Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Have a Christendom Christmas 2014

Wishing all a Happy and

Blessed Christmas

Have very happy and holy Christmas

 Jesus was born to save all from sin 

Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will
(St Luke 2:14)

In the next year The Christendom Project will bring you a number new EWTN productions which we hope will inspire and that you will enjoy

Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Catholic Middle Earth – part 3

The High Tatras

A Short Walk in the High Tatras 

After filming the Gypsy musical on the Old Testament story of Judith and Holofernes, we stayed overnight at the Greek Catholic’s priest’s house. Saturday the 18th October was another very busy day. We headed east to do a live broadcast of the Mass celebrated by the bishop in honour of Anna Kolesárová the Second World War martyr for chastity, see part 2 of this post for the story. As I was a guest and not needed to take part in the production apart from a little roadie work, I took part in the pilgrimage. After the Mass, the vans were once again loaded and we headed back west. I was invited to stay another day in central Slovakia and make a short walk in the High Tatras.

We were to stay with a priest in the Stary Smokovec a lovely little town at the foot of the highest mountains. We arrived well after midnight but the priest had waited up for us, and after a few glasses of Slivovitsa (a very strong plum brandy) I slept like a log. Slivovitsa is everywhere in Slovakia and is to be treated with respect. Needless to say we did not start out the following Sunday as early as we intended and our short hike became even shorter. Nevertheless it was wonderful as these photos I shot show.

A mountain waterfall

The High Tatras are a mountain range in northern Slovakia and Southern Poland. The 15 highest peaks are all situated in Slovakia with Geriachovsky stit (Geriach Peak) being the tallest at 8,711ft. They form part of the Carpathian mountain chain. Although beautiful and calm on the sunny autumn day I visited, they can be traitorous, that day two people lost their lives climbing them, with prayers RIP.

One of the many Castles in Slovakia
The High Tatras have always attracted thousands of visitors from the surrounding central European countries; St John Paul II would often visit them when he was Pope and even before. Upon one visit he predicted that Europe who be re-evangelised from central Europe and in particularly, Slovakia. It’s not surprising that it’s the central European countries that have amended their constitutions to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, banning same-sex marriage. Perhaps we should write to Slovakian Embassy in our various countries and thank them for making this wonderful pro-family stand. In Western Europe only Italy is holding out against any form of same-sex unions – but for how much longer with the pressure in Western Europe being so pro - ‘Gay’ everything. Also neighbouring Hungary has made a strong pro-family and pro-Life declaration at the UN.

Evening Mass

Ah well back to the Tatras, after our walk to the waterfalls, a snack and coffee at one of the mountain huts we headed back down the mountain to take the mountain railway for the last part to the town. We attended the evening Mass said by our priest host in Latin. He celebrates his evening Mass in Latin because there are so many visitors all speaking different languages visiting these mountains.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

A Catholic Middle Earth – part 2

In Defensum Castitatis

Young Slovaks make a pilgrimage for purity at the grave of Anna Kolesárová

This is a continuation of last week’s blog post for the Christendom Project regarding my visit to Lux television studios in Bratislavia and a filming trip to Eastern Slovakia.

Slovak mountain landscape

After filming the Gypsy youths’ excellent musical on the Old Testament story of Judith we travelled further eastwards to the Zemplin region close to the Ukrainian border. We left the forested mountainous area for the fertile lower plain. Lux wanted to broadcast live the Mass for the pilgrimage in honour of Anna Kolesárová the World War II martyr.

Anna Kolesárová in Pavlovce nad Uhom
We arrived at the village of Vysoka nad Uhom in time for a tasty lunch of goulash and local bread. Afterwards the crew set up and I was invited to make the short walking pilgrimage between the village of Vysoka nad Uhom, the place of Anna’s birth, and Pavlovce nad Uhom the village of her martyrdom. I had two young guides, a girl and a boy, both around 20, who explained in English the story of Anna.

When we reached the grave of the Martyr they translated the homily of the priest who encouraged the young people to make a pledge for purity. Boys were told to respect girls and not to make demands on them that are contrary to the teaching of Jesus and His Church.
Girls were encouraged to respect themselves, to dress modestly, and to save themselves for the man they marry and until their wedding night. If they had already been led astray they could rededicate themselves by taking a pledge that from now on they will wait. It was all very moving.

Anna Kolesárová a martyr in defensum castitatis
Anna Kolesárová was born on 14 July 1928 to a very devout farming family. When Anna was ten her mother died and she had to take over running the house for her older brother and father. Even at that very young age she was very devout and after completing her daily tasks she would go to Mass with her friends.

