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John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

A slug named Mub, voiced by Aziz Ansari, and MK, voiced by Amanda Seyfried, are seen in the animated movie "Epic."
Though some perilous interludes and the onscreen -- albeit mild -- demise of at least one prominent character might make it too scary for the littlest members of the family, director Chris Wedge's pleasant 3-D animated fantasy "Epic" (Fox) provides appropriate viewing for just about everyone else.

Building on a premise that bears comparison with that of Hayao Miyazaki's far superior -- but also much darker -- fable "Spirited Away" (2001), the collaborative script magically transports its heroine to a miniature, previously unobserved, world within nature. Like the more menacing landscape of Miyazaki's film, this Lilliputian cosmos teems with anthropomorphized animals and plants.

Said heroine, 17-year-old Mary Katherine (voice of Amanda Seyfried) -- M.K. for short -- soon discovers that things are as unsettled at this level of existence as they are in the more familiar surroundings that tower over it. The armed champions of growth and life in the forest, known as Leafmen, are locked in battle with the dark forces of decay, the Boggans.

M.K. finds herself drawn into the conflict when the Leafmen's sovereign, Queen Tara (voice of Beyonce Knowles), entrusts her with a mission that could determine its ultimate outcome. In her quest to fulfill this vital charge, M.K. gains the protection of the Leafmen's gallant leader Ronin (voiced by Colin Farrell) but likewise the enmity of the Boggans' hateful commander Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz).

Another of M.K.'s newfound companions is Ronin's protege, youthful warrior Nod (voice of Josh Hutcherson). Though Nod's freewheeling ways make him an initially unreliable ally for his fellow Leafmen, they don't prevent M.K. from falling for him.

With some of its characters drawn from William Joyce's book "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs" -- Joyce is also credited as one of the film's five scriptwriters -- this cheerful journey into the undergrowth sends innocuous messages about environmental stewardship, teamwork and responsibility. There's also some familial bonding via M.K.'s ultimately appreciative interaction with her stereotypically absent-minded dad, Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudeikis).

Details of the plot might hint at some pantheistic overtones; Queen Tara, for example, is portrayed not only as the Leafmen's liege lady but as the source of their life-giving, and life-restoring, power. Still, she's really more Mother Nature than goddess Gaia. As a whole, the personification of natural elements seems intended to excite children's interest and sympathy rather than to impart any nonscriptural belief.

Though the impact of Wedge's picture falls well short of the promise contained in its overly ambitious -- perhaps ill-advised -- title, it does have its strengths as well as flaws. In particular, some lovely imagery compensates for various hit-or-miss attempts at humor.

The film contains potentially frightening clashes and themes involving death. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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John of Monte Corvino: At a time when the Church was heavily embroiled in nationalistic rivalries within Europe, it was also reaching across Asia to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Mongols. John of Monte Corvino went to China about the same time Marco Polo was returning. 
<p>John was a soldier, judge and doctor before he became a friar. Prior to going to Tabriz, Persia (present-day Iran), in 1278, he was well known for his preaching and teaching. In 1291 he left Tabriz as a legate of Pope Nicholas IV to the court of Kublai Khan. An Italian merchant, a Dominican friar and John traveled to western India where the Dominican died. When John and the Italian merchant arrived in China in 1294, Kublai Khan had recently died. </p><p>Nestorian Christians, successors to the dissidents of the fifth-century Council of Ephesus’ teaching on Jesus Christ, had been in China since the seventh century. John converted some of them and also some of the Chinese, including Prince George from Tenduk, northwest of Beijing. Prince George named his son after this holy friar. </p><p>John established his headquarters in Khanbalik (now Beijing), where he built two churches; his was the first resident Catholic mission in the country. By 1304 he had translated the Psalms and the New Testament into the Tatar language. </p><p>Responding to two letters from John, Pope Clement V named John Archbishop of Khanbalik in 1307 and consecrated seven friars as bishops of neighboring dioceses. One of the seven never left Europe. Three others died along the way to China; the remaining three bishops and the friars who accompanied them arrived there in 1308. </p><p>When John died in 1328, he was mourned by Christians and non-Christians. His tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage. In 1368, Christianity was banished from China when the Mongols were expelled and the Ming dynasty began. John’s cause has been introduced in Rome.</p> American Catholic Blog We look ahead to the coming of the Son of Man, standing erect and with heads held high. We live in hope, not in fear. Our experience of God is no longer limited by human weakness or even human sinfulness. God has always been one step ahead of us, with a plan that exceeds our greatest desires.

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