Category Archives: Culture

Freedom for all

us_and_canadian_flagby Patrick Novecosky
Legatus Magazine
July/August 2009

I’m a new American. A few hours after my son was born two years ago, I raised my right hand and took the oath of citizenship. I swore to “defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America” because the Constitution’s values are essential to a healthy, just and moral society. This fact seems to be lost on some of our elected officials who should renew their own commitment to the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment rights to religious liberty.

America was founded by Christians who wanted a nation where the free exercise of religion was permitted and encouraged. George Washington famously said that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

John Adams, the second President, added to that idea, saying that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Over the past several decades, the culture has taken the Founding Fathers’ idea of religion as an unshakable support for freedom and turned it on its head. The First Amendment allows for the “free exercise” of religion. But activist judges and the mainstream media have interpreted the “freedom of religion” as the “freedom from religion.” Groups like the ACLU strive to eradicate of all religion from the public square.

And when Christians stand up to voice their concerns, those in power do everything they can to silence them. In March, the Bridgeport diocese bused Catholics to a rally to protest a bill that impinged on religious freedom. Bishop William Lori urged parishioners to contact lawmakers about that legislation and another bill to legalize same-sex “marriage.”

In June, the Connecticut Office of State Ethics launched a probe into whether the diocese acted as a “lobbying organization” in heading off the bills. When a Catholic diocese can’t  exercise its constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, something has gone terribly wrong with the American Experiment. There’s little doubt that much of the blame is ours. Irish statesman Edmund Burke said that “the only thing necessary for  the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

However, we might want take a page from the ACLU’s playbook, which urges its members to be in touch with legislators who “believe that a letter represents not only the position of the writer but also many other (100) constituents who did not take the time to write.”

I’ve always contended that politics follows culture. If lawmakers want votes, they have no choice. By changing the culture one soul at a time and urging our lawmakers to follow, we will light the way to reestablishing religious freedom in America.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine. He emigrated to the United States from Canada in 1996. This editorial appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Legatus Magazine.

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‘Passion’ Producer’s Islam film

By Patrick Novecosky
National Catholic Register
June 28, 2009 Issue

Steve McEveety

Steve McEveety

Steve McEveety is no stranger to controversy. The veteran producer of films like Bella, Braveheart and We Were Soldiers has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. But he’s also taken heat for projects like The Passion of the Christ, which some groups charged as being anti-Semitic and too violent for the screen, and An American Carol, which lampooned liberals.

The latest project from McEveety’s Mpower Pictures is more akin to The Passion. Filmed in English and Farsi, The Stoning of Soraya M stars Jim Caviezel and hits the big screen on June 26. Controversial in its own right, it tells the true story of a Muslim woman unfairly accused of adultery in a small Iranian village circa 1986. The film took second runner-up at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, finishing just behind the Oscar-winning megahit Slumdog Millionaire. Register correspondent Patrick Novecosky spoke to McEveety from his office in Santa Monica, Calif.

Your father and uncle were in the movie business, so you literally grew up in a Hollywood family. Was the faith part of your upbringing?

Yes. I was brought up in a Catholic family, and we went to Mass every week. I went to Catholic grammar school and high school, and then to Loyola Marymount, which is a Catholic university. So I think it was drilled into me quite properly. I ignored the Church for a while when I was young, then came back. The faith is bred into you, and that foundation is always there. When it’s time to turn to the spiritual side, you have a direction to go in.

You’ve worked on a number of films with faith themes — Braveheart, Bella, The Passion. What’s your definition of a good film?

The essential aspect of any film being good is that it’s entertaining. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. After that, you can layer it with all sorts of cultural, personal or moral opinions. That’s how films can lead people in all sorts of different directions. They are layered with messages that people don’t realize are there. For me, anything that shines a light on God is the right direction. The more covert that light is, the more effective you might be.

My faith certainly has had an effect on my work. How could it not? And part of it is chance — what doors are opened, and what doors are closed. That’s God’s providence. I’ve been able to work on some great movies and thankfully avoid others. I’ve been blessed.

Did you found Mpower in order to make movies that appeal to a Christian audience?

Not really. My taste in art just does that naturally. I make movies that appeal to me. All of my movies, with the exception of The Passion of the Christ, are not Christian films. The rest of them have Christian values in them — the mention of God or the suggestion that there’s a higher being — because that’s who I am. So I can’t avoid that; it’s going to come out in the films I have control over.

How does the Christian faith fit with your new movie, The Stoning of Soraya M?

A film is made by many filmmakers. I’m one of several on this film. If you’d ask the director or the actors, you’d get a different answer. For me, it’s a biblical film, a New Testament film.