In the autumn of 1944 the Second World War arrived in Eastern Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Red Army were pushing the Nazi Army back out of Russia and the Ukraine. During the bloody battles the villagers would hide in cellars and wait for the fighting to end. Anna and her family were hiding with their neighbours in the cellar under the kitchen when the Soviet troops occupied her village. A drunken Soviet soldier came into the house and discovered their hideout. Anna was encouraged to give the soldier food and water. She and the other women wore drab black clothes to discourage attention during this dangerous time. Nevertheless the soldier made sexual advances to her but she refused; he continued to make advances to her and grabbed her, threatening to shoot her, but she pulled herself free and ran back to the cellar. The soldier followed her, cocked his automatic rifle, allowed her to say good bye to her father and emptied his gun into her. She died on the spot.

Young pilgrims vow chastity at the
grave of Anna
She was buried the next day in secret, despite the bloody battle that was going on around the village. The parish priest, Fr Anton Lucac, lived in the next village and could only conduct the funeral rites a week later. He conducted an investigation into the circumstances of her death, interviewed local people and gave testimony to the holiness of her life and death.

However, after the war Czechoslovakia was under the control of Soviet Russia and part of the Eastern block. The Communist government banned all mention of Anna and her death, and forbade people to gather at her grave. However, her memory has endured and today there are many youth pilgrimages made to her house in Vysoka nad Uhom and to her grave in Pavlovce nad Uhom. The cause for her beatification has gone to Rome.

Today young people go to her grave to take a pledge of purity. A Slovak priest, Pavol Hudak, has written a little manual on how young people can respect one another and remain chaste until they marry.

Young cameraman wears a pro-family La Manif Pour Tous
T-shirt before changing into usual production crew black
No problem banning ‘Gay’ marriage in Slovakia

He’s going to have a difficult time, with Western hedonistic lifestyles forever encroaching on the Slovak conscience. However, last June Slovak law-makers approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being only between a man and a woman. There has been very little reporting of this in the West; the only news our secular totalitarian media are interested in is ‘Gay’ advancement.  Well done plucky Slovakia, a true Catholic Middle Earth; and thank you, Anna Kolesárová, for interceding on behalf of Slovak Catholics; I’m sure many prayers have been said to you on this matter.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Catholic Middle Earth – part 1

Slovakia – A Catholic “Middle Earth”

Slovakia - A Catholic Middle Earth - map wikipedia

Every time I visit Slovakia I cannot help but be impressed by the country, still very Catholic despite the ravages of Communism from the end of World War II to 1990, and the inroads of western secularism more recently. I have been told by the production team I work with not to see Slovakia through rose tinted glasses it has its own problems. However, to me this little central European country will always be a sort of Catholic Middle Earth. There is always something going on in their pretty churches that have that distinctive look of this part of Europe. Some have golden onion domes and spires, most are quite ornate and going inside I marvel at the quality of the paintings and statues, even in the smallest village church. They always inspire me to pray or just to sit in front of the tabernacle for a while. Most weekday Masses are quite well attended and Sunday Masses are frequent and full. The confessionals are always busy and the queues stretch around the churches on most days.

Michal Benko filming an aircraft take off for the Chartres Pilgrimage
documentary - why you may ask? Well you will need to see the documentary.

EWTN have chosen Lux communication of Bratislava for the Christendom Project. They are widely regarded as being one of the best Catholic TV stations and production houses in Europe. They were set up after the fall of Communism by the Slovak bishops' conference and its members sent to the USA for film production training. I work with Lux communications on behalf of EWTN and St Clare Media – EWTN as producer and scriptwriter. This has entailed several visits to Slovakia for various filming sessions and post-production work. During my visits Marek Polacek and Michal Benko the director and cameraman and the rest of the personnel at Lux have been very kind, so I thought I would write a couple of little posts on them and indeed Slovakia – which I liken to a Catholic “Middle Earth”.

Marek Polacek - director, 'helping' to unload Lux equipment
on Location

Bratislava still has its forests of apartment tower blocks left over from the communist era which stand out a little incongruously against the surrounding wooded hills. However, they have been improving them in recent years and are well proportioned and comfortable to live in – except in a really hot summer.

Slovak village house
Old town Bratislava is very interesting and you can tell that some tasteful conservation work has been done. Lux are situated in Kapitulska a quaint old cobbled street near the Cathedral of St Martin, where as we mentioned in the Crusader series the kings and queens of Hungary were crowned during the wars of the Ottomans.

