Under the Flower Premiere

by Maggie Pawsey

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Eyecrush Productions was proud to present the Pittsburgh premiere of their film, Under the Flower, as a wonderful conclusion to the 2017 Festival of Friendship.

The film began as the brainchild of Franciscan University of Steubenville student Hank Meldrum and alumnus Lilianna Meldrum Serbicki, a brother and sister team. Meldrum asked Serbicki to write a screenplay for him, and the two were joined by director and classmate Giovanni Stroik to create the largest independant film ever produced by students at the university.

The film became “a labor of love,” said costume designer Maria Perez. About 30 students in the cast and crew gave up sleep and comfort to get most of the filming done within a single week.

Their hard work paid off stunningly. The film features beautiful shots of the characters and creative uses of movement and color. The plot centers around the main character Jane, as she works through her conflicting thoughts personified in the anxious Simon and apathetic Celeste.

Serbicki said the film is about unity, the “integration of all the parts of ourselves.” Meldrum said the theme was very much “like a family… like the Church as well;” as different parts come together to create a whole, each works in unity to create something bigger and better than the individual.

The team of students, many of whom are studying theater or communication arts, said they were excited to get hands-on experience in the field and a chance to apply the theories and techniques they’ve learned in class. Stroik said the project gave many of them a renewed “passion” to take back into the classrooms.

Eyecrush Productions is putting the finishing touches on their creation, and plans to present it in film festivals in the near future. Under the Flower is certainly not a film to miss.

The Beauty of Labor

by Maggie Pawsey

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Exploring the beauty of labor, Mayela Cabrera and Linus Meldrum presented on the exhibition “Men and Women at Work in the Paintings of Jean-François Millet.”

The exhibition originally took place in Italy, and Cabrera shared her experiences presenting it again in New York. Many of Millet’s paintings center around “highlighting the toil of those who work the land,” Cabrera explained. The 19th century French painter saw toil as a part of life, not something to object to or complain about, but to find meaning in. “Life is toil,” Cabrera said of Millet’s work, “but there is also drama, a drama surrounded by splendor.”

Many of the paintings portray the sacredness of work and the beauty to be found in someone doing the task given to them. Cabrera and Meldrum both emphasized a quote from Millet, who said, “Beauty does not reside in the face, it radiates from the whole figure… It lies in the harmony between a person and his or her industry.” Nothing was more beautiful than the simplicity of a mother taking care of her child, or a farmer planting seeds. Cabrera explained that to Millet, “Work… is men obeying Christ.”

Meldrum, giving his personal reflections on Millet, said that he was touched by the “sparkle” in the paintings that convey to the viewer, “the mysterious experience of the world around you.” Speaking from his time as a manual laborer, Meldrum connected with the working subjects of the paintings, and the dignity Millet saw in them. As he showed the audience several of the artist’s pieces, Meldrum explained that the paintings constantly return to finding the “riches of labor… gratefulness to God, for the earth.”

Pictures of the paintings and research portions of the exhibition were on display panels at the Festival of Friendship. Meldrum encouraged audience members to go see Millet’s work in person, and we extend the invitation to you, dear reader, to further explore the artist’s paintings if (and when) you see anything that strikes you.

Overcoming Human Trafficking

by Maggie Pawsey

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“Desperation, poverty is a breeding ground where human trafficking survives,” said Diana Mao, President and Co-Founder of Nomi Network. The solution, then, is to combat those forces by providing victims opportunities for a better life.

In the panel discussion, “Overcoming Human Trafficking,” Mao explained that trafficking exists because of “poverty, lack of rule of law… systematic violence against women and children, and uninformed consumers buying slave-made products.” She reported an estimated 68% of raw materials are produced by some sort of slavery and said the corrupted economic system is deep and complex.

That’s where Nomi Network comes in. The organization’s vision is: “A world without slavery where every woman can be known and know her full potential.” The organization serves many people in danger of slavery, from women in sex trafficking, to survivors of domestic violence, to the poor and disabled.

Nomi Network seeks to train and enable these people to produce and sell items for fair wages. Mao said the organization also aims to rebuild the communities that foster dangerous situations because of caste systems or societal violence. She explained the network’s name invites people to “Know me. Know my story,” and to take action against trafficking.

To learn more and to shop the beautiful creations of these women, visit https://www.buyherbagnotherbody.com and nominetwork.org.

Kathleen Spinnenweber, professor of Spanish at Franciscan University of Steubenville, continued the discussion by examining a literary side of trafficking. Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was a victim of trafficking. Spinnenweber explained that Cervantes was kidnapped and held for ransom for five years, and this horrible experience made its way into Cervantes’s writings, especially the play The Trade of Algiers. Cervantes was able to escape his situation and use his voice to provoke change; change is still deeply needed in modern times, and we must hear the cries of those calling for it today.

Ilaria Schnyder von Wartensee elaborated on the change we need to see. She quoted Pope Francis by saying, “What we need is a cultural transformation that restores the human person at the center.” She identified a few elements needed to make transformation possible:

  • Encounter - Schnyder von Wartensee explained that many people are able to say, “I changed because I met [a human being].” Personal encounter with others, especially victims, is the first step to bringing about recovery.

  • Risk - “Risk something of yourself… to walk with this person,” Schnyder von Wartensee challenged. To change the culture, we as Christians have to give of ourselves.

  • Commitment - “We need time to change,” she said. To commit ourselves to our fellow human beings is to restore human dignity.

The fight to overcome human trafficking must be a cultural and a personal one. We must claim our inheritance as a Church of servants to rebuild a culture of love and respect, “with the human person at the center,” where he or she belongs.

Not Numbers but People

by Maggie Pawsey

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Younus Mirza and Ilaria Schnyder von Wartensee discussed how to recognize the humanity of migrants and refugees in their panel presentation on “Refugees: Not Numbers, but People.”

