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Ignorance about marriage is no reason to change doctrine, Cardinal Muller says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Just because many Catholics do not understand the church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, that does not mean the church can change that teaching, said Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Speaking to reporters Feb. 25, just days after the College of Cardinals held a two-day meeting to discuss the pastoral care of families, he said the widespread lack of understanding among Catholics about church doctrine was “lamentable.”

German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, doctrinal congregation prefect, holds a news conference to unveil his book “Poor for the Poor: The Mission of the Church” in Rome Feb. 25. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

However, just because people don’t understand Jesus’ word doesn’t mean it can or should be changed, he said. “It would be paradoxical if the church said, ‘Since not everyone knows the truth, the truth isn’t obligatory for the future.’”

Not allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics access to the Eucharist “is not about my opinion,” Cardinal Muller said; it reflects a long history of church teaching and doctrine.

After the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, said it would make it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, Cardinal Muller wrote an article last summer, published in a German newspaper and in the various language editions of the Vatican newspaper, countering any expectations that the Catholic Church would relax its discipline on receiving the sacraments.

Pastoral attention to Catholics cannot go against doctrine, the cardinal told journalists Feb. 25.

“Doctrine and pastoral care are the same thing. Jesus Christ as pastor and Jesus Christ as teacher with his word are not two different people,” he said.

While Pope Francis has called for new pastoral approaches that are creative, courageous and loving, Cardinal Muller said whatever those new approaches are, they cannot go against the will of Jesus.

The sacrament of marriage will remain as an indissoluble bond between husband and wife and that teaching cannot be changed, he said. Any new approaches “must deepen knowledge” and people’s understanding of that teaching.

Many Catholics “think marriage is just a festive gathering celebrated in church, but the spouses are giving their word,” promising to fully live in each other, in body and soul, in faith and in God’s grace, he said.

“There is no solution, since church dogma isn’t just some theory created by some theologians;” it represents “the word of Jesus Christ, which is very clear. I cannot change church doctrine.”

Cardinal Muller spoke to reporters minutes before a conference to present his new book on poverty. Sitting next to him at the book presentation was Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, with whom he has disagreed publicly over the church’s approach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. The topic of marriage did not arise during the presentation.


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Pope calls for peace and dialogue in Venezuela


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis called for an immediate end to violence in Venezuela, urging the government and citizens to begin talks and work for the common good.

“I have been following with particular concern what is happening in Venezuela of late,” he said at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Feb. 26.

Demonstrators confront police during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 22. The country’s Catholic leaders urged dialogue and respect for the demonstrators’ human rights. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters) (

“It is my fervent hope that the violence and hostilities end as soon as possible and that all Venezuelans, starting with political and government leaders, work to promote national reconciliation through mutual forgiveness and dialogue that is sincere and respectful of the truth and justice, capable of confronting concrete issues for the common good.”

The pope assured people of his prayers, especially for those who lost their lives and their families.

He also invited everyone to pray to Our Lady of Coromoto, patroness of Venezuela, for “peace and harmony” in this South American nation.

As protests in Venezuela continued, with flare-ups of violence, the country’s Catholic leaders urged dialogue and respect for the demonstrators’ human rights.

“We have called for the social and political leaders to engage in deep, sincere dialogue” to address the country’s serious problems, including high rates of violent crime and economic difficulties that have caused a scarcity of some basic consumer goods, Caracas Auxiliary Bishop Jesus Gonzalez de Zarate, secretary-general of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

In a statement issued Feb. 24, the bishops’ justice and peace commission and other organizations called for “urgent action to help guarantee human rights, justice and peace in Venezuela.”

Nearly two weeks of demonstrations by opponents and supporters of the government of President Nicolas Maduro left at least six people confirmed dead, according to the commission, although government officials put the toll at 13.

More than 530 people were arrested, according to the statement provided to CNS by Janeth Marquez, who heads the church’s social ministry office in Caracas, Venezuela. Government officials said most of those arrested had been released.

One of the detainees was Leopoldo Lopez, one of the more radical opposition leaders, who turned himself in Feb. 18 after government officials accused him of inciting violence and ordered him arrested.

Eighteen cases of torture and one rape also have been reported, according to the human rights groups’ statement.

