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.