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Attendance at cathedral services are up 14% in a decade. But which are the countrys best?

Britains cathedrals are booming, even as parish churches are in decline. Attendance at cathedral services is up 14% in a decade and that does not include tourist visits. No one quite knows why. It appears to be a combination of music especially evensong fine art, architecture and coffee. In the language of the age, the cathedral offers an experience without a commitment. So which are the finest?

10. Norwich

With its in-your-face tower and nave so grandly Romanesque you wonder why anyone bothered with gothic. The carved medieval figures on the doorway surrounds are delightful.

9. Salisbury

The only cathedral designed in one go, and rather tedious as a result. But the view of the steeple is incomparable, a defining image of Englishness. The chapter house and cathedral close are exquisite.

Canterbury Cathedral, the earliest gothic work in England. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Winchester

Once the cathedral of a capital city, now famed for its west wall of Perpendicular glass and seemingly endless nave, giving way to a Norman transept more like a fortress than a church. The east end is an exhibition hall of shrines and chantries. As Winchester was built in a flood plain, its crypt is full of water, in which a naked Antony Gormley statue stands up to his shins, gazing at his cupped hands.

7. Westminster

A jaded stage set for the rituals of monarchy, but its ambulatory is a fascinating junk shop of memorials of the great and no longer great, Highgate cemetery come to town. Beyond lies Henry VIIs chapel, which, with its fan vault and dripping pendants, is surely the most dazzling interior in the land.

The octogonal tower at Ely. Photograph: Mike Mayhew/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

6. York

A thumping Perpendicular palace, awesome from around the city walls. The largest cathedral by volume in England, with its newly restored east window containing the finest medieval glass.

5. Canterbury

Silvery limestone towers beckon pilgrims across the Kent landscape to the earliest gothic work in England. A gruesome statue marks the spot where Thomas Becket died. The ancient crypt carvings are both terrifying and hilarious.

4. Durham

A massive assertion of Norman power over the rebellious north, its the most superbly sited of all cathedrals. The drum roll of its mighty nave builds up to the spectacular retrochoir of double windows and weird sculptures.

3. Lincoln

A mysterious warren of a cathedral, looking bashed about and in need of restoration. Its crazy vault mystifies all who try to read it, while the Angel Choir boasts the imp turned to stone for insulting an angel.

2. Ely

The ship of the Fens, its towers best seen floating on a morning mist across the fields. The swirling upward view inside the central lantern is near psychedelic the view down from the gallery no less so. Exquisite carvings in its Lady Chapel still bear the scars of iconoclast vandalism.

Wells Cathedral. Photograph: thyme/Getty Images

1. Wells

Its sculpted west front glows incomparably in the sunset, its giant scissor arches uplift its crossing, and its column capitals offer an encyclopedia of medieval life. Wells also boasts the most serene chapter house anywhere.

Simon Jenkinss Englands Cathedrals is published by Little, Brown

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The true story behind the hit song for the band MercyMe took $25m in seven days amid a recent rise of religious movies

As Hollywood struggles with sexual harassment scandals and box-office woes, it could do worse than turn toGod. For while religious movies have traditionally been considered a niche phenomenon, that assessment may need to be revised.

Last weekend I Can Only Imagine, a Christian-themed independent biopic, beat a series of studio-backed films to win the number three spot behind Black Panther and Tomb Raider. And as Easter approaches, films with Christian messages are experiencing an upswing not seen since Mel Gibsons 2004 crucifixion drama The Passion of Christ.

I Can Only Imagine stars Dennis Quaid and was produced and directed by brothers Jon and Andy Erwin, the duo behind other faith-based hits such as Woodlawn, the story of a spiritual awakening among an Alabama high-school football team, starring Jon Voight and Sean Astin, and October Baby, an anti-abortiondrama.

The Erwins latest film tells the story of an abusive father (Quaid) who inspires his son to write the song I Can Only Imagine, based loosely on their relationship. In reality it was written by Bart Millard, lead singer of the band MercyMe who, at the age of 14, witnessed his dying fatherstransformation.

I went from seeing my father go from a monster to a man who was desperately in love with Jesus, Millard told the Christian Broadcast Network last week. He wrote the song in 1998; five years later it went on to become the bestselling Christian single of all time.