The groups expressed concern about paramilitary groups allegedly aligned with the government, which have clashed with protesters, as well as about threats against and attacks on journalists and human rights defenders.

The justice and peace commission and other groups called for “the national and international community to question the human rights violations, demand action for an independent investigation, ask for an end to the crackdown and promote genuine dialogue.”

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the 2013 presidential election to Maduro, had said he would talk with Maduro at a meeting of government officials Feb. 24, but later decided to skip the meeting.

He has suggested that the church serve as mediator in talks between the government and the opposition. Bishop Gonzalez de Zarate said church leaders were open to the idea and that they had met Feb. 13 and 14 with student leaders from both sides.

Nevertheless, the bishop said, both sides would have to have an “authentic willingness to dialogue” and agree on an agenda of issues to be addressed.

Crucial concerns for Venezuelans, which underlie the protests, include the lack of public security, health care, quality education and “a social and political vision of the country,” he said.

The demonstrations began in San Cristobal, capital of the western state of Tachira, in early February, when an attempted rape prompted students to protest the lack of public security. They spread to other parts of the country, including Caracas, and turned violent on Feb. 12, Venezuela’s Youth Day.

San Cristobal, near the Colombian border, remained the scene of some of the fiercest demonstrations and crackdowns on protesters, and a large number of military troops have been sent to the town, Bishop Gonzalez de Zarate said.

On Feb. 14, Bishop Mario del Valle Moronta Rodriguez of San Cristobal urged dialogue and an end to the violence.

“In the name of the Lord Jesus, we call for an end to violence of all kinds, verbal, aggression, crackdowns, and we seek to show that we are ‘people of peace,’” he wrote in a message. “We deplore the deaths that have occurred during protests in various places in the country, as well as the fact that many people have been injured. We ask that those who have caused these deaths and personal harm accept responsibility and be punished according to the law.”

The bishop also called for “political, social, economic and student leaders to meet and share ideas and opinions in a quest for consensus and a path of peace for all.”

— By Carol Glatz and Barbara J. Fraser

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Anointing brings Jesus to the sick, not bad luck, pope says at audience


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Never hesitate to call a priest to bless and anoint sick or elderly family members, Pope Francis said.

Some people worry receiving the sacrament of the anointing of the sick “brings bad luck” and “the hearse will come next,” the pope said. “This is not true.”

Pope Francis blesses a child dressed as the pontiff as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 26. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

The sacrament brings Jesus closer to those in need, strengthening their faith and hope, he said Feb. 26 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope thanked the estimated 50,000 people who attended the outdoor audience despite weather forecasts of rain. “You came anyway; you’re courageous. Way to go!” he said, as the wind blew big gray storm clouds overhead.

Continuing a series of audience talks on the sacraments, Pope Francis focused on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, which, along with the prayer of the priest, expresses God’s mercy and presence to those who are sick, suffering and elderly.

Formerly known as extreme unction or “the last rites,” it had once been seen as a ritual only for those who were in danger of or at the point of death. A more expanded use to provide spiritual strength and healing for the sick and elderly was promoted by the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Francis said the sacrament “permits us to touch with our hands God’s compassion for humanity” and bring God’s healing presence to those who are suffering.

“However, this mustn’t let us fall into an obsessive search for a miracle or the presumption of always and in every case being able to be healed,” he said.

The sacrament “is the assurance of Jesus being close to the sick and the elderly,” he said, adding that “everyone over the age of 65 can receive this sacrament.”

Often times when people think about whether they should call a priest to come to the bedside of someone seriously sick or suffering, he said, there might be objections and concerns that it could frighten the person who is ill.

“Why? Because there’s this idea that when someone is ill and the priest comes, after him, the hearse will come next,” the pope said to applause.

The superstition is not true, the pope said; when the priest goes to the sick person, “it is Jesus who comes to bring comfort, to give strength, to give hope and help, also to forgive sins and this is very beautiful.”

“Do not think this is taboo” to call the priest over, he said, “because it is always beautiful knowing that in moments of pain and sickness we are not alone.”

“The priest and those who are present during the anointing of the sick, in fact, represent the whole Christian community, who, as one body with Jesus, embrace the person who is suffering and his or her family members,” providing them with strength and hope and sustaining them with their prayers and love, Pope Francis said.

