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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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Father Corapi … live!

by Patrick Novecosky
Legatus Magazine

Father Corapi will preach a one-day retreat in Buffalo on Aug. 15. (George Martell photo)

Father Corapi will preach a one-day retreat in Buffalo on Aug. 15. (George Martell photo)

Father John Corapi has a profound way of telling it like it is. The renowned preacher’s booming baritone cuts through the clutter of easy answers and points to the fundamentals of our faith. The dynamic evangelist, who fashioned his ministry around the mold of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, suspended his hectic travel schedule two years ago, then fell ill.

Now restored to health, Fr. Corapi will preach one-day retreat on the Holy Spirit in Buffalo to more than 15,000 people on Aug. 15. EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo will speak at the conference, and Catholic Answers Live host Jerry Usher will serve as emcee. Father Corapi spoke to Legatus Magazine editor Patrick Novecosky from his headquarters in Montana.

How is your health these days?

Excellent. I was incapacitated for about eight months. Even the Mayo Clinic had difficulty getting the diagnosis right. It turned out to be two very simple things: an acute Vitamin D deficiency and chronic sleep deprivation. Those two things together disrupted my immune system. Now I’m back to normal.

The topic of my doctoral thesis in dogmatic theology was on the meaning of Christian suffering in the teaching of Pope John Paul II. So we always have to look at the transcendent dimension of something like sickness or suffering and realize it’s not a useless thing. It can be a channel for grace. Pope John Paul II’s fantastic apostolic letter on suffering Salvifici Doloris is a synthesis of this.

How has your ministry changed since your recovery?

I never stopped my ministry. I was sick for a while, but I think the part you mean is the traveling. Before I became sick, we had already decided to stop traveling for a while. We had no idea that I would become sick, but if I had my normal 35-40 events per year scheduled it would have been a catastrophe.

The decision to not travel so much is based mainly on my mission, established by my superiors, to preach using the means of social communication — television, radio and the Internet. We reach millions of people that way.

Traveling and doing events is a good thing but, on the hierarchy of effectiveness, it’s much less effort to reach millions of people than going to a conference and only talking to a thousand. Next year we hope to accept a few invitations, but not nearly as many as we used to. With the volume of work we have now, it’s just not physically possible.

The world is going through trying times — both economically and morally. What’s the remedy?

In order to remedy catastrophes like this, it has to be one person at a time. Pope John Paul II said a very profound thing in his post-synod apostolic exhortation on reconciliation and penance. He said that all of the divisions we see in the world — country against country, within individual countries, within families — can all be traced back to divisions within individual human persons called sin.

So the renewal of the country, the world, and the Church comes about one person at a time. Saint Francis of Assisi gave a great example of that. He didn’t set out to reform the Church and the world, he set out to reform himself. He he did such a great job that he ended up reforming the Church — and through the Church, the world.

When enough Catholics become true to their calling, a great power will be unleashed. The reason we have this mess, in my estimation, is because the vast majority of Catholics have not lived their faith. We have a billion Catholics on the face of the earth. If they knew their faith, lived their faith, loved their faith, I assure you that the world would be a very different place.

The United States, the situation would be profoundly different if we had 60-70 million Catholics truly living their faith. But, of course, as many as 80% don’t even go to Mass on Sunday — and that’s a precept! So we have a long way to go. But it has to be kind of grassroots, one person at a time. That is why the Church has always encouraged personal holiness, because that is where the reform is going to come from.

How did the conference in Buffalo come about?

We’ve done several events in the past with Buffalo’s Catholic radio station. They wanted to do a large event, so it fell into place. This is shaping up to be the largest event that I’ve ever preached at. Already 10,000 people are registered.

The topic is going to be on the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s a powerful thing to combine Catholic teaching on the Holy Spirit in a very practical and powerful way with the troubled times we find ourselves in. These are no ordinary times. It’s not just a downturn in the economy. We’re already well into a downturn morally, economically, socially. It’s almost cataclysmic. We have the answer. The problem is that we have to convince enough of our own people that there is a problem and teach them how to solve it.

How is the Holy Spirit key to America’s spiritual awakening?

Obviously, they are intimately tied together. I’ve been a harsh critic of ourselves, meaning the Church leadership — priests, bishops and theologians. I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job in my lifetime. We’ve had great popes; the top of the hierarchy has always been fantastic. But we’ve had a serious problem with “middle management.” There has been a significant problem with bishops and priests. Although, it’s better now than it was 20 years ago. However, the vast majority of Catholics aren’t even going to Church, so we shouldn’t wonder that the Church has been losing its influence on an increasingly secularized society.