Wayside Crucifix

The last time I was in Bratislava was October to do some extra filming on the Chartres pilgrimage documentary and to lay down the narration. Marek Polacek the director from Lux I work with invited me to travel to the east of the country with a Lux communication production team, where a Greek Catholic priest has been doing some work with some Gypsy youths who have produced a musical play on the Old Testament story of Judith.  Lux wanted to film the play for broadcasting. It was good to see more of the country and as we travelled east the churches became more Greek Catholic in Style with some Orthodox churches as well. Much of Slovakia is forested and becomes less populated the further east you travel.

Typical Slovak church - Bratislava
Next post will be on the journey to the grave of Anna Kolesarova. Anna was a Catholic girl who was shot during the Second World War for preserving her purity rather than give into the demands of a Soviet soldier. Today many young people gather at her grave and pledge a vow of chastity until they marry.

Young Catholics take a pledge of chastity at the grave of
World War II Martyr Anna Kolesarova

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Crusades DVD

New DVDs Released by EWTN of The Crusades Docudrama

$20 from EWTN USA see:

£12.95 From St Clare Media UK

Also from Buckfast Abbey

Available now in Slovakia and Czech Republic from Lux communication Bratislava

for 5.79Euros

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Young Catholics of today want orthodoxy

In Search of Christendom – The Chartres Pilgrimage

The next documentary in the Christendom Project series of films for EWTN will be on the Chartres pilgrimage. We are calling it In Search of Christendom because it is clear that the thousands upon thousands of young people who make this pilgrimage every year are looking for the orthodox Catholic faith.

It was filmed in 2013 as a starting point for the Crusades docudrama which has just last month been screened by EWTN for the English speaking world; I believe that The Crusades English version may be repeated after Christmas. I wanted to start the Crusades filming during the Chartres pilgrimage for several reasons, to make the link between pilgrimage and the Crusades. Because it takes place in the heartlands of France where many of the Crusaders came from, it gave us some great visuals of pilgrims singing, banners flying and the great cathedrals of Notre Dame de Paris and of Notre Dame de Chartres; also, we had the opportunity to film the Traditional Latin Masses in these great Cathedrals.

High Mass with bishop of Chartres

In Search of Christendom is really a spin-off documentary from the Crusades but I always hoped that I could find the funds to put this into post-production. In the end it was St Clare Media – the British agents for EWTN - and EWTN themselves who found the funds.

Scouts carry a statue of Our Lady through Paris

What has taken so long in getting The Crusades and indeed In Search of Christendom finished is that we wanted to push the production values as close to those of the main stream media as possible, and even better them if we could. This is a very difficult task with limited funds and resources. Even now, because the team are making the Spanish, German and Slovak versions of The Crusades they can’t get onto the Chartres pilgrimage and finish it. Hopefully we will do so this week. I also need to finish some of the graphics. In addition, my next docudrama on The Inquisition is in pre-production – the spirit is willing but the time is short.

Young nuns join the congregation after large outdoor Mass to sing the hymn
Chez Nous, Soyez Reine

This is not just a documentary on the Chartres Pilgrimage itself but probes issues like why young people are rejecting modern secular values, why they crave orthodox Christian morality. As Jamie Bogle (President of the International Una Voce Federation) put it when I interviewed him: “the secular experiment is lost on these young people”. The leader of the USA chapter Michael J. Matt said in his interview “...I really believe what they see here is what they can’t find on MTV; it is something they can’t find in their computer games.” And Herve Rolland, chairman of IBM Europe and the Vice President of the pilgrimage, said: “young people realise that unlike their parents … we’ve been too extreme, we’ve been too far away. New laws – at the moment in France we are fighting the same sex marriage legislation which is against natural law and means nothing.” During interviews with young people themselves it became clear that their longing for authentic Catholic values was even stronger than I had expected, and they were not afraid to speak out.  Ashley Cloves, a young member of Human Life International, gave a very clear testimony on why young Catholics appreciate what orthodox Catholicism teaches, and that pro-Life and pro-traditional family values are paramount to their faith. The crew started questioning me on what have abortion and traditional family values got to do with the Crusades and the Chartres pilgrimage, – well I believe in some ways everything!

I also interviewed a young Chaldean Catholic whose family had to flee Iraq. They now live in France and he is a student. He was sad that such pilgrimages would be impossible in Iraq, for his country is now being ethnically cleansed of Christians. However, it may surprise some people that his chapter also included many Muslim converts to the Catholic faith – it’s the beauty and the truth that attracts.