The sacrament “reminds us that nothing, not even evil and death, can ever separate us” from Christ and the saving power of his love, he said.


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Matthews’ big second half leads Pandas past Woodbridge, into second round


For The Dialog


WILMINGTON – Emma Matthews scored 20 of her 24 points in the second half to help Padua advance to the second round of the girls’ state basketball tournament with a 56-40 win over Woodbridge at Brandywine High School.

The senior scored 11 of Padua’s 14 points during a 14-0 run to end the third quarter and 14 overall during the third as the Pandas took a big lead, then added six more in the fourth. She scored 20 of the Pandas’ 31 second-half points. With the win, Padua (13-8) advances to a second-round matchup Thursday at Milford (18-2) beginning at 7 p.m. Read more »

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Ukrainian archbishop sees lingering threat of war, but signs of hope


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The three months of protests in Ukraine that ended with government snipers killing dozens of people strengthened the commitment to democracy of many Ukrainians, but also left the country vulnerable to further violence and division, said the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, speaks Feb. 25 during a Rome news conference on the recent events in the Ukrainian capital. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

“The danger that our neighbor (Russia) will provoke a civil war has not passed,” Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych told reporters in Rome Feb. 25, adding that the protests have solidified the Ukrainian people’s commitment to independence, freedom and democracy.

Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy in England, told Catholic News Service, “Our church stayed with the people as the struggle widened from a political one over integration with Europe into a larger one for basic human rights and dignity.

“We hope the Russians won’t try to meddle, since this would create a situation even worse than before. Having once seemed immutable, conditions have suddenly changed — and although dangers still lurk ahead, solutions must be worked out by Ukrainians.”

Snipers opened fire on protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square Feb. 19, killing at least 70 people. President Viktor Yanukovich, who sparked the protests by deciding not to sign an agreement with the European Union but forge closer ties with Russia, left Ukraine’s capital Feb. 21, and the country’s parliament voted to remove him from office the same day.

“Yanukovich saw his support melting away like the snow when the sun comes out,” Archbishop Shevchuk told reporters at the Vatican. “The security forces disappeared and so did the president.”

The archbishop described himself “as an eyewitness” to the protests and insisted it was untrue that the protesters were “extreme nationalists.” At first, he said, they were students who dreamed of living in a “free, democratic and European” Ukraine.

When the government tried to use force to end the protest in December, he said, people from all walks of life started joining the students to say, “No to corruption, no to dictatorship, no to the denial of human dignity,” and yes to citizens’ right to decide the future of their country.

Throughout the protest, the archbishop said, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations supported the protesters’ objectives, pleaded for them to remain peaceful and tried to mediate between them and the government. The council, he said, includes Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim representatives.

Ukraine is diverse, he said. Regions in the East tend to have more people who are Russian speakers or ethnic Russians and belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ukrainian speakers are concentrated in the West, as are the members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The diversity, he said, is natural for any large country. Each region has its own history, “but all of the people saw themselves as Ukrainians.”

Those seeking power, however, see the diversity as something to exploit for their own purposes, he said, which is why the council of churches issued an appeal for unity and has clearly defined as “morally unacceptable” and “a crime” the attempt to use religious or cultural differences for political gain.

Archbishop Shevchuk said there is “no desire within Ukraine” to split the country, “but maybe someone from outside, seeing that he can’t eat the whole pie, would want at least part of it.”

The evening before he met the press, Archbishop Shevchuk and Ukrainians working in Rome joined the Sant’Egidio Community for a prayer service for peace. In a packed Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, tears flowed as the archbishop led the singing of the Lord’s Prayer in Ukrainian.

The lay Sant’Egidio Community, known for its promotion of interreligious dialogue and peace mediation, also runs Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew, which serves as a shrine to the martyrs of Nazism and 20th-century communist dictatorships. The basilica’s side altars are filled with the personal belongings of people killed for their faith, including Ukrainian Catholics martyred after their church was outlawed in 1946.

Archbishop Shevchuk said the last time he was with Sant’Egidio members was “to give you our treasures, relics of our martyrs. Never would I have guessed that there would be new martyrs.”