That did not impress film executives. Jon Erwin says he was told there was no audience for a Christian music movie … But everybody I knew in the Christian world that we live in knew and loved the song, so we just believed that there was an audience for this movie and that they would show up. I Can Only Imagine was ultimately picked up by Roadside Attractions, maker of Manchester By The Sea, and Lionsgate. The distributors agreed to promote it as a general audience production. With a $25m box-office take so far, it is also showing Hollywood that Christians can make consistent, repeat filmgoers. Audience polling found that 79% said they planned to pay to see the movie again.

Shane harper stars in Gods Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, released in the US on 30 March and in the UK on 25 May.

The faith-based genre is showing Hollywood that age and diversity are not necessarily antithetical to box-office success, and offer starring roles to actors who may no longer be at the top of casting directors call-in lists.

In last years hit The Shack, God was played by a black woman, an Asian woman played the Holy Spirit and Jesus was played by an Israeli, says Peter Chattaway, reviewer for the faith-based film site, Patheos. A 10-part mini-series, The Bible, cast Samson as black; in the follow-up series, AD: The Bible Continues, several apostles were black and Mary Magdalene was part black, partChinese.

Churches are increasingly diverse and that is being reflected in the films that are being made for their congregations, says Chattaway.

Other recent successes include Heaven Is for Real, the story of a boy who briefly dies, which grossed $91m in the US. Fireproof, about a porn-addicted fireman, made $33m from a $500,000 budget. Gods Not Dead, which follows a college student whose faith is challenged by a philosophy professor, made twice that.

Movies like Gods Not Dead are a lot more tribalistic and play to an us-versus-them mindset, Chattaway says. In the first of the series, the atheist villain is knocked down by a car and converts as he is dying. The second sequel, Chattaway says, is more conciliatory. It almost seems like an apology. It says weve got to get past our divisions.

From left: Joanne Whalley, Jim Caviezel and John Lynch star in Paul, Apostle of Christ, released last Friday in the US and on 30 March in the UK. Photograph: Affirm Films/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

This week sees the release of Paul, Apostle of Christ, starring Joanne Whalley, and the broadcast of an NBC television staging of Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic, with R&B singer John Legend as Jesus and rock star Alice Cooper as King Herod.

Increasingly, Chattaway says, filmmakers are looking to other corners of the Bible for material. Three years ago there was Killing Jesus, which focused on Johanna in Lukes gospel.

She was one of patrons of the Jesus movement along with Mary Magdelene. She supported the movement with her own money. It also says that her husband worked for King Herod. That raises all sorts of questions. Why was the wife of one of Herods top servants hanging out with the Jesus movement?

But not all faith-based films thrive. Last week saw the release (outside the US) of Mary Magdalene, starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix. One reviewer described it as a portentous and lugubrious revision … the dreariest story ever told.

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Trouble No More combines concert footage with specially commissioned sermons

The acute and sometimes obtuse angles of Bob Dylans career have teased and infuriated his public for more than half a century. But nothing not the bizarre Christmas album, his no-show at the Nobel ceremony or allowing his music to be used in a Victorias Secret lingerie ad has provoked the degree of derision that greeted his conversion to Christianity at the end of the 1970s, which is the subject of a film to be shown on the BBC later this month.

Vainly anticipating the oneiric visions of Mr Tambourine Man and the dazzling surrealism of Desolation Row, his audiences felt betrayed when the seemingly conventional opening line of a new composition Are you ready? was followed by a fusillade of more uncomfortably precise demands expressing his newfound faith: Are you ready for the judgement? Are you ready for the terrible swift sword? Are you ready for Armageddon? Are you ready for the day of the Lord?

Many were not. Dylans Christianity was of the earnest, unyielding variety, and listeners who had responded to the sceptical injunctions of his early work Dont follow leaders, he had told them in Subterranean Homesick Blues were repelled by his new allegiance to the Christian deity, even when some of the resulting songs, such as Slow Train Coming and Every Grain of Sand, turned out to be pretty good.

