HARRY POTTER BOOKS and their movie adaptations are secular stories but there are Christian values that we can glean from them. Harry Potter is also an atypical hero, the sometimes-underdog, who can be a useful subject of reflection for Christians committed to live Gospel lives.
In Matt 7:13-14, Jesus advises his disciples to take the narrow gate and difficult path. In "Goblet of Fire" Professor Dumbledore tells Harry, "Tough and difficult times lay ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."
Taking the narrow gate and dificult path and doing what is right is what Harry does consistently in "Goblet of Fire".
Even in the heat of the Triwizard Tournament, whenever Harry had to choose between winning and the safety of others, he always courageously chooses the safety of others.
When Harry declares "I don't want eternal glory", he means it in all honesty and this is evident in his actions throughout the film.
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We see Harry maturing in "Goblet of Fire", gaining confidence as he learns to think for himself and to make important decisions. But the process of growing up also means that Harry and his friends have to cope with teenage anxiety and the awkwardness of youthful crushes.
Like Harry in the movie, we can gain further insights into right and wrong, good and bad from Dumbledore. "Curiosity's no sin, Harry, but you have to exercise caution," he advises.
Magic serves as framework in this fantasy (and there are spells and potions aplenty) but magic is portrayed as a skill rather than a power. The greatest power, the power that overcomes evil, is love.
"Love is the ultimate protection," Dumbledore explains to Harry in reference to the help he receives from the spirits of Harry's parents at a critical moment during his battle with Voldemort. (This scene could be useful to initiate discussion with children on the communion of saints especially during this month of November which is Holy Souls Month.)
"Goblet of Fire" is a darker story than the earlier Harry Potter stories and the film's PG rating indicates its suitability for older children. Young children may be frightened by some scenes as when the Dark Lord Voldemort regains his body at the last battle and is seen as his evil self for the very first time. In "Goblet of Fire" we see death at the beginning and at the end. The complex plots that Rowling weaves, and the shock when those we think are "good guys" are actually "bad guys" may be too much for younger minds to bear.
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It is regrettable but not surprising that huge chunks of the book are not included in the film. Among the missing parts is the Dursleys, Mrs Weasley, and Hermione's campaign to free house elves from slavery. But there is enough in "Goblet of Fire" to make it a movie that can teach viewers about compassion, courage, sacrifice, humility, friendship, honesty, loyalty, and doing the right thing despite the risks to self.
We are reminded too of the need to stand against prejudice and discrimination by Dumbledore (speaking for J.K. Rowling too, I presume) when he says at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, "We come from different places and speak in different tongues but our hearts beat as one."
The sets and effects makes "Goblet of Fire" a spectacular fantasy. Those who watch it for entertainment will not be disappointed. It will make you laugh, tremble and, possibly, even cry. Hopefully it will also inspire - to always do the right rather than the easy.
The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution established by Pope Paul VI on Sep 15, 1965, in response to the desire of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to keep alive the positive spirit engendered by the conciliar experience.
This principal characteristic of the Synod of Bishops is service to the communion and collegiality of the world's bishops with the Holy Father.
THE TIME OF the rebellion in the wake of the independence in 1960 was a period of uncertainty and fear. Many Belgians left Congo.
At my mission station of Bominenge (Equator Province), we were discussing what to do. We all decided to stay. I was asked by my confreres to visit the villages in the forest area. Not without some apprehension did I ride by motorcycle to the surrounding villages, asking myself how the people would receive me and react after all the horrible stories against foreigners, and especially Belgians, and after weeks of rebellious speeches against the foreigners.
Great was my surprise and my happiness when I was joyfully welcomed in all the villages I visited. "So, Father, you did not leave us... and flee to your home country," was their encouraging greeting.
The first village we celebrated the Eucharist with had an overwhelming attendance. In my homily that evening I gave them my answer commenting on Jesus' words: "I am the Good Shepherd, ready to die for his sheep. When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he runs away because he does not care about the sheep."
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I stayed in Congo (later called Zaire) till 1977 when my superiors called me back to Belgium to be secretary to the headquarters of the Flemish CICM-Province at Scheut-Brussels.