All the churches of Ukraine supported the protesters, even setting up chapel tents and leading morning prayer services, he said. Church buildings near Independence Square were turned into first aid stations and, once the shooting began, into operating rooms.

“Before leaving Kiev, I went to visit the clandestine hospitals,” he said. “In the Lutheran church, where at least 10 injured were receiving care, I thanked the pastor. He said, ‘No, don’t thank us. It is Christ we are caring for.’”

“Right now we have thousands of injured” and neighboring countries have offered to take those with the most serious physical injuries. “But there are also wounded hearts and souls,” he said, and their healing will require prayers and the services of the churches.

Contributing to this story was Jonathan Luxmoore in Oxford, England.


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Boys basketball playoffs, featuring four Catholic schools, get under way Wednesday


For The Dialog


All four Catholic schools in New Castle County that play boys basketball are represented in the state basketball tournament, with Salesianum taking the No. 1 seed and St. Elizabeth grabbing the final slot at No. 24. Two of the four teams will be in action when play begins Wednesday night, while the other two have earned a bye. The second-round games are on Friday. All games in the first two rounds begin at 7 p.m.

St. Elizabeth will meet No. 9 Delaware Military Academy tomorrow night at Conrad School of Sciences. The Vikings finished the regular season 8-12 but had enough points to make the tourney, while DMA was 14-6. The victor has a date Friday night at No. 8 Caesar Rodney (17-3). Read more »

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Girls basketball tournament tips off tonight with three Catholic teams in action


For The Dialog


There is a strong Catholic feel to the girls’ basketball state tournament, as five Catholic schools are in. First-round games will be held tonight, with the winners playing Thursday. All games start at 7 p.m.

St. Mark’s, the 17th seed, will travel to William Penn (14-6) to meet the No. 16 Colonials. The Spartans finished the regular season 6-13, but the earned a host of bonus points because of a strong schedule. The winner will play at top-seeded Ursuline on Thursday night. Read more »

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Court denies Notre Dame injunction on HHS mandate

February 25th, 2014 Posted in National News Tags: , , ,


CHICAGO — The University of Notre Dame must allow free coverage of contraceptives as required by the federal health care law despite its moral objections to doing so, said a panel of the 7th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in a late Feb. 21 ruling that denied the university an injunction against enforcement of the mandate.

The decision was handed down in the university’s appeal of a Dec. 20 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana denying it a preliminary injunction. Notre Dame then sought to obtain emergency relief from the 7th Circuit before the Jan. 1 deadline for the mandate to take effect and was denied.

In its lawsuit, Notre Dame argued that the mandate’s purpose “is to discriminate against religious institutions and organizations that oppose abortion and contraception.”

Judge Richard Posner, joined by Judge David Hamilton, wrote the majority opinion in the 2-1 ruling, saying the university has the option of following a so-called accommodation in the mandate that says employers who object to the coverage on moral grounds can fill out a form and direct a third party to provide the coverage to their employees.

In a brief statement Feb. 24, Notre Dame spokesman Paul J. Browne said: “Our concern remains that if government is allowed to entangle a religious institution of higher education like Notre Dame in one area contrary to conscience, it’s given license to do so in others.”

“Our lawyers are reviewing the 7th Circuit ruling and contemplating next steps,” he said.

Notre Dame and other Catholic entities that have brought dozens of lawsuits challenging the mandate on moral grounds say this third-party accommodation still does not solve their problem over being involved in providing coverage they reject for moral reasons.

In his ruling, Posner wrote: “If the government is entitled to require that female contraceptives be provided to women free of charge, we have trouble understanding how signing the form that declares Notre Dame’s authorized refusal to pay for contraceptives for its students or staff, and mailing the authorization document to those companies, which under federal law are obligated to pick up the tab, could be thought to ‘trigger’ the provision of female contraceptives.”

The mandate, under rules issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requires nearly all employers to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs to their employees in their company health plan. It includes a narrow exemption for some religious employers that fit certain criteria.

Religious employers who are not exempt can comply with the third-party accommodation.

In his dissent, Judge Joel Flaum said it was “clear that if Notre Dame were forced to pay for contraceptive coverage against its religious beliefs or else incur significant monetary penalties, this would be a substantial burden. In the university’s eyes, this form’s ‘purpose and effect,’ evident from the face of the regulations, is to accomplish what the organization finds religiously forbidden and protests.”