If I have one prayer for this documentary it would be that once the documentary is released on DVD, orthodox and traditional Catholics should buy it and send it to the Pope and the Synod Fathers on the Family, and to anyone who believes that young Catholics want change. For young Catholics want authentic Catholic teachings on the faith and morality.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Many Thanks

Many Thanks to all who helped make and promote
EWTN’s Crusades docudrama

Templars filmed at Kenilworth Castle
I am very grateful to all who helped promote the Crusades docudrama which was screened earlier this month. It appears to have been a great success so we are relieved and particularly pleased with the very positive comments EWTN have received and also the great reviews by academics. I have now been given several new docudramas to script and produce in the next few years, so the team are going to be very busy with projects on Church history, some of which will be to dispel the ‘Black Legends’  that have been created by the post Protestant and secular world.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Professors Jonathan Riley-Smith, Thomas F Madden, Jonathan Phillips, and Damian Smith for their time and for sharing their knowledge with us. EWTN’s The Crusades was designed in some small way to set the record straight, so I heartily recommend the books, written by these historians, to those who wish to study the crusades further. The aim of the series was to dispel the myths about the crusades; I think we may have stimulated a new debate on the crusades, that they were in fact very necessary, for without them the history of Europe could have been very different and dreadful.

During the last month I have been travelling a lot, to Slovakia and to Fatima and also to EWTN in the USA where I appeared with Professor Madden to promote The Crusades. Please click here to see Fr Mitch Pacwa interview Prof Madden and myself.
Professor Jonathan Phillips
I would like to say a special thank you to Professor Philips for being our historical consultant. Professor Phillips is head of Department at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Also to Fr Thomas Crean OP who gave the theological background to the Crusades, to Fr Fergus Clark OFM of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and to Jamie Bogle President of the Une Voce federation for their splendid contributions. I would also like to thank the production team both at Lux communications in Slovakia and the executive producers at EWTN in States, and especially to thank St Clare Media and Buckfast Abbey in the UK.

The latest project which is in post production now is called In Search of Christendom – The Chartres Pilgrimage, for which we were honoured to conduct many interesting interviews especially by Jamie Bogle and by Michael J Matt. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Matt for his help in promoting EWTN’s The Crusades.

Our next project will be on the Inquisitions. We are pleased to announce that the historical adviser on this project will be Professor Damian Smith - who also took part in The Crusades docudrama - for his special knowledge on the Reconquista of Spain and Portugal. Professor Smith is a world authority on the Inquisition in Spain and has also written extensively on the other Inquisitions.
Professor Damian Smith
Please keep ‘tuned’ to this blog for news on the Christendom Project series of docudramas.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Crusades - some reviews

EWTN’s The Crusades being well received
I must admit I am relieved that the Crusades docudrama is being so well received. It is the result of 18 months work so many thanks to all who worked on it both in the USA and in Europe.
Here is a link to a review from an academic
And on EWTN’s Facebook page

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Crusader States

Episode Two of EWTN’s The Crusades
Filmed on location across Europe and the Holy Land the second part of the new EWTN Crusades docudrama is broadcast on the 9th October at 10pm in the USA. It will be broadcast in the UK and Ireland on Saturday 11 in the evening when all four episodes will run consecutively from 7pm until 9pm.
After the miraculous success of the First Crusade, the Crusader hierarchy set up the Crusader States. One of the major achievements of the crusaders was that they successfully administered to an amazingly polyglot society containing Sunni Muslims, Shi’a Muslims, Jews, all sorts of Eastern Christians and Latins.
Professor Phillips says that there is no sense of ethnic cleansing here as the Crusaders treated all the peoples of their lands well.

Templars filmed at Kenilworth Castle
Local bandits and Muslim raiders crossing into Christians lands continued to attack and rob pilgrims. This led to the formation of the Military Orders the most famous of which were the Knights Templars. These were fighting monks who took the usual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They were dedicated to protecting the Holy Land and pilgrims.

Catholic Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith of Cambridge University,
the father of modern Crusader scholarship
and a specialist on the Military Orders

Also in this episode we have several mini-dramatised sequences such as Queen Melisende of Jerusalem and how she managed to rule alone after her husband was killed until her son became old enough to rule.

Queen Melisende of Jerusalem - a still from the series
We follow the second Crusade from Europe to the Holy Land, and we look at often neglected aspect of crusading the Reconquista of Iberian peninsula. 