“We see people as either with us or against us,” said Mirza, Professor of Islamic Studies at Allegheny College, speaking on the current refugee crisis. “But it’s important to see them as friends.” This recognition of the refugee as a human person, as a friend, seems to be a crucial step toward the problem’s solution.

Schnyder von Wartensee, a research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, spoke on her experience of visiting Libyan migrants passing through the island of Lampedusa on their way to Italy. “Libya is like hell,” she said, “one of the worst places to be right now in the world because of human trafficking, because of smuggling, because of violence.”

Migrants and refugees travelling to Italy are at such a disadvantage, as the majority do not know the language and have very little to support themselves on. Schnyder von Wartensee explains that there is, “a struggle to welcome the stranger, struggle to welcome the other, and then the Pope saying, welcome everybody, welcome the stranger.”

This will only be possible by grasping the full importance of human dignity, and by seeing the refugees not as threats or statistics, but as our brothers and sisters in need of help.

The Meeting Ground of Two Mysteries

by Maggie Pawsey

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“It is the meeting ground of two mysteries,” Rebekah Rojcewicz said of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. “The mystery of God and the mystery of the child.”

Rojcewicz, experienced catechetic and member of the International Council of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, presented on “The Child as Maestro,” or “The Child as Teacher,” to finish out the day of panels for the Saturday portion of the Festival of Friendship.

Rojcewicz said above all, the Catechesis, “honors that the child is a mystery,” and seeks to be honest with children about God’s great love for them, especially through the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The environment creates a space where children are not held back from the fullness of the faith and their own dignity.

This form of Catechesis also allows our children to teach us in simplicity what we might tend to take for granted as adults. Rojcewicz said children lead us to, “a path of wonder, being in awe of reality… being able to respond in a whole-person way… to thoroughly engage in the truth.”

Children have a “capacity for wonder,” Rojcewicz exclaimed, and a capacity for mystery. She showed the audience some pictures children have drawn while in classrooms of the Catechesis. Many drew Jesus as a shepherd with a smiling face, and one picture portrayed the child and Jesus holding hands, both exceedingly happy and in absolute friendship. The simplicity and honesty of the drawings showed that children understood and found joy in the stories they learned.

When asking children in the class, “What makes Him [Jesus] so good?” Rojcewicz said the most common answer was simply, “He knows his sheep by name.” What an “incredibly personal nature” of the love these children understand.

How much joy would the Church experience if we learned to live like that? Rojcewicz ended her presentation with the simple but powerful prayer: “Give me the heart of a child, and the awesome courage to live it out.”

To learn more about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, please visit cgsusa.org.

“What makes technology human?”

by Maggie Pawsey

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“What makes technology human?” asked Davide Bolchini and Marita O’Brien, presenting on the topic of “How Can We Claim Our Technological Inheritance?”

Bolchini, professor of Informatics and Computing, said, “We want to understand, what does it mean to be human when we interact with technology, when we design technology, when we engage with technology.” Bolchini explained how computers were designed with the human brain in mind. Early computer scientists, such as Vannevar Bush and Ivan Sutherland, worked to make computers collaborative with us, using “interactive displays of linking” between documents and information to work as the human brain does through linking concepts and ideas.

On a more psychological level, we have to be, “thinking about technology as being more than just devices that have batteries, computers,” said O’Brien, professor of psychology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She connected technology with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, to examine what makes a human environment, and how technology can play a role in that.

O’Brien continued, “It’s certainly part of our heritage as Christians, to be thinking about new ways to make technology more human and in thinking about some of these examples, thinking of counterexamples to what we see in the media about technology just dehumanizing us.” The counterexamples she gave were of ordinary people helping each other through the devastations of Hurricane Harvey, keeping in contact through cell phone apps, and raising millions of dollars for relief through online websites.

Technology becomes more human, or perhaps humanizing, when it, “enables more frequent and natural interactions… extends our communities… fosters innovation and innovative thinking,” O’Brien said. Technology can certainly be a tool to use to better ourselves and become more connected with each other, and for Christians to reclaim as our heritage of care and celebration of humanity.

A Musical Journey Across Continental Europe

by Maggie Pawsey

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Chatham Baroque took us on “A Musical Journey across Continental Europe” on Friday, September 29, as Pittsburgh’s Festival of Friendship got off to a lovely start.

The group’s violinist, Andrew Fouts, explained that the selections for the night were pulled from several important countries of the baroque era, to give a sense of diversity in the music. The concert included pieces ranging from “Sonata Arpeggiata” by Italian composer Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, to “Toccata in G minor” by Portuguese Carlos Seixas.

The energy in the room was tangible as each member put themselves into their performance, their bodies moving enthusiastically with their instruments, just as pleasant to watch as to listen to. Each performer built off of the others’ liveliness, passing smiles back and forth during particularly fun pieces.

In between sets, the musicians introduced themselves and their instruments, explaining what the uniquely-shaped theorbo is (an instrument of the lute family), and giving anecdotes about the composers they played from (did you know Johann Heinrich Schmelzer wrote music for horses to dance to?). The ensemble ended the night to a standing ovation from a thoroughly pleased audience.

Chatham Baroque is a Pittsburgh-based group that has been playing and performing baroque music all over the country for 27 years. They have produced ten CDs, and another is in the making! You can listen to their music, and learn more about them, at chathambaroque.org.

The concert was a free event put on by Revolution of Tenderness as part of their annual Festival of Friendship. The Festival includes presentations on various topics of the Arts as well as current social issues. The weekend is open to all, and music lovers are welcome to come to Synod Hall on Saturday, September 30, at 7:30 pm for a traditional Appalachian music performance.