The deadline for employers to comply with the mandate was Jan. 1 or they would face thousands of dollars in daily fines.

On Jan. 2, according to the National Catholic Register, Notre Dame told faculty and staff that while its appeal of the mandate worked its way through the courts, a third-party administrator would notify them about access to contraceptives and other mandated non-objectionable services such as mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings.

Flaum in his dissent noted that the form a nonexempt employer must use to direct a third-party administrator to provide the coverage “flatly states that it is ‘an instrument under which the plan is operated.’ Having to submit the (form), Notre Dame maintains, makes it ‘complicit in a grave moral wrong’ by involving it with a system that delivers contraceptive products and services to its employees and students.”


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Pope establishes new Council for the Economy to oversee Vatican finances


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In a move reflecting both his drive to reform the Vatican bureaucracy and his oft-stated desire to include laypeople in the leadership of the church, Pope Francis established a new panel, to include almost as many lay members as clerics, to oversee the finances of the Holy See and Vatican City State.

Another new office, to be headed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, will implement the panel’s policies.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney arrives for Pope Francis’ Mass with new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 23. The Vatican announced Feb. 24 that Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Pell to head a new Vatican office overseeing Vatican finances. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Vatican announced the changes in a statement Feb. 24, explaining they would “enable more formal involvement of senior and experienced experts in financial administration, planning and reporting, and will ensure better use of resources,” particularly for “our works with the poor and marginalized.”

The Council for the Economy will include “eight cardinals and bishops to reflect the universality of the church” and “seven lay experts of different nationalities with strong professional financial experience,” the Vatican said. They will “meet on a regular basis and to consider policies and practices and to prepare and analyze reports on the economic-administrative activities of the Holy See.”

The lay members of the new council will exercise an unprecedented level of responsibility for non-clerics in the Vatican, where the highest offices have always been reserved for cardinals and bishops. The Vatican did not release any names of council members.

Reporting to the council will be the new Secretariat for the Economy, which will exercise “authority over all the economic and administrative activities within the Holy See and the Vatican City State,” including budget making, financial planning, hiring, procurement and the preparation of detailed financial statements.

“I have always recognized the need for the church to be guided by experts in this area and will be pleased to be working with the members of the new Council for the Economy as we approach these tasks,” Cardinal Pell said in a statement released by the Archdiocese of Sydney, which said he would take up his new position at the Vatican “by the end of March.”

Cardinal Pell is a “man who’s got financial things at his fingertips, and he’s a man who’s very decisive, and I think he’s a got a good understanding of how Roman affairs work,” South African Cardinal Wilfred F. Napier of Durban, who sat on one of the advisory panels that reviewed the arrangements before the pope’s decision, told Catholic News Service.

Pope Francis established the council and the secretariat with an apostolic letter given “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), dated Feb. 24, with the title “Fidelis dispensator et prudens” (“Faithful and prudent steward”), a quotation from the Gospel according to St. Luke. The same letter provides for the appointment of an auditor general, “who will be empowered to conduct audits of any agency of the Holy See and Vatican City State at any time.”

The motu proprio makes no mention of the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank.

The pope acted on recommendations from the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, which he established in July to review accounting practices in Vatican offices and devise strategies for greater fiscal responsibility and transparency.

According to the Vatican, the commission “recommended changes to simplify and consolidate existing management structures and improve coordination and oversight across” the Vatican bureaucracy, and called for a “more formal commitment to adopting accounting standards and generally accepted financial management and reporting practices as well as enhanced internal controls, transparency and governance.”

The recommendations were “considered and endorsed” by the pope’s eight-member advisory Council of Cardinals, which met for its third session Feb. 17-19, and the 15-member Council of Cardinals for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See, which met for the last time Feb. 24, since it ceased to exist upon the establishment of the new council.

According to Cardinal Napier, a member of the defunct council, at least some of the prelates on the new panel will be drawn from the former 15-member body.

“Something really to be needed to be done,” Cardinal Napier said of the pope’s actions. “For instance, there was no serious budgeting that you could call budgeting. … It was quite clear that some of the procedures and processes that were in place were not adequate for today’s world.”

