Faith & Thought

‘Cabrini’ Is an Incredible, and True, Story of a Great Saint

About a week ago a friend called me to tell me that she had just seen the film “Cabrini.” She said that the film was so great that she would be willing to see it again almost immediately. I knew immediately that this was a film that I had to see.

Several times in the past, films have appeared that I thought the Church in some way should have promoted or at least that Catholics should have promoted. It is easy to complain about films that seem to present a vision of the human that is almost the opposite of the Christian vision. I believe that when a deeply religious film that is well done appears, those of us who believe that films can have a profound effect on viewers should do what we can to encourage people to see the film. 

A great film that deserved special promotion was “Romero.” I could not understand why there was not some grassroots movement to publicize the film by those who are looking for films that speak to their religious faith. I still vividly recall three scenes from the film that moved me when I saw them. 

One scene depicts a young lady, who is working to gain rights for the poor in El Salvador, confronting Archbishop Romero with the question, “Is there a life after death?” Romero asks her why she is asking that question and she replies, “Because there has to be something better than this.” 

The second scene is when the young lady, having been beaten and raped, is shot by a member of the military. That scene was so powerful that one of the teenagers whom I brought to the film had to leave the audience for a few moments. After the film ended I mentioned to her that I was surprised that she, who had viewed many horror films, was disturbed by the violent scene. She said, “The horror films are silly but this scene seemed real.” 

The third scene in the film that I recall vividly is the one in which Romero, extremely discouraged, perhaps on the brink of despair, has a mystical experience that enables him to continue his battles for the poor. As far as I know, that is the only scene in any American film that attempts to depict a mystical experience. The experience changes Romero’s life. 

“Entertaining Angels” tells the story of Dorothy Day, who I hope will be canonized some day by the Church. I don’t know of any American film that dramatizes so effectively the sufferings of the poor. 

These and other wonderful films, such as “Places in the Heart,” which has the best Eucharistic scene in any American film, are on my mind because I am hoping that “Cabrini” is seen by many. 

Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini’s life was so marvelous that I have to keep reminding myself that the story told by the film is not fiction but fact. This amazing woman actually accomplished what almost seem to be miracles. 

At one point in the film a report is presented indicating how successful St. Cabrini and her sisters have been in building hospitals and orphanages and schools and influencing the lives of thousands against what must have seemed insurmountable odds. 

The best intention in the world is not all that is needed to create a great film. Dedication, talent, and perseverance are necessary ingredients if the finished product is going to be what its creators want to produce. I am pleased to report that “Cabrini” is an excellent film thanks to the contributions of many. 

My guess is that “Cabrini” was a special project for several who created it. The actress who portrays Cabrini is extraordinary. She conveys the depth and determination of the saint largely through her facial expressions, aided by director Alejandro Monteverde’s excellent use of close-ups. 

As I viewed the film I was almost overwhelmed by Mother Cabrini’s moral strength and the depth of her commitment. What Cabrini planned to do with her life seemed to be a kind of wishful thinking or even an outrageous fantasy. 

That she succeeded through her self-gift to the poor and needy and the wonderful work done by her sisters seems almost incredible. Viewing the film I had to keep reminding myself that this film was telling a true story. 

The entire cast, including the children, perform well. David Morse as the archbishop of New York and John Lithgow as the mayor are outstanding in their supporting roles. I wonder if John Lithgow is one of those actors who seems incapable of giving a poor performance. Special plaudits are deserved by the set designer and the cinematographer. 

For many reasons, “Cabrini” is special. I hope the film reaches a wide audience.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.