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Directors speak of ‘spiritual warfare’ while making pro-life film

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 19, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The writers and co-directors of the upcoming film “Unplanned” have spoken of how they prepared for a “spiritual battle” to make the pro-life film in the hopes that it will change hearts and minds through it groundbreaking depiction of the abortion process.

 

“We, from the beginning, knew that it would be spiritual battle, spiritual warfare. It was prophesied over us that this is not a normal movie,” co-director Cary Solomon told CNA in an interview following a screening for press on March 18.

 

“Unplanned” dramatizes the truth-life account of Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s decision to leave the organization and become a pro-life campaigner.

 

Solomon and co-director Chuck Konzelman told CNA that they arranged for a priest to exorcise the set, and bless the cast and props.

 

“We tried to do Mass and adoration as much as we could,” said Solomon. For the Evangelical Christians involved in making the film, similar spiritual guidance was offered.

 

Despite anticipating the usual stresses of the production process, Konzelman and Solomon told CNA that they found “profound moments of tremendous peace” on set, which is atypical of the movie-making industry.

 

“It was amazing. We didn’t have any problems that you would normally have on a movie,” said Solomon. Konzelman agreed, and added that the set of “Unplanned” was “the calmest set [he’s] ever been on.”

 

“There was no screaming, there was no tension--the average day would have no incident,” said Konzelman. “That’s just not normal in filmmaking.”

 

Despite the relative calm on set, other incidents plagued the cast and crew, as well as their families. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt, but there have been several close calls.

 

“We've had probably 15 accidents where people or family members of people who worked on the movie, were in a car crash, [...] and the person would just walk away,” said Solomon.

 

“They’ve all been crazy violent,”  he explained. One person survived a bike accident that destroyed her helmet, and a producer’s car was split in half after being t-boned.

 

Lead actress Ashley Bratcher, who plays the role of Abby Johnson, survived a near death-car accident under bizarre circumstances.

 

"Ashley herself, she had a deer, a stag, jump backwards--I've never seen deer jump backwards--on the highway into her car and wiped out her car and almost killed her,” said Solomon.

 

The accident saw both airbags deploy and left Bratcher trapped in her car. “And yet, she got out and walked away. She was stuck on the highway, in the dark."

 

Konzelman said that despite the challenges faced during filming, and the financial hurdles to completing production, he never doubted that there was a higher interest supporting the film.

 

"It took two years for us to raise the money for this film, from the production to the marketing, which I never would have expected that would be the case,” he said.

 

“The Lord has told us this from the beginning--and this is obviously putting it in human speak-- ‘I’ve got this. I got you. Do not fear, for this is for my glory,’” said Solomon.

 

The film provides an uncensored, graphic, look at the realities of abortion, and received an R-rating from the MPAA. “Unplanned” is the first R-rated film to be distributed by Pure Flix, a Christian movie production company.

 

The co-directors previously told CNA that they would not be challenging the rating, which they feared was motivated by the movie’s political message.

 

“No one’s ever seen [a graphic presentation of abortion] before. It’s been very carefully and very studiously avoided by the [entertainment] industry,” Konzelman said.

 

He explained to CNA that Planned Parenthood employs a director of arts and entertainment engagement, “who teaches the mainstream film industry and television industry how to film in accordance with their guidelines.”

 

“Unplanned” is unique, Konzelman said, because it tells the story of the abortion industry from the perspective of someone who was once a part of that industry, and does not sugar coat the reality of abortion. He and Solomon hopes her story will inspire other people to either leave their jobs in the abortion industry, or to change their minds on the issue.

 

“Seeing [an abortion procedure] is what changed Abby’s life. No matter how pro-choice you are, you can’t be more pro-choice than Abby Johnson was,” said Konzelman.

 

Prior to becoming clinic director, Johnson herself underwent two abortions. Both of these are shown in the film.

 

“And yet, one look at the process taking place in front of her eyes in real time, changed her entire life,” Konzelman said.

 

In fact, the film has already changed the perspective of one viewer: Solomon’s father.

 

Solomon told CNA that showing his “far left,” pro-choice atheist father a short clip of the film caused him to change heart entirely on the issue. Solomon shared a clip where two volunteers from the Coalition for Life group pray over a 55-gallon drum containing fetal remains.

 

He said his father told him that “Unplanned” was “gonna change the world” because of its unflinching portrayal of abortion, which was something he had not previously seen or thought about.

 

The movie “showed what we [as a society] never wanted to see,” Solomon’s father told him. “And now when you know, you can’t un-know.”

 

Unplanned will be released in theatres nationwide on March 29. The film is rated R due to disturbing images and violence.

How the Big Easy celebrates St. Joseph

New Orleans, La., Mar 19, 2019 / 03:31 am (CNA).- Catholic culture is everywhere in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is the city’s defining celebration. The city’s cathedral is one of its most well-known landmarks. And in the days leading to March 19, the people of New Orleans take up a Catholic tradition that began in the Middle Ages - they build “St. Joseph altars.”

In recent years, nearly 60 New Orleans Catholic schools and parishes have constructed annual devotional altars, as an expression of gratitude to St. Joseph, and as a labor of love for parishioners, friends, and neighbors.

