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 CNS Story:

DRAGONS-OPUSDEI Mar-22-2011 (830 words) With photos. xxxi

Director previews 'There Be Dragons' for Opus Dei leaders in Rome

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Cardinals, Vatican ambassadors and the leadership of Opus Dei gathered in a seminary theater in Rome to watch director Roland Joffe's film, "There Be Dragons," about the early life of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei.

The screening March 21 was held in the auditorium of the Pontifical North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome, and was attended by Joffe and by Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, head of the personal prelature of Opus Dei.

The film was to open in Spain March 25 and in the United States May 6.

Joffe, 65, described himself at the preview as a "wishy-washy agnostic standing in admiration" of St. Josemaria, who was born in Spain in 1902 and founded Opus Dei in 1928 as a community of men and women, married and celibate, who were committed to striving for holiness in their everyday lives.

The Spaniard died in Rome in 1975, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992 and was canonized in 2002.

Opus Dei says it has about 87,000 members around the world, including about 1,900 priests.

In an interview with Catholic News Service before the screening, Joffe said writing and directing the film made "an enormous difference" in the way he thinks about religion.

"It made me respect and honor people who do believe ... and it taught me, in all honesty, that my views about religion had been subjective and cliched," he said.

"For me, it was a very powerful experience to say, 'Look, if I'm going to make this movie, the first step I must take is to honor belief and not think that I'm smart to criticize it,'" he said.

Joffe said for him, St. Josemaria had two especially important messages: "this idea that every human being could be a saint -- and I notice he said 'every human being,' not every believer; and the second thing was the idea that God can be seen not only in church but in everyday acts."

For the director, being a saint "is expressed through action. Each saint is like a series of acts strung together like beads. As each act is added to the necklace, you begin to say, 'This man is a saint.' What you really mean is the number of times he surmounted his own ego, the number of times he put himself at the service of others" is remarkable.

"One of the great themes in the film," and the theme that Joffe said fascinated him most was the redemptive value of forgiveness, which he called "the great and divine Christian message."

The film focuses on St. Josemaria's life, particularly during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, which tore apart families, as well as the country.

St. Josemaria, Joffe said, insisted that a real Christian was required to love others, even those who took a different stand during the war.

Mount Santa Fe, the film's production company, organized several screenings in Rome of "There Be Dragons," including one in mid-March at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

The headquarters of Opus Dei had provided Joffe with the historical information, photographs and artifacts he requested as he wrote the film, and an Opus Dei priest from the United States, Father John Wauck, who teaches at Holy Cross, served as an official consultant to the film. He blogs about his experience and about the film at www.wauckinrome.com/dragonposts.

Manuel Sanchez Hurtado, who handles international press contacts for Opus Dei, told CNS the film "is not a project of Opus Dei, but of Roland Joffe."

However, he said, "Our position as the Opus Dei Information Office is that it is a beautiful film and we like it; but that's not to say that everyone in Opus Dei will like it."

"Personally, I liked Joffe's human approach, the fact that he showed the richness of St. Josemaria's humanity," he said.

"One thing we learned from St. Josemaria is that the saints aren't made of plaster, artificial, just to be admired, but they are flesh-and-blood people with defects, passions and, especially, great love for the Lord and, consequently, for everyone around them," he said.

Sanchez said St. Josemaria taught people to love the real world and to strive for holiness in their daily lives and work.

"This is a real relief and a source of great hope because it is a reminder that Christian perfection doesn't mean having no defects. This seems to be one of the messages of this film," he said.

"Even more concretely, the film shows the redeeming value of forgiveness. This is something we all can experience: to be forgiven and to forgive," he said.

Joffe's film is historically based, but he did use a bit of "artistic license," including by inventing one of the main characters-- who is called Manolo -- changing the timing or location of certain events and occasionally putting St. Josemaria's real words into his screen version's mouth at a different time, Sanchez said.


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