Easter is one of those times of the year when there’s a brief increase in religious programming – mostly the usual biblical epics, comprehensive coverage of the religious ceremonies and vigorous debates about the Good Friday pub-opening ban.
One of the best this year was the film Bronx to Bradford: Friars on a Mission on BBC 1, Holy Thursday. This warm documentary told the told the story of a group of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (founded 30 years ago in New York) based in the St Pio Friary in Bradford, UK. What came across strongly was how cheerful and grounded the friars were.
Their lifestyle was challenging and inspirational. They got up at the crack of dawn and over the day spent five or six hours in prayer. In between, with the help of lay volunteers they served the poor and homeless of their parish and city, with a soup kitchen and clothes bank.
Music was important in their lives as well and we saw two talented friars playing guitar and singing in prayer. The guitars were one of their few possessions as they tried to live a simple lifestyle. Ironically people who admired this lifestyle gave them stuff, and so, every now and then they had a ‘poverty check’ where they gave away material goods that had piled up creating what was an excess from their point of view.
They relied entirely on donations, especially of food, and we saw several companies and individuals dropping off supplies for the friars and the soup kitchen. Yes, they begged for their needs, but one contributor said she didn’t see it as begging as they were doing good work and she felt she had a responsibility to help.
And there was an Irish connection – the nearby St Patrick’s Church, built originally by Irish immigrants, was no longer in use but the monks, working with their bishop, were planning to revive it.
For starters they had a one-off Mass there for St Patrick’s Day, much to the joy of the local Catholics who had fond memories of the church – some had been married there and one lady was hoping it would open again so she could have her funeral there!
The biblical epics are fine, but I really enjoyed a very different film, Selma, on BBC 2 Good Friday night. David Oyelowo was excellent as Martin Luther King, as was Carmen Ejogo as his wife Corettta.
Their relationship was one of the most interesting aspects of the film, but it wasn’t thoroughly developed. Marital difficulties were more hinted at than made explicit and the actors, especially Ejogo, conveyed the emotional subtleties really well.
King came across as confident in public, but conflicted in private, as he tried to steer a non-violent path to vindicate black people’s right to vote.
The filmmakers were wise to concentrate on this one particular phase of King’s life, culminating in the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. The first effort to cross the iconic bridge in Selma was met by brute force on the part of the police and that is conveyed in an effective but quite frightening way – moments like these were unbearably tense and necessarily violent.
Conflicts within the movement were highlighted which guarded against the film being overly sentimental, though there was an understandably triumphal mood at the end. Religious faith was prominent and sympathetically presented. King, a pastor, was obviously motivated by his faith, as were many of his supporters.
At the march, supportive priests, ministers and nuns were very much in evidence. There was a memorable scene as well at a second march where King led the crowd in a silent prayer. Overall I found it an inspiring and moving film.
Finally, the celebratory mood of Easter Sunday was marred by at least two items on the Nine News (RTÉ). A car bomb had destroyed a bus convoy of refugees, killing 68 children, and when you combine that with stories from earlier in the week about children being increasingly used as suicide bombers, especially by the Boko Haram group, you get a sense of real evil.
The other item was the depressing report of the desecration, at Easter, of a small church in Longford – the aim, it seems, being to steal the tabernacle.
The Risen Lord has still a lot to do in the hearts of his people, if only they are willing.
Pick of the week
MY COUNTRY, MY FAITH: IRELAND
EWTN, Saturday, April 22, 10.30pm
Kathy Sinott and Fr Brian McKevitt join host Fr Owen Gorman to talk openly about abuse scandals, poor catechesis and erosion of Catholic faith.
UTV, Sunday, April 23, 9pm
New run of the adult drama series set in the 1950s, featuring a crime solving cleric with relationship issues and baggage from the past.
The Meaning of Life, with Gay Byrne
RTĖ One, Sunday, April 23, 10.35pm
Repeat of the episode featuring John Sheahan, of Dubliners fame, speaking about the people, faith and values that have shaped his life.