I loved the Congolese people, their friendly and sincere hospitality, their simple, joyful and careless way of looking at life.
"You, white people," they told me once, "you live to work, you are always in a hurry; we work to live and to enjoy life."
I have always been struck by their love for their families and their helpful solidarity in and with their clanship and by the way our Christian communities participated and attended the Eucharist Celebrations, praying, singing and dancing. Their sense of communal celebration on the occasions of birth, death, weddings, or after a successful hunting have left a lasting impression on me.
THE MISSIONARY IN young Albert Brys was nurtured by ships, family, and a youth movement.
"Ostend (where Albert was raised) being a port, I would see big ships coming from Antwerp and going off to South America, Asia, Africa. They impressed me not to stay in my own country but to share the Good News to the other parts of the world," he recalls.
Albert Brys is the eldest in a family of seven children. His father was a music teacher and served as the sacristan of the Cathedral of Ostend, while his mother was a homemaker. He describes his parents as "very convinced Catholics" who played a major part in inculcating his faith. Several of his relatives were missionaries. He recalls the warm reception given to his uncle, also a CICM missionary, on the latter's return from Africa. "I remember the first time he returned home, and we gave him a welcome celebration. It made a deep impression on me."
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The Catholic Flemish Youth Movement in which he was an active member was also an influence. "Even then I was always interested in the mission, and wanted to go to China," he said. Instead of China, he found himself in Congo.
When the Second World War ended in 1945, Albert Brys entered the CICM. He was just 20, and his first mission was in Congo.
Being an accomplished linguist - he speaks Dutch, French, German and English and reads Latin and Greek - he easily mastered the local languages of Congo, Lingala and Ngbaka. These were essential for his teaching ministry. He taught in the minor seminary, secondary schools, and the teachers' training school. He reveals, "I like teaching. I'm also a voracious reader. I like to share and explain what I read to others in a language that they can understand."
Father Brys's mission in Congo lasted 22 years (See "An African experience".) He left Congo to serve at the CICM motherhouse in Brussels after which he was assigned to Singapore.
"It was 1982 and I spent my first few months in St. Vincent de Paul parish with Father Eugene Vaz," he remembers. "I then went to the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and was there for 14 years."
"OLPS was the first parish to start the RCIA programme," he said. Prior to that, the Redemptorists, who introduced it, went to different parishes to conduct it. "I was very involved and am still very enthusiastic in RCIA because it helps Catholics develop a missionary spirit - through sponsorship," he continues with conviction.
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Today, Father Brys is assigned at the parish of St. Francis of Assisi where, in addition to RCIA, he conducts Bible courses. The highlight for him in his priestly ministry is "making Jesus known to people." He elaborates, "I enjoy my contact with people, helping people who are in need, listen and encourage them, and give them spiritual direction. I find confession very important, and make time for that." He adds, "My spirituality is very Christocentric, based on Holy Scripture. My homilies - both Sundays and weekdays - are very important in my life, to share with the people the Word of God."
His love for the Word of God has proved to be a safety buoy when he faces the storms in life. "By nature, I'm an enthusiastic person but in times of difficulty, I know my Bible and I know which texts to read and reflect upon."
Father Brys finds the local church "very cordial". "I feel accepted here by the priests and the people are very generous. Singaporeans still have deep respect for priests - it's not the same in Europe."
He returns to Belgium every three to four years to visit his relatives but Singapore is now his home. Being a true missionary, food has never been a problem for him - his favourite local dish is yong tau foo.
Father Brys is relatively healthy. "I thank the Lord that I'm still able to serve," he says. He tries to walk an hour a day to keep fit. He also plays the piano, listens to music and reads.
On the changes taking place, he comments that today Singapore is no longer receiving but sending out missionaries. Fathers Peter Koh and Anthony Lim are two Singaporean CICM priests serving abroad.
(For more information about the CICM missionaries, visit www.scheutmissions.org)
Above, the panel of speakers during the question-and-answer session comprises Father Albert Renckens, SS.CC, Father Frans de Ridder, CICM, Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp, Father John-Paul Tan, ofm and Father Henry Siew.
