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Not just between man and whale

/ 12:04 AM December 06, 2015

Together with the poor and people with disability, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle will “push open” the Holy Door of the Manila Cathedral on Dec. 9, Wednesday, to signal the start of the archdiocese’s observance of the Jubilee of Mercy.

The Jubilee is an “extraordinary” one that begins and ends on two great and solemn feasts of the Catholic Church: Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016, the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of Christ the King, respectively.

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The Jubilee of Mercy is, in the words of Pope Francis, “a special time for the Church, a time when the witness [to mercy] of believers might grow stronger and more effective.”

This is the reason Cardinal Tagle chose to “push open” the Manila Cathedral doors, enjoining the faithful not only to enter through the Holy Doors of cathedrals and basilicas but also to go through “Doors of Charity” for the homeless, the poor, the imprisoned and the sick.

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Devotees can gain indulgences by passing through the Holy Door and making pilgrimages in Jubilee Churches. According to Church teaching, “an indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishments due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.”

In the Archdiocese of Manila, four other churches have been designated Jubilee Churches, aside from the Manila Cathedral. The churches and the date of their Holy Door opening are: National Shrine of the Sacred Heart, Makati City (Dec. 11, 3 p.m.); Santuario de Santo Cristo, San Juan City (Dec. 12, 5:30 p.m.); Archdiocesan Shrine of the Divine Mercy, Mandaluyong City (Dec. 13, 5:30 p.m.); and Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Church, Pasay City (Dec. 13, 5:30 p.m.).

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Students know “Moby Dick” as an American classic, the definitive novel on whaling, a tale of obsession and adventure, a meditation on revenge, on humanity’s place in creation, among all the other creatures who share this planet.

What not many people know is that, despite the book’s place in the pantheon of world literature, its author, Herman Melville, died in obscurity, with his tale of the white leviathan close to disappearing from print. But with champions and changing mores, brought on by two world wars and a darker, more despairing view of the world, interest in “Moby Dick” grew until it became the classic we recognize it to be today.

What few also know is that “Moby Dick” is based not just on Melville’s real-life experiences aboard whalers (he jumped ship from one vessel in Hawaii), but also on the true-to-life tales of other whaling ships and whalers.

“In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” is the retelling by Nantucket native Nathaniel Philbrick of the fate of the whaler and the crew, attacked by a gigantic whale in the Pacific in the waning days of the industry in the 1800s. With whales scarcer and more difficult to find, ships had to sail farther and farther to find their prey, while on the verge of losing their market for whale oil with the discovery of fossil fuels.

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It is Philbrick’s contention that the fate of the Essex inspired Melville to write “Moby Dick,” although the novel stops just where the true extent of the crew’s ordeal begins.

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“In the Heart of the Sea,” the film version of the tragedy that befell the Essex, opens with Melville paying a visit to the reclusive Tom Nickerson, the last living crew member of the Essex whose harrowing experiences aboard the whaler and in the weeks that followed, floating on the ocean in flimsy boats, have driven him to drink.

But the film is really about the delicate dance for power and dominance between first mate Own Chase (Chris Hemsworth), who is an experienced sailor and crew leader but who, because he doesn’t hail from a whaler family, is forced to work beneath an inexperienced captain. That is George Pollard (Ben Walker), proud and arrogant, but secretly frightened to death of being found out and bringing shame to his lineage.

When the Essex encounters the gigantic whale, which rams into the ship and cunningly breaks it in two, the captain and first mate must muster all their courage and capability not just so they and their remaining crew can survive “in the heart of the sea,” but also make their way home.

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Director Ron Howard manages the early part of the movie with efficiency and dispatch. We can feel the animosity between the two ship leaders, and the deadly effects of their unspoken rivalry and hostility.

But it is when the whale shows up that Howard speeds up the action and raises the dramatic stakes. Unlike in John Huston’s filmic vision of “Moby Dick” (screenplay by Ray Bradbury), where we come to view the whale almost as another character, in “In the Heart of the Sea,” the audience is given but brief, if frightening, glimpses of the magnificent creature. Howard and the writers choose to keep the movie and story on a human scale, focusing on the confusion and fear brought on by the attack itself, then on the sufferings the men must endure where, as the filmmakers say, “they must bring into question their deepest beliefs.”

“In the Heart of the Sea” also brings into question the role that humanity plays in the destruction—and possible salvation—of our common home, a home we share with whales and other creatures. Though the discovery of oil under the ground brought an end to the lucrative trade in whale oil, it did not stop entirely, such that whales are now a threatened species. While the use of fossil fuels has not only powered the industrial age, it has also hastened the destruction of our atmosphere and threatens our very survival.

There are lessons in this story far beyond the battle between man and whale.

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TAGS: In the Heart of the Sea, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Mercy, Moby Dick, whaling
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