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Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today. Website URL: http://www.catholicnews.com/

Children's books for Christmas giving

reviewed by Regina Lordan

"The Watcher" by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017). 42 pp., $17.
"The Watcher" is a rare treasure in the world of children's books: The verse is poetic, the illustrations are a compelling blend of photographs and drawings, and the story is a gripping tale of bully and victim ... or is it? The narration unfolds and reveals that the instigator is really just a lonely child desperate for a friend. Influenced by Psalm 121, which attributes all help to God's loving protection and care, it is written in "golden shovel" form, in which the last word of each verse is a word from the psalm. "The Watcher" is a story that holds onto you as it slowly reveals understanding, compassion and innocent faith in God's love and protection. After it is read, its lyrical tale will not be soon forgotten. Ages 6-10.
 
"Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Girls" by Amy Brooks. Gracewatch Media (Winona, Minnesota, 2017) 100 pp., $20.
"Be Yourself" is a place for Catholic girls and young women to indeed learn how to be themselves, just the way God intended them to be. Colorful, interactive and brimming with saint spotlights, prayers and biblical quotes, "Be Yourself" will encourage Catholic girls to, as author Amy Brooks writes, nourish their relationship with God to better know his will for them and to use the journal to "navigate that relationship -- on good days and bad days." Ages 9 and up.
 
"Look! A Child's Guide to Advent and Christmas" by Laura Alary, illustrated by Ann Boyajian. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2017) 32 pp., $16.99.
Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting, but it can also be a time for reflection and mindfulness of today … if we take the time to look. Author Laura Alary welcomes children to be aware, appreciate and change during Advent within a biblical and present-day context. She tells the story of Jesus' birth within the framework of children's daily lives, and she encourages children to anticipate Christmas by preparing to say "yes" to God with simple, practical activities and works of service. Ages 5-10.
 
"Anointed: Gifts of the Holy Spirit" by Pope Francis. Pauline Books and Media (Boston, 2017) 120 pp., $18.95.
Intended for young men and women preparing to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation, but appropriate for all teens, "Anointed" is a compilation of the teachings of Pope Francis brightly illustrated with graphics and photos, Bible verses and prayers. "Anointed" makes the pope's teachings accessible and engaging, and invites readers to openly receive the gifts that God has given us. Ages 12-18.
 
"That Baby in the Manger" by Anne E. Neuberger, illustrated by Chloe E. Pitkoff. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2017) 31 pp., $15.99.
Father Prak was puzzled: A group of curious children, beautiful in their multicultural diversity, were preparing for Christmas Mass when they started asking questions about the statue of the baby Jesus. Why didn't he look like many of them, and why didn't he look like Jesus most likely did, with dark skin, hair and eyes? The priest turned to God for help while an innocent parishioner in the church overheard the discussion. Answering Father Prak's prayers through the eavesdropper's clever idea, the children discovered that through the gift of Christmas, Jesus has come to save each and every one of them, no matter what they look like. A perfect Christmas gift for children, this book celebrates the truth of Christmas while highlighting the mystery of God's interactions with us through prayer and each other. Ages 4-10.
 
"Angel Stories from the Bible" by Charlotte Grossetete, illustrated by Madeleine Brunelet, Sibylle Delacroix and Eric Puybaret. Magnificat (New York, 2017) 47 pp., $15.99.
Beginning with Jacob's ladder and ending with the angel appearing at Jesus' tomb, author Charlotte Grossetete adapts biblical passages of God's celestial messengers into children's short stories. Children will enjoy the illustrations of the five stories, created by three artists with varying styles, and the narratives of God intervening in human lives with his angels out of love and care. Particularly appropriate for Christmas, "Angels Stories from the Bible" includes St. Gabriel the Archangel visiting Mary to announce Jesus' impending arrival. Ages 5 and up.
 
"The Secret of the Santa Box" by Christopher Fenoglio, illustrated by Elena K. Makansi. Treehouse Publishing Group (St. Louis, 2017). 32 pp., $16.95.
There comes a time in every parent's life when a child anxiously asks them, "Is Santa real?" Many parents struggle with this answer, knowing that with the loss of belief in the jolly old man comes the loss of a part of childhood. But fear not, the Catholic faith shows us that the real joy of Christmas is Jesus' birth itself and the joy of the mystery of Christmas comes not from Santa but from everyone but Jesus himself. "The Secret of the Santa Box" is a needed book for curious children ready to move past the secular stories of Christmas and into a deeper relationship with the true meaning of Christmas. It gently explains the sometimes sensitive topic in cheerful and thoughtful rhymes and illustrations. Ages 7-10.
 