You have to ask yourself why people have drifted away. I’m sure there are a lot of societal reasons. We don’t have control over those reasons, but we have control over the reasons inside the Church. You can start with the top. There is an old saying: “The fish stinks from the head down.” Lousy leadership is a disaster.

I once asked an old Carmelite nun why we have a crisis of leadership inside the Church as well as in the secular order. She never batted an eye. She had been a nun for over 60 years and a prioress for decades. She said, “That’s easy. Punishment for sin.” Why do we have bad leadership? Punishment for sin. It’s very biblical. You go back to the Old Testament and you see that leadership was removed from the people of God, the chosen people, because of infidelity to the covenant. They cried out to God because they had no priest, prophet or king. Why not? Because they were unfaithful.

One can recall what happened during the tenure of Pope Paul VI, when he came out with his landmark and prophetic encyclical Humane Vitae. Significant numbers of bishops, priests, theologians and others rejected it. They absolutely rejected it. The majority of Canadian bishops signed the infamous Winnipeg Statement that just categorically rejected Humane Vitae. That kind of rebellion is catastrophic. Paul VI was prophetic with that encyclical and much of what he warned about has come to pass.

The argument can be strongly made that the proliferation of abortion can pretty much be traced to artificial contraception. It’s almost a cause-and-effect kind of thing, and Paul VI warned about that. But large numbers of Church leaders rejected it and were so bold as to even reject it in writing, and that’s not without consequences. There were profound consequences not only in the Church but in the United States, Canada and the whole world. It’s had a profound effect on de-Christianizing the culture.

I always hope that things will get turned around. My mother reminds me periodically that we know the last chapter: We win! So I don’t know when it will get turned around. And don’t think for a minute that the best is going to happen without a bitter fight! We’re just heading into a tremendous period of spiritual and moral combat. We have a situation where the secular order, government and so forth are unashamedly anti-Christian and the Catholic Church is getting the brunt of the attack. I’m sure it’s going to get worse before it gets better. What we have to go through between now and then, I’m not so sure. I hope for the best, but I plan for the worst.

Tell me more about the focus of your ministry.

Before I was ordained, Fr. James Flanagan, the founder of my congregation —the Society Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity — told me that my mission in the Church would be to preach using the means of social communication using Archbishop Fulton Sheen as the model. It took me a few years to get on television and radio, but around 1996 we started to get on EWTN radio and then television — then non-stop Saturday and Sunday night for 12 years.

Now with the Internet, my website is reaching more and more people. We have a weekly webcast called Weekly Wisdom. We’re almost ready with a new redesigned website with new downloadable material. When I started, we were reaching dozens, then hundreds, then thousands. Now it’s up in the millions and tens of millions. EWTN tells me that we reach over 130 countries and territories every week — over 150 million households and that’s just television. We’re also on dozens of Catholic radio networks.

With the Internet, you can say something, put it on your website and before you can blink your eye it’s all over the place. So it’s a very rapid deployment (to use a military term) of news. With all those things together, we are reaching more and more people more effectively.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine. An abridged version of this interview was published in the July/August 2009 issue.

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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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Cartoonist draws on faith

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Breen

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Breen

Steve Breen and his wife, Cathy, had just finished a 54-day novena to St. Joseph when they got the news that he had won his second Pulitzer Prize.

Breen’s cartoons are nationally syndicated and regularly appear in The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Pulitzer judges picked Breen “for his agile use of a classic style to produce wide-ranging cartoons that engage readers with power, clarity and humor.”

A lifelong Catholic, born in 1970, the nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist regularly draws cartoons celebrating his faith. His Easter cartoon this year, for example, showed a silhouetted cross at sunrise on Calvary with the caption: “Sustainable power source.”

He spoke with Register correspondent Patrick Novecosky from his office at The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Was the Catholic faith central to your growing up in the Breen house?

Yes, it was. I had a strong Catholic upbringing. I grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif., as the second of eight children. We were your church-every-Sunday, fast-at-Lent, family-Rosary Catholics. We said grace before every meal, prayers before bed, and have a great loving mother who read to us about the saints and taught us the faith.

I went to Catholic elementary school, but my formation there was a little wishy-washy. It wasn’t until I got into college that I got stronger into my faith. That seems counterintuitive because that’s where a lot of young Catholics seem to drift away. But for some reason, I started to get more and more into my faith when I was going to the University of California, Riverside. I went to confession regularly, the Newman Center for Mass, and visited churches in the area.

My cousin was in the seminary, and we would have great theological discussions. So, I grew tremendously in my faith in my early 20s. One of the reasons may have been all the prayers I was saying to find a job and a spouse. Those prayers lifted me to a higher spiritual plateau. I did more spiritual reading, like Introduction to the Devout Life, and I’d defend the faith in discussions with my friends. I’ve always been a proud Catholic and stood out from my peers because of my faith. Let’s face it: Southern California isn’t known as a bastion of traditional Catholicism.