Although it takes place in the Muslim world, it’s a very Christian film. The title gives a bit of the story away. The woman who is stoned to death in the film carries her cross, and she carries it quite well. In the end, she is “crucified.” Her last detectable words are to her God. So, in that regard, it’s very much a Jesus story. It may never dawn on my fellow filmmakers, but that is very evident to me.

Many of the surrounding characters are much like the ones that Christ confronted. There are good people; there are bad people; there are people who denounce this woman and accuse her unfairly. There’s a lot of commonality there. Soraya is really quite Christ-like, and that’s what drew me to this film. But the movie is about much more than that. It’s about a victim and bullies. In the course of our lives, we’ve all been both.

There are some striking similarities to The Passion — the actor (Caviezel), the location in the Middle East, the violence, the score by composer John Debney, the foreign language. Was any of that on purpose?

Not really. I just loved the script and felt like the story must be told. Debney is my buddy. I grew up with him. I brought him onto The Passion. He’s absolutely one of the best composers in the world, and I got him to do this film. It was a blessing.

We hired two high-profile actors for the character Caviezel plays. Both accepted the part, and each one of them decided three days later to drop the part. They were living in Europe, and their families were concerned for the potential danger of playing the role. I was set to go into production in three weeks, and I didn’t have an actor. Caviezel is my buddy, and our kids go to the same school. I ran into him on the day the second star backed out. I explained what happened, and he said, “Let me read it.” So he read it and said, “I’ll do this part.” He turned out to be just perfect for the role.

The director always wanted to do the film in Farsi, the native language, so people would feel like they were really there. And he was absolutely right. You experience this film rather than watch it.

Before The Passion and Slumdog Millionaire, foreign language films didn’t appeal to a mainstream audience in the U.S. Have they opened doors for films like The Stoning?

You’re probably right. Movies are becoming more international. People here in the United States are responding to international-themed films. The Stoning of Soraya M was the second runner-up at the Toronto Film Festival, which I was pretty excited about. It was quite a feat in itself, but I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t win. Some “stupid movie” called Slumdog Millionaire beat us. I didn’t know what that was at the time. Now I’m not feeling so bad since it went on to win Best Picture and seven other Oscars.

Before The Passion, I’m not aware of films in foreign languages made by Hollywood filmmakers. I think it was one of the first. We have a different way of making movies than Europeans do. Films done by Hollywood filmmakers in a native language might be a little more accessible to an American audience.

You’ve screened The Stoning for a number of groups — secular, Christian and Muslim. What has the reaction been like?

It is way above normal in terms of how people rate the film, but the personal reactions have been just incredible. Across the board, people are stunned at the movie. I don’t know how many people have told me it’s the most powerful film they’ve ever seen.

On the flip side, any time you make a statement like this film does, you’re going to get people who disagree or are upset or offended. About 4% or 5% are either angry with us, or the movie made them angry, but there isn’t anyone who isn’t emotionally involved.

Some people can’t handle the stoning scene. They’ll close their eyes or leave, then come back. But even those people thank me for making the movie. No matter what people’s reactions were after seeing this movie, it’s stronger and more positive two days later. It’s a movie that doesn’t leave you. If there are movies you don’t forget in your life, I think this is one of them. Unfortunately, we don’t have the funding to advertise, so we’re relying on word of mouth and reviews. If we do well with both of those, the film will catch on.

What’s down the road for Mpower and Steve McEveety?

We’ve got about 20 films in development right now, including several family films. We just finished filming one called Snowmen (Ray Liotta, Christopher Lloyd). It’s fun and sweet. My dad worked at Disney, so I grew up around family films. It’s a blast for me.

We’re also doing a movie on spiritual warfare based on [Rwandan genocide survivor] Immaculée Ilibagiza’s best-selling book Left to Tell. We have a screenplay; we’re raising money, and we’re hoping to start shooting soon. We really want to get into her soul and explore what she went through spiritually to get to a point where she could forgive.

Patrick Novecosky writes from Naples, Florida.

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Obama and the new holocaust

Piles of shoes several feet high filled a glassed-in room. Next to it was another room filled with eyeglasses. Then I saw the room filled with human hair—clumps of hair and even long braided hair which had been shaved off of women destined for the gas chambers. Despite the fact that it was over 50 years old, the braid looked freshly cut. Coming face-to-face with the remnants of horror and mass murder is life changing. The camp commandant at Auschwitz testified at the Nuremberg Trials that up to 3 million people died there. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has revised this figure to 1.1 million.

My 1997 visit to the Nazis’ largest death camp in southern Poland is still fresh in my mind after more than 12 years. The memories came rushing back after hearing of news reports of President Obama’s June 5 visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

Buchenwald is a place “where people were deemed inhuman because of their differences,” Obama said. “These sights have not lost their horror with the passage of time.” Even though more than 50 years have passed, he said, “our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished. I will not forget what I have seen here today.”