The conclave that elected Pope Francis in March 2013 took place amid controversy provoked by the previous year’s “VatiLeaks” of confidential correspondence sensationally documenting corruption and incompetence in various parts of the Vatican bureaucracy.

Among other measures in his first year, Pope Francis established a special commission to investigate the Vatican bank, expanded the scope and enforcement of Vatican City laws against money laundering and the financing of terrorism, and set in motion an overhaul of the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia.


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Background: ‘Son of God’ movie a love story, say husband-wife producers

February 24th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: ,


Catholic News Service

The upcoming movie “Son of God” should be seen as “a love story,” according to two of its executive producers, the husband-and-wife team of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

Diogo Morgado, a Portuguese actor, stars in a scene from the movie “Son of God.” The upcoming movie should be seen as “a love story,” according to two of its executive producers, the husband-and-wife team of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. (CNS photo/Fox)

“This really is a love story, the greatest love story ever told,” Downey said.

The couple brought the 10-hour miniseries “The Bible” to television last year, garnering sizable ratings on the History cable channel.

Among those 10 hours was the story of Jesus. But Burnett and Downey decided even before the miniseries was televised that they would make a separate movie focusing on Jesus.

“When we were in Morocco filming,” Downey said, “I said to Mark, ‘We should have been making a film here.’” Downey, perhaps best known for her starring role for nine seasons on “Touched by an Angel,” plays Mary, mother of the adult Jesus.

Burnett, whose TV successes have been primarily in reality programming from “Survivor” to “Shark Tank” to “The Voice” to “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader,” concurred, but noted, “It wasn’t shot any differently” for multiplexes than “The Bible” had been for TV. ”

“Son of God” premieres in theaters nationwide Feb. 28. It tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of an elderly St. John, the only apostle who did not meet a martyr’s fate, on the isle of Patmos.

The film portrays the same kind of brutality seen in “The Passion of the Christ” a decade ago, although it’s concealed or suggested, as it had been in the miniseries. “Son of God” is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense and bloody depiction of the Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence.” Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Downey did not dwell on the violent aspect of the movie, but in comparing the two films noted Mel Gibson’s film presupposes the viewer knows the story of Jesus, as it begins with Holy Thursday. “Son of God,” though, begins with Jesus’ birth, and through the signs and wonders he performs in the first hour of the movie, she said, “you get a chance to fall in love with him all over again.”

During a Feb. 4 interview with Catholic News Service while Downey and Burnett were in Washington to promote the movie, Downey said the endorsement of religious leaders is a big help. Two Catholic prelates have endorsed “Son of God”: Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles. High-profile Protestant leaders endorsing the film include Bishop T.D. Jakes and the Rev. Rick Warren. “Cardinal Wuerl has been so much of a help to us,” she added.

Burnett said the Anti-Defamation League had also given its own stamp of approval, based in large part on the depiction of events that led up to Jesus’ death: Pontius Pilate having been the fourth Roman governor of a politically restive Judea in the last 20 years; Jerusalem’s temple leaders, embodied by Caiaphas, being aware of Pilate’s threat to shut down the temple, even at Passover, if Jewish unrest is not tamped down; and the arrival into the holy city of a Nazarene miracle-worker whose reputation precedes him. Burnett added his hope that “Son of God” audiences “could actually see themselves as the disciples” in this stew of political intrigue.

One of Downey’s favorite moments in the movie is not from the dramatic side of the movie, but something that wasn’t even in the script. In a scene presaging Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, Jesus and the Apostles are in a boat near the coastline. Children running along the shore wave to Jesus, and Jesus (Diogo Morgado) waves back and smiles.

“That wasn’t Jesus waving,” Downey said. “That was Diogo waving.” “We got so much feedback (after the miniseries) from people saying they like what Diogo Morgado brought to the role.”

Morgado is a native of Portugal who is a popular TV star there. He has starred in films produced in Brazil and Spain. He has leading roles in two U.S. independent films, which will be released shortly.

After a full day of interviews, Downey and Burnett went to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to show clips from the movie and to talk with students from the adjacent Catholic University of America. On Feb. 5, they hosted an invitation-only preview screening at the 1,200-seat Lincoln Theater in Washington.

Editor’s Note: A related video has been posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UW894TR1Ok.


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