"The original [St. Joseph’s] altar was built by the people of Sicily in thanks for his prayers to bring an end to their famine," said Sarah McDonald, communications director of Archdiocese of New Orleans.

"Today, they are considered a labor of love. As you are supposed to be working on the altar you are praying to St. Joseph to bless your family and to hear your intentions and pass them on," she told CNA in a 2018 interview.

The tradition began in Sicily, where St. Joseph's intercession is said to have helped the island through a severe famine almost 1,000 years ago. According to legend, people thanked St. Joseph for his prayers by building prayer altars, on which they placed food, pastries, flowers, wine, and, especially, fava beans.

The beans, which are said to pair well with Chianti, were the first crop Sicilians are believed to have grown once their drought ended.

The altars became a custom in Sicily. They came to New Orleans during a wave a Sicilian migration in 19th century.

"In New Orleans we have a very large Sicilian immigrant population coming over in the late 18th century/early 19th century, and with the Sicilian immigrants came the tradition ... of St. Joseph's altars,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the altars were first built in people's homes, for celebration with neighbors and families. They have now moved to parishes and are even found in some businesses, including grocery stores and concert venues.

Constructed over several days, the altars typically are made in the shape of a cross, with three tiers to represent the Trinity. A picture of St. Joseph is placed on the top tier. Altars are typically blessed by a priest.

The altars are covered with baked goods, flowers, candles, fruits, vegetables, and meatless meals. Many of the pastries and cookies have a symbolic meaning: some cookies are shaped as carpenter's tools or the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The food is an expression of gratitude for the local harvest, McDonald said, noting that after the festival canned goods and money are donated to those in need.

To complete the day, many parishes stage a reenactment of the Holy Family's search for shelter in Bethlehem, after which a feast is served.

Called "Tupa Tupa" or "Knock Knock," the custom has children representing the Holy Family knocking on the parish door looking for shelter. Two times the procession is denied shelter, and on the third knock everyone is let in for the feast.

 

This article was originally published on CNA March 19, 2018.

State-level abortion battles continue across the US

Lexington, Ky., Mar 18, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- A judge blocked a Kentucky law that would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, in the latest setback in efforts to expand abortion restrictions in the United States.

Federal Judge David J. Hale of the Western District of Kentucky ruled on March 16 that Kentucky’s newly-signed law to ban abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy may be unconstitutional, and delayed its enforcement for the next two weeks.

The bill was signed into law earlier that day by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, and was supposed to go into effect upon signing. The ACLU and other groups had pledged to immediately challenge the law.

Other states’ attempts to pass “heartbeat bills” that ban abortion following the detection of a fetal heartbeat have run into similar judicial hurdles. Due to the existing legal precedent of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion, legislation that restricts abortion prior to fetal viability is generally found to be unconstitutional.

This has led some prominent pro-life groups, as well as Tennessee’s Catholic bishops, to say that they do not support the “heartbeat bills” at the present time, due to their inevitable legal challenge and likely failure.

Kentucky currently has one abortion clinic operating in the entire state.

Meanwhile, the Indiana House voted to allow expand religious and other conscience-based objections to abortions by medical personnel.

Current law allows physicians and staff members at health clinics and hospitals to object to abortion procedures. The proposed legislation, which passed the state house by a vote of 69-25 on March 14, would expand the ability to opt-out to pharmacists, nurses and physician assistants, according to the Northwest Indiana Times.

It would also broaden the definition of abortion to include prescribing or dispensing an abortion pill.

The Indiana Senate will now need to consider the legislation, with changes made by the House, before sending it to Governor Eric Holcomb (R), who is expected to support it.

 

Study shows cohabiting relationships to be less stable than marriage

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- A new study found that in 11 countries across the globe, cohabiting couples have more doubts about their relationship lasting and give less importance to their relationship than married couples do.

The 2018 Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS) examined living situations in various countries. It found that among adults age 18-50 with children under age 18 living at home, married couples had more confidence in the lastingness of their relationships than those who were unmarried but living together.

Across Anglosphere countries, participants who were cohabiting with their partners were significantly more likely, in the past year, to have had serious doubts that their relationship with their partner would last.

The greatest difference was found in the United States, where 36 percent of cohabiting couples indicated having had serious doubts, in contrast to only 17 percent of married couples.

In the United Kingdom 39 percent of cohabiting couples were doubting their relationship’s stability. In Australia that number was 35 percent, in Canada and Ireland 34 percent, and in France 31 percent.

In South America, cohabiting parents were less likely to have relationship doubts, with the least likely being Argentina, where only 19 percent of cohabiting couples expressed doubt.

The smallest difference found was in France, where relationship confidence between married and cohabiting couples differed by only one percentage point.

In addition to relationship stability, the study also found that overall, cohabiting parents were less likely to define their relationship as “more important than almost anything else in life” compared with responses from married couples, though the difference varies country to country.

In the U.S., 75 percent of married couples said their relationship is vital to them, while only 56 percent of cohabiting couples said the same.

