the “neo-atheist” backlash to the rising influence of religion in public life, following a path recently blazed by a trio of best-selling books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Dawkins, a renowned Oxford biologist, has also presented a documentary critical of religion called “Root of all Evil?” on British television.

A silver lining to the Dutch anti-Islam film “Fitna”

Logo for Fitna movieThere seems to have been a silver lining to the Dutch anti-Islam film “Fitna” that far-right PVV party leader Geert Wilders released in late March. We noted already the strife that many people feared didn’t materialise. Now the country’s National Coordinator for Counterterrorism says the long debate about the film actually brought Christian and Muslim groups closer together.

It said in the English translation of its latest report:

“The commotion surrounding the Fitna film appears to have resulted in overtures* between Christian and Islamic organisations. Several organisations with a Christian foundation have strongly criticised standpoints of the PVV parliamentary party chairman with respect to Islam and, together with Muslim organisations, are taking initiatives to reduce the social tensions in the Netherlands and abroad. Remarkable in this context is a collaboration between the World Council of Churches and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (Protestanse Kerk in Nederland, PKN) on the one hand and the Muslims and the Government Liaison Committee (Contactorgaan Moslims en Overheid, CMO) and the Islam Contact Group (Contact Groep Islam, CGI) on the other hand. In March 2008 these organisations conducted a ‘reconciliation mission’ to Muslim organisations in Egypt to neutralise any detrimental effects of the film.”

*The Dutch original is actually a bit stronger. It says there has been a “toenadering” (rapprochement) between Christian and Muslim groups. “Overtures” implies an initiative towards cooperation without making clear that something happened, whereas rapprochement does. And, as the report made clear, something did happen.

Why do Jews want Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” published in Germany?

Mein Kampf in English translation, Educa Books, 2006It sounds counter-intuitive. German Jews want Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — the 1925 book that spells out his plan for a Nazi state and gives expression to his extreme anti-Semitism — to be published in Germany. The Central Council of Jews in Germany would be ready to help edit the new edition and pressure the Bavarian state government (which owns the rights and blocks publication) to issue it. As our Berlin correspondent Dave Graham reported, Stephan Kramer, the Central Council ‘s general secretary, made the suggestion in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio (here are the DLF text report and audio in German).

Kramer said things had changed since Bavaria banned its publication in the initial post-war years as a way to thwart a revival of Nazi ideology. “Through the Internet and other media, the book is widely available abroad. Especially in far-right wing circles, there has been what you might call a romanticising of the book Mein Kampf, so I personally and we in the Central Council now feel a publicly available version of Mein Kampf with critical commentaries would now be much more helpful. It would make clear to readers who access it what crude stuff was written there,” he said.

Meanwhile in Austria, work has begun on a spoof biopic of Hitler called — what else? — “Mein Kampf.” It’s based on a play of the same name by the late Hungarian-Jewish playwright George Tabori and will premiere in Germany next year.

Priestly turf wars in the Holy Land

Loving thy neighbour is not always easy, especially, it seems, when it comes to the traditional site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Worshipper at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 8 2007

Christian factions have squabbled for years over who controls which parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s divided Old City.

Sometimes they even come to blows.

Priests and worshippers at an Orthodox Palm Sunday celebration on April 20 ended up brawling after Armenian clerics apparently kicked a Greek Orthodox priest out of a shrine at the church — one of Christianity’s holiest.

Dutch relieved but cautious after “Fitna” causes little strife

Malaysian students protest against Fitna film in Kuala Lumpur, 4 April 2008/Zainal Abd HalimThe Netherlands has breathed a sigh of relief at muted reaction at home and abroad to a film critical of the Koran that seems to have done more for the standing of the prime minister than the populist who made it.

But there is still a sizeable audience in the country for the kind of anti-Islam, anti-immigration rhetoric first popularised by maverick politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 that is likely to keep Dutch politics fragmented and unstable.

One week after Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders posted his film “Fitna” on the Internet, read the analysis of the reaction by our chief correspondent in the Netherlands, Emma Thomasson.

Debate yes, “fitna” no

“fitna” in ArabicWe’ve been following the story of the Geert Wilders movie “Fitna” on the Reuters file and on FaithWorld and it has attracted quite a few comments. Some are vociferously for or against it, and that’s what comments sections are there for. But we have been getting some comments that are simply in very bad taste. The comments section is open to provocative comments, but not cheap slander. That rule applies to any religious leader, politician or anyone else we talk about here. Debate yes, fitna (strife) no.

How Dutch Muslim leader reacted to Wilders anti-Koran film

“Our goal is nothing other than working peacefully for our society’s future, the future of our children, but also the future of the Netherlands. Muslims in the Netherlands love this country — they of course criticise some developments, as any citizen. The Netherlands is our country and we will try together with our compatriots to find the right tone … to finally get away from the ongoing polarisation in society, so that we can finally get on with our daily lives and don’t have to be afraid of each other.” — Mohammed Rabbae, Chairman of the National Moroccan Council of the Netherlands

Logo for Fitna movieThe day after Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders showed his anti-Koran film on the Internet, warning of Islam as a threat to Western civilisation, Dutch-Moroccan leader Rabbae had separate messages for his compatriots in the Netherlands and for fellow Muslims abroad. Speaking to Dutch and foreign journalists in the El Ouma mosque in Amsterdam, he sought to assure the Dutch that Muslims considered themselves part of society, had no sympathy for violent extremism and respected the law and the constitution. “What people feel threatened by also threatens us. What threatens Westerners also threatens us. There is no difference,” he said.

He urged Muslims abroad to respect this. “We want to tell our Muslims brothers and sisters abroad, in the Middle East, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia etc, that we as Muslims in the Netherlands are best positioned to analyse the situation in the Netherlands, and to determine the response to Wilders and others … I am appealing to our brothers and sisters abroad to follow our strategy, not to frustrate our strategy by any violent incidents or an attack to a Dutch embassy,” he said.