Did you draw a lot as a kid?

Yes, ever since I was 6 or so. As I got into elementary school, I started drawing more for my friends and developing a reputation as being a good artist. I loved the attention. I thought it was fabulous to have something that was special to me. My gift for drawing helped set me apart, and it’s really nice for a young person to have that. It gives them confidence and self-esteem.

I was always able to draw Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Then, as I got into junior high, did more Mad magazine stuff, cartoons of friends and teachers; I created my own cartoon strips — that kind of stuff. I loved to entertain back then and make my friends laugh.

You were planning on becoming a high school history teacher. How did you get started as a cartoonist?

At age 19, I knew I wanted to be a cartoonist. I was drawing editorial cartoons for my college newspaper at the time. One of my first ones ran in Newsweek, and that really put the wind in my sails and made me determined to try it as a career. I focused on it like a laser beam, but I couldn’t find a job. There was a recession going on in the early ’90s, so I spent another couple years in college working on a teaching credential. All the while, I was sending out my cartoons to newspapers all over North America that did not have a cartoonist. Literally everywhere, from Hawaii to Maine.

Finally, the Asbury Park Press called me, and they said, “We like your stuff. Can we use one of these?” I would boldly do cartoons on local issues or politicians, so I did some New Jersey issues. They ran a few, which developed into “Would you like to come out here and do an internship?” That developed into a full-time job doing cartoons one day a week and doing pagination the rest of the time. After a year or two, I became a full-time cartoonist. I met my wife in New Jersey, so it turned out to be a really good thing.

How does your faith inform how you perceive the news and interpret that in your cartoons?

Cartooning is all about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. It’s sticking up for the little guy, and that is one of the basic principles of Christianity. I try to show a respect for life in all my work. I’m consistently pro-life on everything from the death penalty to abortion to stem cells and euthanasia — even to being in favor of gun control and [opposing] unjust wars. I think that’s a consistent theme and a Catholic theme.

You dedicated your recent Pulitzer win to your fellow cartoonists across the country who have been laid off. You also admitted that, despite your success, your own position isn’t guaranteed. How does your faith sustain you in these tough times?

God will provide for those who are faithful. He may not always give you what you want, but he will give you what you need. Cathy and I recently finished a 54-day novena to St. Joseph, and right on the heels of it, I won three national awards, including the Pulitzer, so you can draw your own conclusions. Prayer really works, and it’s something that will sustain you — a sustainable power source.

Your editor said, “Steve’s talent lies in his ability to poke fun without getting personal.” Is it a challenge to stay fair and honest in your work without being mean-spirited?

It is, because sometimes you have to pull yourself back, take a pause, look at the cartoon, and ask yourself if it’s fair. Sometimes I’ll look at it and say, “No, it’s not fair. I shouldn’t say this or I should adjust that.” That has happened. Sometimes my editor will point it out to me. If you’re just out for blood or being mean-spirited in the cartoon, you can lose people — especially if you do it on a consistent basis. You’ll come to be known as the cartoonist who is nasty. It’s not that I want to be liked; I don’t want people to write me off as being too harsh and nasty. If I could tone the cartoon down and use some other device, I can reach more people sometimes.

You also created the comic strip “Grand Avenue.”

Yeah, I started it in 1999. I’d always wanted to do a comic strip with kids in it. Kids are so fun, and there’s so much material. But there have already been strips with kids, so I thought, “What if I add something different, like they’re being raised by their grandmother? There are a lot of older readers who might appreciate it.” That’s how it came to be. It’s been a lot of fun. A few years ago, I took in a partner, so I now draw it with Mike Thompson of Detroit. We’re now in 150 newspapers.

You and your wife have four kids, and you’ve written a few children’s books. Tell me about that.

Right. I’ve done two books. The first was Stick in 2007, then in ’08, I had Violet the Pilot. And this fall I have a new book coming out called The Secret of Santa’s Island. I’m a huge fan of Christmas and have always wanted to do a Christmas book. I also love the Charlie Brown Christmas special. So I show the elves watching the Charlie Brown Christmas show on one of the pages.

Getting back to my family, Cathy is from a family of 11 kids. Her dad is Bud McFarlane Sr., the Catholic evangelist. They are a great supportive family. We were married in 1998 and have four kids. Thomas is 10; Patrick is 7, Jack is 4 and Jane is 1.

The three oldest love to draw and color. But with the state of the newspaper industry, I’m telling them not to consider a career in journalism. I’m sure they’ll be great Catholic artists. They might find jobs in Catholic web design or something like that.

Patrick Novecosky writes from Naples, Florida.

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