Fr Thomas Crean gives the theological background to the Crusades
filmed here at the Dominican priory in Vienna.
Fr Crean’s book God is no Delusion is a must for anyone who
what’s to oppose Prof Dawkins nonsense

There were many providential experiences and happenings we experienced while filming the Crusades one was the meeting at Santiago de Compostela with a hermit friend of the cameraman Michal Benko so after filming around the Cathedral we jumped in the car and went to the Finisterre Coast to film him playing St James the Great, Apostle. Who appeared many times during the Reconquista to help the Crusades drive the Muslims out of Spain.

The help of the Spanish Crusaders, the Apostle St James the Great,
filmed here at Cape Finisterre

We finish episode two with the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin, but that was not all there was to it.

Saladin - a still from episode two

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Journeys of Faith

Let the truth be victorious

The Crusades, a new docudrama from EWTN

Episode one of the new EWTN mini-series, The Crusades will be broadcast on 8th October in the USA at 10pm and 9th October at 9.30pm in the UK, the following 3 episodes will be shown on consecutive days at the same time slot. There will also be a continuous showing of all 4 episodes on Saturday 11th starting at 7pm in the Britain and Ireland.

The Camraman's father Julus Benko playing a Crusader,
from the opening sequence

The series is a co-production between EWTN, St Clare Media Foundation of the UK, Buckfast Abbey Devon and Lux communication of Slovakia. The team form Lux provided all the technical facilities for the series including the filming, editing, sound recording mixing. I am very grateful to the director Marek Polacek and to Michal Benko the cameraman/editor for all their hard work and for putting up with this grumpy old Traditionalist, as they call me: -). We all had to take on many disciplines in order to bring in a production that we were determined would be as good, quality wise as a documentary for the main stream media that would cost four or five times as much to make. The series has already been translated into Slovak, Spanish and German.

A scene from the series - shot at Kenilworth Castle England

Episode One – Journeys of Faith
The link here is made between pilgrimages and the Crusades, as the first Crusades were called armed pilgrimages, to help with this there are many clips from the Paris - Chartres pilgrimage, for which we spent three days filming last year. A separate documentary on the Chartres pilgrimage will follow later in the year.

A pilgrim preparing food from episode one
Journeys of Faith

Pilgrimages have always played an important part in the devotional and penitential life of Christians. From the time of Christ, the most important pilgrimage sites were in the Holy Land and in particular - Jerusalem. So we were awe inspired to film in the Holy Sepulcher. And after delicate negotiations with the Armenian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches (the Catholics were always very helpful of course) we had the privilege to film at the very sites of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. We conducted a very interesting interview with Fr Clark the rector of the Basilica for the Latin Rite.

The Chartres Pilgrimage

We look at the rise of Islam and how Muslims conquered the Christian lands of the Palestine, North Africa, even Iberia and at one point threatened France. In 1095 Christendom finally made a stand when Pope Urban II instigated the First Crusade after the Byzantine Emperor called for help to regain his lost lands, and to make the Holy Land safe again for pilgrims. There are some points here that main stream media fail to mention.

Professor Thomas F Madden being interviewed in Istanbul (Constantinople)
overlooking the Bosporus

Muslim conquests to 732 the once Christian lands are in dark green
The first episode, Journeys of Faith like the other three episodes in the series, contains drama sequences and re-enactments to better depict the crusading era. Also with the help of some of the world’s leading crusades historians such as Professors Jonathan Riley-Smith, Thomas Madden, Jonathan Phillips, and Damian Smith we were able to dispel the myths of the Crusades. The theological background is given by Fr Thomas Crean OP, also in episode one we have James Bogle who discuses the reasons for the original call to crusade.

Hagia Sophia

The Blue Mosque - a copy of Hagia Sophia?

I am very grateful to EWTN for allowing us to make what is really quite an expansive docudrama, we not only shot in 7 countries across Europe and the Holy Land, we also filmed two crusader re-enactor groups one at Kenilworth castle in England, the other was a Slovak crusader group who we filmed in Central Europe. Throughout the series there are drama sequences about 15 in total, in later episodes we have St Louis IX that great crusader king and St Francis meeting the sultan Al-Kamil and many other scenes to help tell the story.

On the 8th October (9th UK) before the first episode is shown myself and Professor Thomas Madden will be on Fr Mitch Pacwas EWTN Live programme to discuss the series and why and how we made it.