"Contemplating Scripture in Color" by Sybil MacBeth. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Mass., 2017) 64 pp., $11.99
Ever find yourself at a loss of words when trying to pray? Sometimes the actual effort to find the right thing to say is so distracting that prayer is lost in frustration. Author Sybil MacBeth found her words trivial and trite compared to the magnitude of her prayer intentions, so she created a doodle book to encourage focus, creativity and a space to pray. Guided by a relaxed formula, older children can practice this version of "lectio divina." "Pray for Others in Color" and "Count Your Blessings in Color," also by Sybil MacBeth, offer similar avenues for intercessory prayers and prayers of gratitude. Ages 12-18.
 
"Molly McBride and the Plaid Jumper" by Jean Schoonover-Egolf. Gracewatch Media (Winona, Minnesota, 2017) 32 pp., $11.
One in a series, "Molly McBride" helps normalize discussions about religious vocations through its cheerful and accessible narratives about a young girl and her women religious friends. Molly wants to be one of the "Purple Nuns," and she wears her purple habit everywhere. But she will be attending Catholic school soon and will have to wear a school uniform. Thankfully, a fun-loving priest and her parents help Molly understand that Jesus' love is much deeper than the clothes she wears. Children will love Molly and her cute wolf pet named Francis. Ages 4-8.
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Lordan, a mother of three, has master's degrees in education and political science and is a former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.
 
  • Published in Reviews

'Tomb of Christ: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Experience'

In the nation's capital, a $15 museum ticket and pair of 3-D glasses is the passport Christian pilgrims and others need to experience what may be the holiest site in Christianity.
 
Employing state-of-the-art technology, the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15 opened an exhibit that virtually transports visitors to the streets of Jerusalem and through the doors of a small church that protects what is believed to be the site of Christ's burial and, to Christians, the site of his resurrection.
 
"We put you in the Old City, we talk to you a little about the walls of the city, how they move over time and where the Gospels say that the Crucifixion took place, and try to give you the context," said Kathryn Keane, vice president of exhibitions for National Geographic during a Nov. 9 interview with Catholic News Service.
 
After an introductory video explaining some of the tumultuous history surrounding the tomb of Christ site, where structures above have been built and torn down repeatedly over the centuries, visitors walk toward a set where a virtual guide projected on a wall welcomes them to a courtyard just outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
 
It's a visual appetizer to get them ready for the experience of, not just entering via 3-D through its doors, but also of flying over it and witnessing, from a bird's eye view, a time-lapse of the structure's physical history.
 
"We're not only taking you in the church the way it looks today but we also go up above the church and we take you back through time," said Keane. "It's a bit of a time machine and we show you all the evolutions of the building, from the time that it was, under (Roman emperor) Hadrian, a pagan temple."
 
"This is not what I would consider a traditional exhibit. It's more an experience than it is an exhibit," said National Geographic archaeologist Fred Hiebert, whose unique experience inside the church led to "Tomb of Christ: The Church of Holy Sepulchre Experience," which runs at the Washington museum until August 2018.
 
Last year, Hiebert witnessed various stages of a nine-month-long, $3 million restoration of the small shrine within the Holy Sepulcher that protects the tomb of Christ. The shrine often is referred to as the Edicule, Latin for "little house." During the process, the three religious groups with jurisdiction over the structure, and who had agreed on its restoration -- the Armenians, the Franciscans and the Greek Orthodox -- agreed to also allow restorers to put a moisture barrier around the the tomb itself.
 
The tomb likely had not been opened in centuries and, at some point, marble slabs were placed on top, perhaps to keep pilgrims from taking home parts of it. It has been venerated since the time of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor who, in the fourth century, sent a team in search of the holy burial site. Soon after, they identified a quarry as that place and Constantine's mother, Helena, had a shrine built around it.
 
The exhibit explains how the effects of weather, earthquakes and also great numbers of pilgrims, many of whom light candles that contribute to a buildup of soot, had brought the structure to the brink of collapse.
 