Church in Singapore steps up gear on inter-religious dialogue as Nostra Aetate marks 40th year.
SINGAPORE - The Archdiocese of Singapore celebrated the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate with a historical gathering on Nov 8 at St. Joseph's Institution.
The gathering was organised by the interim committee for Inter-Religious and Ecumenical Dialogue (IRED) in the Catholic Church and attended by about 280 Catholics representing 21 parishes, 19 organisations and 10 religious and clerical communities.
Nostra Aetate is the church's declaration on its relationship to non-Christian religions. This document paved the way to dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions.
In Singapore, the Catholic Church has formally participated in dialogue with other religions since the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore (IRO) was formed in 1949.
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Archbishop Nicholas Chia, in his opening address, reminded the representatives present of the remarkable greater openness of the Catholic Church towards people of other religious traditions and persuasions, particularly after the Second Vatican Council.
He challenged Catholics to consider what dialogue really meant, explaining that it is "more than kind and friendly small talk, which is albeit better than hateful polemics and denunciation". "Dialogue is also more than respectful information", which is necessary because "ignorance is the best ground for xenophobia," he added.
"Dialogue means encounter and communication in the original meaning of this term: making a common good of one's own good, exchange and sharing so that we enrich each other," enlightened Archbishop Chia.
Finally, dialogue is "not only an academic and intellectual exercise", but becomes practical in collaboration towards common ideals and values, "for freedom and justice, for peace and reconciliation, for family values, preservation of creation and above all for the sanctity of life," he said.
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Dialogue is not an aim in itself, but a means towards friendship. "Only when we take seriously the other in his or her otherness can we learn from each other and can we be what we should be: a blessing for each other," Archbishop Chia concluded his explanation of the importance and meaning of dialogue.
Archbishop Chia also reassured Catholics that inter-religious dialogue, properly understood and faithfully carried out, complements the duty to proclaim Jesus Christ. The church is committed to both, he said.
Brother Michael Broughton, FSC, in his address to the representatives, explained that there are four levels of dialogue that takes place among people from various religions. The first level is that of friendship, as one would befriend colleagues or neighbours from other walks of faith. The second level is that of collaboration on a common project, such as relief efforts as responses to various crises. The third level is an exchange of religious experiences, which implies at least a basic knowledge of one's own faith in matters such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the like.
The fourth level concerns learning from one another beliefs or stands on moral theology, bioethics and such deeper subjects. Brother Michael reassured that the average Catholic should be able to participate on dialogue on the first three levels with relative ease, leaving the fourth level to the experts.
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All dialogue begins with the level of friendship. Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp, one of the speakers on the panel spoke about her friendships she shared with Hindus and Muslims who eventually came to pray for her at her profession of final vows.
Father John-Paul Tan, ofm, another speaker on the panel, said that every Catholic needs to realise that inter-religious dialogue is geared towards world peace, and is especially necessary post-September 11. He challenged the Church to see what it has to offer to society in its present situation, and reminded the Church of the need to be aware of inter-religious dialogue as a tool for evangelisation and to bring about an awareness of world peace.
Florence Ng, from the parish of the Holy Trinity, had come for the gathering because she wanted to "know how people of other faiths think, so that we can be more open to their faith and we can share our faith with them."
To her, dialogue with other religions is important because "we are living in a multi-religious society" and that dialogue will lead to less conflict.
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ABOUT NOSTRA AETATE
Nostra Aetate (which means "In Our Time") is one of the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council. It was passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 of the assembled bishops and promulgated by Pope Paul VI on Oct 28, 1965.
The declaration acknowledges that the human community is one because it comes from the creative hand of the one God and that variations in religious faith and practice are simply a reflection of the rich diversity that characterises humankind itself.
It praises Hinduism's emphasis on contemplation, asceticism, meditation, and trust in God; Buddhism's recognition of the insufficiency of the material world; Islam's belief in the one God, its reverence for Jesus as a great prophet, its honouring of Mary, his mother, its high moral standards, and its commitment to prayer, almsgiving and fasting; and emphasises Christianity's relationship to Judaism, in which the beginnings of the church's faith is to be found.