Movie producer of 'Cabrini' responds to critics that film fails to show nun's faith motivation

The movie “Cabrini,” now in theaters, is getting a lot of positive reviews for its cinematography, acting and storytelling.

But some of the most piercing criticisms of the film have come from the faith media.

The Catholic Exchange asked whether “Cabrini” is a “feminist Social Justice Warrior or [a] Catholic Saint?”

An EWTN critique said the movie is “gutted of religious meaning.”

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And Catholic World Report’s Fr. Henry Graebe commented in his review, “Oddly missing from the film … are several characteristics that would be considered essential for anyone striving toward sainthood, namely, holiness and prayerfulness.”

The film reveals the struggles of Mother Cabrini, born Frances Xavier Cabrini — an Italian woman who was the youngest of 13 children and became a Catholic nun.

The new film “Cabrini,” released by Angel Studios, reveals the life of Catholic missionary Francesca Cabrini, played by Cristiana Dell’Anna, in New York City in the late 19th century. (Angel Studios)

The film elevates her feistiness, which enabled her to defy her frail health and challenge the power structure of the Catholic Church and the City of New York to build orphanages, hospitals and schools.

And in so doing, she relieved the poverty of tens of thousands of Italian immigrant children, many abandoned or orphaned on the city’s streets.

Mother Cabrini, who immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s, was the first American saint. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The problem is, the film never mentions the name of Jesus. It never shows Mother Cabrini praying the rosary, or even praying.

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On a recent episode of “Lighthouse Faith” podcast, the film’s producer Eduardo Verastigui said that in filmmaking, the better philosophy is to “show” rather than “tell.”

Said Verastigui, “When you’re making a movie that is not a documentary, it’s not a TV series where you have … 100 hours to tell more of her story. You only have … two hours to tell her story. It’s very difficult for the writer and for the director.”

Mother Cabrini immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s and was the first American saint. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Above, a scene from the new film “Cabrini,” based on her life.  (Angel Studios)

He added, “You know what you are going to leave behind … [But] what are you going to choose?”

Still, for many faith-based media, it seems any reference to Cabrini’s religious foundations was purposely avoided.

At a screening last fall, the film’s backer made a point of saying the movie is about a woman who did incredible work — a woman “who happened to be a nun.”

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In her review in the Washington Times, Madeline Kearns quoted Mother Cabrini’s motivation in her own words.

“I appeal in a special way to the zeal of the many Christian women who love Jesus, to stir into action the sacred flame burning within them, moving them with compassion for our many poor, abandoned brothers who also have been redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus,” she said.

“May each one of you join our ranks to seek a good number of souls to present to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

Angel Studios is the production house behind the film.

A scene from the new film “Cabrini.” Now in theaters, the film is getting a lot of positive reviews for its cinematography, acting and storytelling. But some of the most piercing criticisms of it have come from the faith media.   (Angel Studios)

It has never shied away from being upfront about faith.

It produced “The Chosen,” a successful and popular series about the life of Jesus. Also, along with Verastigui’s production group, it released the film “The Sound of Freedom,” starring Jim Caviezal as an agent rescuing children from sex traffickers.

Verastigui himself is a man of faith. He grew up Catholic in Mexico and started his career as a singer.

He eventually began acting in Mexican soap operas, then came to America to test the waters of Hollywood. A woman he met who became his English teacher challenged him to dig deeper into his soul.

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Verastigue said, “[She] not only taught me English but changed my life using this Socratic method, asking questions like, ‘What is the purpose of your life?’ ‘What do you want to get into in your life?’ ‘How are you using your talents?’ And many other questions like, ‘Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?'”

It was a pivotal period for Verastigui, he related.

“That’s when I made a promise to God that I would never use my talents again to do anything that would offend my faith, my family or my Latino culture.”

This image is an in-camera double exposure captured on the campus of the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colorado, on Feb. 14, 2024. The shrine pays homage to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, affectionately known as Mother Cabrini, who dedicated herself to welcoming refugees and advocating for services during a period when a significant number of Italian immigrants, among others, were arriving in the United States.  (RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post/Getty Images)

The vow was easier said than done.

For the next four years, Verastigue didn’t work, as he had to turn down offer after offer. But then he met director Alejandor Monteverde and producer Leo Severino. The three formed a production company called Metanoia Films.

It gave them the ability to control the message, something Verastigui didn’t have as an actor waiting for the phone to ring. Their first project was a small-budget 2006 release called “Bella,” about a chef with a mysterious past, who “spends the day with a waitress who needs a friend.”

In 2015, the company released “Little Boy,” about “an eight-year-old boy … willing to do whatever it takes to end World War II so he can bring his father home.”

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The pandemic and corporate sales and takeovers halted moving forward with their work on the film “The Sound of Freedom,” which was finally released last year.

“Cabrini” has all the imagery of Catholicism. It has nuns in full habit, crosses and crucifixes — but its script is full of 21st century feminist memes.

A scene from the film “Cabrini.” Wrote one reviewer as featured on IMDb, “Mother Cabrini is a legend and I’m shocked that I had never heard her story before! This movie tells of her struggles and triumphs in such a beautiful, inspiring, and compelling way.” (Angel Studios)

Kearns, in her review, pointed to one glaring example.

She wrote, “In one scene, Mother Cabrini (Cristiana Dell’Anna) prepares her sisters who are accompanying her to New York, saying, ‘Without men, we will be expected to fail. More than ever, we must trust in ourselves. And in the purpose of our mission.’”

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But, said Kearns, the “real Mother Cabrini actually said to her sisters on Sept. 13, 1894, when she set sail from Genoa, Italy, to New York, ‘Bear in mind that whoever distrusts herself and trusts in God has nothing to fear because, stripped of self, she has become strong with the strength of God. With humility and trust, she defies every hardship.'”

Verastigui admitted that they made a film that no feminist could object to.

He said that already in Mexico, there’s a feminist movement rallying against the film.

These stained-glass windows commemorate Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini on the campus of the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colorado, on Feb. 14, 2024. Mother Cabrini dedicated much of her life to helping refugees and advocating for services for immigrants.  (RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post/Getty Images)

He doesn’t name names but said, “They heard us saying that this movie is about women that are empowered … They don’t want women to see this movie because they think, ‘Oh, this is propaganda about religion.’”

Said Verastriqui, “It’s not propaganda.”

At least it’s not propaganda about the Catholic faith.

One could argue it is propaganda about empowering women to trust in themselves … and not ultimately in God.

 

For more Lifestyle articles, visit foxnews.com/lifestyle.

Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel’s (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is “Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog.” She is host of Fox News Digital’s “Spirited Debate.”

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