It also explains the dilemma religious leaders faced when they learned that by injecting liquid mortar into the shrine to reinforce it, it presented the possibility that it would seep into the tomb itself -- defeating the purpose of protecting the most important part. They had to swiftly decide to shut down the shrine to allow the team to protect the tomb -- and that meant briefly opening it.
 
"They said, 'Do it, but don't take more than 60 hours to do it,'" said Hiebert.

When restorers temporarily shut down the site, Hiebert and other members of the National Geographic team were present to witness the opening of the tomb, which exposed the original limestone bed and the walls of the cave, which Christians believe witnessed Christ returning to life.
 
"To think that we, we were some of the few people who were locked in that church, got to see what people for hundreds and hundreds of years of Christianity hope to see, and we had a chance to see that ... if there's anything that drove me to do a virtual exhibit, it was that guilt," Hiebert said to an audience gathered at the museum on the opening night of the exhibit. "We have to tell the world about this."
 
The National Geographic team scanned the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the smaller structure inside, the Edicule, in such detail, that visitors who stop by the exhibit can don a VR, or virtual reality, headset and enter the tiny shrine, navigate the small passage way that leads to the tomb, a space that accommodates no more than three or four people, and see an exact visual representation of the tomb, without the real-life inconveniences.
 
"As tourist, you get maybe 15 seconds in the tomb and then they move you out," explained National Geographic engineer Corey Jaskolski at the opening night event. "Part of capturing this and being able to share it with the world through the National Geographic Museum is that we can let people spend as long as they want in the tomb. You can go in there and have your own personal experience and be able to see it in all its glory without the interruptions and bustle of the crowd around."
 
The exhibit explains some of the technology the restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens used, as well as what National Geographic used to scan the images that made the visual aspect of the exhibit possible.
 
"We can tell a story about great science and there's a certain great aspect of faith to it, too," said Hiebert.
 
Keane said the project is an intersection of history, architecture, science, technology and faith.
 
"All of these things aren't at odds with each other," she said.
 
The exhibit displays the document that Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Franciscan leaders signed in 2016, which made the restoration possible, while also noting in a timeline that the groups had agreed in principle in 1959 that the "little house" needed the renovations.
 
Hiebert applauded the cooperation among the religious groups as a "brave" and said of their ability to agree, "That happens once in a lifetime with these guys."
The project shows, Hiebert said, that there can be cooperation among different groups in the Middle East.
 
"Having reviewed the history of the (Holy Sepulcher) church, and realizing that it's a contested space, in a contested area … here was a project that was bringing people together to do something that was positive," he said. "That is a metaphor for optimism in the Middle East. In a place as difficult as Jerusalem, as complex as the Middle East, it's still possible to do an optimistic idealistic project."
 
Archaeologist Hiebert said the exhibit, as well as a TV show about the restoration of the tomb of Christ that National Geographic documented, will debut Dec. 3 on its cable channel. The December cover story of National Geographic magazine also focuses on archaeology and what it reveals about the life of Christ. It shows that science and faith can go hand in hand, Hiebert said.
 
"When we look back on the history of exploration and even the history of National Geographic, we realize that this idea that science is divorced from faith is not true," he said. "It seemed to me natural that National Geographic would be in a position of, here's a site, which is sacred and historic, and we're about to embark on an epic adventure."
 
  • Published in World

Movie review: 'Coco'

Will "Coco" (Disney) be your cup of tea? That largely depends on how well equipped you are to interpret this visually rich animated fantasy's presentation of the afterlife, one which owes little to Christianity and much to the pre-Columbian beliefs associated with Mexico's Day of the Dead.
 
Sadly, this means that the film cannot be recommended for the youthful audience at which it seems primarily aimed. Teens and grownups, however, can safely appreciate it.
 
Viewers travel to the other world in the company of Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez), an endearing preteen from South of the Border. Miguel is on a quest to follow in the footsteps of his hometown's most famous son, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt), by becoming a world-renowned musician.
 
His aspirations have so far been stymied by the fact that his family has a long-standing aversion to all things musical. This unusual distaste first arose when one of Miguel's ancestors deserted his wife and child in favor of a career singing and playing the guitar -- with devastating emotional consequences. The tiny daughter thus abandoned is now Mama Coco (voice of Ana Ofelia Murguia), Miguel's much-loved great-grandmother.
 