The main gate at the Auschwitz death camp

The main gate at the Auschwitz death camp

He’s right. My experience left me with the same feeling. I left changed forever after seeing the ovens that the Nazis used to cremate the remains and erase their crimes. It was almost surreal to walk under Auschwitz’s iron gate crowned with the infamous motto “Arbeit macht frei” — work brings freedom — an obvious lie … and everyone involved knew it.

There are no words to describe the horror of standing in a place where millions of innocent human lives were so callously extinguished. It’s important that the world never forget the holocaust in order that it may never happen again. Civilized human beings should never permit the wholesale slaughter of a race of people under any circumstances.

If you’ve ever stood in front of an abortion mill and recognized what goes on inside, the feeling of horror is no different than that of visiting a Nazi death camp. There’s no question that the Nazis were good at killing. The abortion industry, however, has perfected it. Their efficiency would have left even the most hardened Nazi in awe. Hitler himself would be proud. Every state in the union has “clinics” where women can come to have their child exterminated. There were over 1 million abortions in the U.S. last year — 50 million dead since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the new holocaust in 1973.

Since taking office in January, Obama has consistently made pro-abortion appointments to key administration positions like the head of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. One of his first acts was to reverse the Mexico City Policy, sending millions of dollars to fund abortions overseas. Obama issued an executive order on Jan. 22 reversing the Bush administration policy that bans the use of federal dollars by non-governmental organizations that discuss or provide abortions outside of the United States.

Life is good. Really good.

Life is good. Really good.

Interestingly, despite his popularity, Obama has shown himself to be incredibly out of touch with the American public. A spate of polls in May revealed that the majority of Americans are against abortion on demand.  A Gallup poll, conducted from May 7-10, found that about 51% of Americans call themselves “pro-life” and 42% “pro-choice.” This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking that question in 1995.

If this trend continues, it’s conceivable that within my lifetime, a future president of the United States will make a pilgrimage at a former abortion mill, lay a wreath and echo Obama’s very words: “I will not forget what I have seen here today. These sights have not lost their horror over time.”

Let’s hope. And let’s pray that this comes to pass.

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The Dead Sea, the Red Sea & the desert

After spending the last three days in the rugged Jordanian outback, one thing is clear: My people (fair skinned Germanic types) were not made for the desert. Even though I live in Florida where the sun can bake anyone to a crisp, the hot, dry desert is no place for blondes … unless you’re T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia). But even he went home eventually.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll note that Pope Benedict left for Israel on Monday. I stayed behind to continue a press tour of Jordan sponsored by the Jordanian Tourism Board (JTB), accompanied by a four other American journalists, a JPB rep, and a local guide (Ibrahim) who could easily be mistaken for a wise-cracking American. He says he once lived in Pittsburgh, but who’s to know for sure.

Monday, May 11

Our local guides at Ajloun

Our local guides at Ajloun

After the Pope’s departure early this morning, we headed north to Ajloun . We visited a local business run by local women which produces hand-made high end soaps before setting out to explore more rugged terrain.

Monk caves near Ajloun, Jordan

Monk caves near Ajloun, Jordan

We saw caves once occupied by monks, the ruins of a 6th century church dedicated to the Old Testament prophet Elijah. It was in ruins, but contained an empty underground crypt and some newly discovered mosaics that had been hidden for centuries.

Arab entertainers at the Jerash Roman ruins

Arab entertainers at the Jerash Roman ruins

We stopped for lunch in Jerash — a city which boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years.

The ampitheater, Jerash ruins

The ampitheater, Jerash ruins

According to Ibrahim, our sagacious guide, it contains the best preserved Roman ruins outside of Rome itself. After spending a couple hours exploring the fallen city, I think I believe him.

Before going to bed, I did a quick calculation and figured out that it was about 10 am back in Saskatchewan, so I called my Dad to wish him a happy 72nd birthday. He was surprised to hear from me. Thankfully, I was able to call via the Internet using a headset for only 2.1 cents/minute. Skype rocks!

Tuesday, May 12

Early this morning, we checked out of the hotel in Amman and drove down. Literally. By mid-morning, we were at the Dead Sea, elevation nearly 1,400 feet below sea level. It’s the lowest spot on earth (with air, of course). At 1,240 ft deep, it’s the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. JTB arranged for us to take use the luxurious facilities at the Mövenpick — one of the high-end resorts on the Jordanian side of the Sea.