In Australia, the difference in importance placed on a relationship between the cohabiting and married families was found to be 15 percentage points and in Ireland 14. In the United Kingdom their responses differed by 17 percent.

For every South American country, the survey found between 9 and 12 percentage-points difference, except for in Mexico, which had a difference of 23 percent, in Argentina, which had a difference of 19.

The responses from France were again the closest, with 73 percent of married couples, and 70 percent of cohabiting couples, agreeing that their relationship was more important than almost anything else in their life.

Run by the Institute for Family Studies/Wheatley Institution, the GFGS conducted 16,474 online interviews with adults ages 18-50, in the countries of France, Canada, Australia, Ireland, United Kingdom, US, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina.

The study brief, written by Wendy Wang and W. Bradford Wilcox, noted that “a growing number of children in developed countries today are being raised by parents who are living together but not married.”

“Differences in stability between cohabiting and married families are noteworthy because children are more likely to thrive in stable families.”

The survey also suggests, they said, “that one factor explaining the stability premium for family life associated with marriage is commitment. Specifically, this brief finds that married parents are more likely to attach greater importance to their relationship, compared to cohabiting parents.”

 

Patrick: The saint who knew what it was like to be a slave

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2019 / 04:04 am (CNA).- Among the most popular saints today, Saint Patrick was a bishop and missionary to Ireland. However, he also spent several years as a slave, and once issued a heartfelt plea on behalf of girls and boys abducted into slavery.

In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, St. Patrick intended to shame the fifth-century general whose raiding soldiers the saint declared to be “blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.” He denounced those who “divide out defenseless baptized women like prizes.”

Patrick said he did not know what grieved him more: those who were slain, those who were captured, or the enslavers themselves – “those whom the devil so deeply ensnared.”

The plea is all the more poignant because St. Patrick was himself a former slave. In his letter he wrote that Irish raiders once took him captive and slaughtered the men and women servants of his father’s household.

“He would have known acutely what these slaves were going through, because he was the victim of just such a raid,” said Jennifer Paxton, a history professor who teaches at The Catholic University of America’s Irish Studies program.

“In the fifth century this kind of raiding was endemic, all around the British Isles. He was stolen from someplace, we’re not sure where, in western Britain, and taken to captivity in Ireland.”

He spent six years tending sheep for his master.

“Obviously he did not enjoy his time as a slave and wanted it to end,” Paxton told CNA. “So he would have definitely identified with these victims.”

The saint’s letter is a unique witness in medieval history.

“We do not have any other first person account of someone who was captured by barbarians and survived,” the history professor explained. “We have nothing else quite like it.”

The letter was written to be read aloud elsewhere, with the hope that Coroticus and his men would eventually hear of it and come under popular pressure. St. Patrick said those who hear the letter should “not fawn on such people” and should not share food or drink with them until they release their captives and “make satisfaction to God in severe penance and shedding of tears.”

Paxton said St. Patrick’s style is “somewhat defensive” because “he is up against tremendous odds, and he knows it.”

“He does not, as far as we know, ever get these captives back,” Paxton continued. “What we have is this cri de coeur that has resonated down through the ages. But he doesn’t manage to save them.”

She speculated that St. Patrick must have felt “the tragedy of seeing these people newly saved from damnation by baptism, and (then) taken away into slavery.”

Modern slavery is an enduring problem. In Nigeria, where St. Patrick is a patron saint, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram became infamous for the April 2014 abductions of several hundred girls from a school in the country’s northeast.

In December 2014 major religious leaders including Pope Francis signed a joint declaration at the Vatican urging the eradication of modern slavery. A 2014 report from the organization Walk Free estimated that almost 36 million people worldwide suffer some form of slavery, with 61,000 people held in slave conditions in the United States.

As for St. Patrick, his letter seeking the release of slaves was not widely circulated. It was preserved in a few places, including the Book of Armagh. Paxton said the letter played little role in Christian debates over slavery, which was taken for granted for centuries.

Slavery’s decline in Europe doesn’t owe much to Church efforts, she said. “It was more economic forces that led to its decline, I’m sad to say,” Paxton remarked, adding that Coroticus himself was probably a Christian.

St. Patrick became known for his life of sacrifice, prayer and fasting. Although he was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, he is widely regarded as the most successful.

Paxton noted that St. Patrick’s letter and his other known work, the Confession of St. Patrick, are “steeped in the scriptures.”

“He basically writes in scriptural quotations. That’s the way Patrick thinks,” she said.

St. Patrick’s use of the Bible is rare in a medieval text because he quotes from many different sections of the Bible: the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and numerous prophetic books.

Paxton said she found Patrick “a really fascinating figure.” In later legends he became a “wonder-working superhero” who expelled the snakes from Ireland and defeated druids in battle.

“But the real St. Patrick of his own words is really a far more moving and inspiring example for Christians of today,” she added.

“Ireland was never the same as a result of what he did. That’s something I think we should all be impressed by, somebody who himself was very marginal, who was not a major figure in his own Church, persevered in the face of all these obstacles and achieved something really wonderful.”

This article was originally published on CNA March 17, 2015.