Desperate to make his debut at a talent night being staged as part of the Day of the Dead festivities, but lacking a guitar, Miguel sneaks into de la Cruz's mausoleum where his trademark instrument is kept. Clues have convinced Miguel that de la Cruz was, in fact, Coco's long-lost dad, so he feels justified in borrowing the guitar.

While inside the tomb, Miguel is mysteriously transported to the Land of the Dead. There he eventually gains a guide in the person of Hector Rivera (voice of Gael Garcia Bernal) a good-hearted but slippery character who, like all his ilk, is a living skeleton.
 
Miguel and Hector strike a bargain: If Hector helps the boy find de la Cruz -- Miguel needs the blessing of a relative in order to return to the normal world -- Miguel will bring Hector's photograph back with him and place it on the homemade altar (known as an "ofrenda") where the departed are honored.
 
According to the movie's mythos, that will enable Hector to visit the land of the living each year. It also will allow him to postpone the "second death," the final disintegration that awaits each person once there is no one left alive who remembers that individual.
 
While free of any age-inappropriate content and strong on the importance of clan solidarity, co-director Adrian Molina's script, penned with Matthew Aldrich, is stuffed full of such notions. Thus, despite its warm spirit and considerable aesthetic credentials, principal director Lee Unkrich's movie is unsuitable for Miguel's real-life contemporaries.
 
For those more firmly established by maturity and faith formation, on the other hand, "Coco" represents a good holiday-season option.
 
The film contains nonscriptural religious ideas. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
  • Published in Reviews

National Catholic Youth Conference

The sound of more than 20,000 teens screaming and singing along with racuous music of Christian hip-hop band TobyMac was loud.
 
The sound of the same number of youths in silent prayer was deafening.
 
These external and internal forms of praise formed bookends to the opening general session of the National Catholic Youth Conference Nov. 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
 
After two hours of music, entertainment -- including cultural dancing by the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement -- and an entrance procession of banners from each Diocese present, the participants were greeted by Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.
 
Although each person came "from many dioceses, many states … and with many titles," he said, "we are first and foremost children of God. And that God who knows us desires to be known by us. … God wanted us to know him ... through a personal relationship with a human being, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
 
"We are beloved children of God, called by name, claimed by Christ," he continued, referring to the conference theme of "Called." "We begin this NCYC weekend by embracing that reality of who we are."
 
Chris Stefanick, an internationally acclaimed author, speaker and founder of Real Life Catholic, used humor and life experience to speak about the reality of who we are and of God's love for each person.
 
He spoke of the "love story" upon which the Catholic faith is founded.
 
"When you remove the love story, what are you left with?" he asked. "Rules that we have to follow. Rituals that we're not sure why we keep them alive but they take a lot of time. Doctrines that have nothing to do with your life. That's how the world has come to see Catholicism. … The world has forgotten the love story, and so often we've forgotten the love story."
 
That story, he said, "begins very simply with the words '(I) believe in one God.'"
So many youths today chose not to believe, he said, including an atheist who once told him that belief that God created the universe "is as stupid as a kid coming down on Christmas morning and, seeing presents under the tree, thinks, 'There are presents, therefore there must be a Santa.'"
 
"You say there's no God?" Stefanick asked. "That's like a flea not believing in the dog. That's like a kid coming down on Christmas morning and seeing presents under the tree and saying, 'Oh look! Presents! They must have exploded themselves here!' … Just so, the universe did not put itself here, and the more we learn about the universe, the more it shouts to us about the existence of God."
 
And because God's love created us, he said, no other form of love will satisfy.
 
"We feel so small in this world," he told the crowd that came from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska. "We feel so insignificant in this universe.
 
"I think God looks down from heaven and says, 'You are huge next to all this.' As big as a mountain is, can it know someone? As big as an ocean is, can it make a choice? As big as a galaxy is, can it choose to love? No, but you can. ... You're a huge deal!"

But because of human rejection of God, Stefanick continued, sin and brokenness entered the world. To applause and shouts of "Amen!" he modified the words of John 3:16 to note that therefore, "'God so loved you that he gave his only Son.' Whoa. …"
 
 
  • Published in Nation
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