A few of us wandered down to the beach to check out the salty waters and the world-famous Dead Sea mud, which is apparently pure gold for your skin. Black gold, that is. My official photographer, Greg Tarczynski, has some pictures of me covered in the stuff. I’ll post them soon, so come back to this entry in a week or so. We packed up after lunch and drove a few hours south to the Red Sea port of Aqaba before the sun set on another beautiful day in Jordan.

Wednesday, May 13

The Treasury, Petra

The Treasury, Petra

The Treasury, Petra

The Treasury, Petra

The most physically challenging day of our tour began at the 1st century BC city of Petra, about 75 miles northeast of Aqaba. It’s a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2,000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice, and other trade routes that linked China, India, and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Rome.

I took a lot of pictures, but they don’t do the site justice. Among the most impressive was The Treasury, which was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At 100 ft wide and 145 ft high, it dwarfs  everything around it. Called Al Khazneh by the Arabs, it was carved in the early 1st century as the tomb of an important Nabataean king.

At the Treasury, Petra, attempting to be Solomon

At the Treasury, Petra, attempting to be Solomon

The next adventure on the trail was not for the faint of heart or weary of feet. Petra’s largest monument (165 ft high and 150 ft wide), the Monastery or Ad-Deir in Arabic is an hour’s hike (800-900 steps) up a rugged trail covered with loose rock. It sits 3,750 above sea level. The climb was worth it. Dating from the 1st century BC, it was most likely a Nabataean temple. However, apparently Christian monks lived there during the Roman era.

The massive "Monastery" is impressive at 3,750 above sea level

The massive "Monastery" is impressive at 3,750 above sea level

Atop a cliff overlooking The Monastery, Petra

Atop a cliff overlooking The Monastery, Petra

We weary hikers felt like we were on a movie set all day. In the afternoon, we shifted from Indiana Jones to the Lawrence of Arabia. Jordan’s most famous desert, Wadi Rum, was the setting for the classic 1962 Lawrence Oliver movie about T.E. Lawrence who called the area “vast, echoing and god-like.” The name means high (rum) valley (wadi).

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Wadi Rum

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Wadi Rum

Our intepid group loaded onto the back of a canopy-covered 4X4  pickup truck and headed out from the visitors center to the desert. A convoy of 1970s and ’80s modified 4X4s followed with dozens of tourists to explore the expansive sea of rocky peaks. Wadi Rum is a maze of rock formations and hills that rise up from the desert floor up to 5,800 ft. One of the most impressive is called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

At a bedouin camp, Wadi Rum

At a bedouin camp, Wadi Rum

I purchased a keffiyeh — official Arabic headgear — a black and white scarf which, when properly tied, protects your head, neck, and face from sun and sand. While it’s not approved for use in banks or airports, it sure did the trick for me with the wind and sand blowing on us as we drove through the desert.

We stopped at a bedouin (nomad) rest stop in the desert where they had various items for sale. In a separate tent, they offered free sweet hot tea. A couple men played a cool-sounding instrument. Check out the photo, and if you know what it’s called, let me know. One of our crew, Julie Rattey from Catholic Digest, bravely climbed aboard a camel. I was too busy with the tea and petroglyphs 100 yards away to take a turn.

Our ride, Wadi Rum

Our ride, Wadi Rum

We parked just a stone’s throw from a dry lakebed and a bedouin camp where some many tourists camped for the night.

The red sands of Wadi Rum

The red sands of Wadi Rum

The sun sets at Wadi Rum

The sun sets at Wadi Rum

By the time the sun was ready to drop over the horizon, about 50 people were watching in awe as it dropped below the horizon around 7:30 pm. The reddish orange glow in the sky almost matched my reddened cheeks and fried nose as another blessed day drew to a close in Jordan.

Thursday, May 14

After a grueling, sun-drenched day in the desert, it was time for a leisurely day … on the water. We joined a crew of about 20 Brazilian-Peruvian journalists who were on another JTB press tour. Most of them had also covered the papal visit to Jordan and had morphed into travel journalists … like yours truly.

We boarded a glass-bottomed boat and pushed off into the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea around 11:30 am. Within 30 minutes, we were sitting over blue, yellow and reddish coral (from which the Red Sea gets its name). Five minutes later, we floated over a shipwreck which had sprouted coral and other sea life. Small fish swam along under us. Apparently there are few large sea creatures in the Gulf of Aqaba. From our furthest point out, we could see four countries — Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I felt like a world traveler just sitting there out in the Gulf!

A few Brazilians rented scuba equipment and a dozen of us jumped in for a little snorkeling in the frigid water. The crew put out a spread of salads, hummus, and grilled chicken kebabs and sausage kebabs. We docked and by mid-afternoon, we were on terra firma once again. It’s a rough life. Perhaps one day I will also convert into a travel journalist … but only if I can take my wife and kids with me!

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