His friend Allen Ginsberg had a more positive view: He seemed to be trying to transcend himself into something else, which I thought was healthy, the poet said after attending one of the concerts. But, as so often in Dylans career, it turned out to be a passing phase, lasting from 1979 to 1981. Jesus himself only preached for three years, he told a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, possibly with his tongue in his cheek.

The recorded legacy of that brief period was largely overlooked until the release late last year of Trouble No More, a compilation of concert recordings from the born-again period, the 13th volume of his long-running Bootleg Series of previously unreleased material. Accompanying the 150, eight-CD deluxe edition of the recordings was a ninth disc containing a new hourlong film that casts a more benign light on Dylans adventures in evangelism.

Luc Sante, who wrote the sermons for Trouble No More: My instructions from Bob included one to go easy on the fire and brimstone. Photograph: Tim Knox/Guardian

Working with newly unearthed film of concerts in the spring of 1980, the director Jennifer Lebeau exploits the close-up footage to reveal not just the high quality of Dylans performances (I think he was probably singing better than hed sung in many years, his guitarist Fred Tackett said) but the degree of his commitment to the message he was trying to put over. This had escaped the attention of stadium audiences in an era before the introduction of giant screens.

Lebeau was also asked by the Dylan camp to break up the concert footage with half a dozen two-minute sermons. Not the ones with which the singer had regaled his audiences almost 40 years ago but diatribes on designated themes hypocrisy, virtue, temperance, gluttony, justice and prudence commissioned from the writer and critic Luc Sante.

My instructions from Bob included one to go easy on the fire and brimstone, Sante who, at 63, is 13 years younger than Dylan said this week from his home in upstate New York.

Instead the writer, who was brought up as a Catholic but had not attended church in 50 years, found inspiration in the recordings of African American preachers of the 1920s. Men like the Rev JM Gates, the Rev AW Nix and the Rev DC Rice were huge sellers in their day. They were southern preachers and their words brought comfort to a great many people who had moved north in the Great Migration and were perhaps feeling lonely and isolated.

The sermons are delivered against the stained glass windows of an Episcopalian church on New Yorks Upper East Side by the actor Michael Shannon, recently seen as a villainous US army colonel in The Shape of Water, the winner of the 2018 Oscar for best picture. In a variety of sharp three-piece suits, Shannon stays just this side of a caricature of the typical 1970s televangelist while biting down hard on Santes words: Justice is not always served on this earth! Sometimes the wicked are rewarded and the virtuous are made to suffer. That may happen in this life, but it will not happen in the next

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Sister Catherine Rose Holzman, 89, was locked in legal battle over sale of Los Angeles site to pop star

An 89-year-old Catholic nun who has battled pop star Katy Perry for years over the sale of a Los Angeles convent has collapsed and died while attending court proceedings about the case, according to media reports and supporters.

Sister Catherine Rose Holzman, one of two ageing nuns who were fighting the sale of the eight-acre (three-hectare) convent, died on Friday in Los Angeles county court, Fox affiliate KTTV reported.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary property in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles that pop star Katy Perry is buying Photograph: Nick Ut/AP

Holzman had earlier told KTTV as she entered the courthouse with Sister Rita Callanan: To Katy Perry, please stop. Its not doing anyone any good except hurting a lot of people.

On Saturday a website set up to back the nuns legal battle carried a picture of Holzman with the caption Rest with the angels our most precious treasure.

A spokeswoman for Perry, one of the worlds top-selling pop stars, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Los Angeles county medical examiner and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not respond to queries about the cause of death.

At the center of the legal dispute is the property Holzman and other members of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary had once lived in.

Holzman and Cullanan, among five nuns who had lived at the convent, had sought to sell the property for $15.5m to restaurateur Dana Hollister, who wanted to convert the property into a hotel.

The archdiocese sued to block the sale in 2015, arguing the nuns did not have authority to sell the property to Hollister.

A judge ruled in 2016 that the sale was invalid, paving the way for Perry to buy the site from the archdiocese.

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Thanks to a canny social media presence which has included messages to Chelsea Clinton and progressive politics, satanism is an unlikely spiritual antidote to the Trump era

Disappointingly, Chelsea Clinton has denied she and her husband practise satanism. Her tweet wishing the folks at the Church of Satan a happy new year should not be taken as endorsement of the dark lords manifold heresies.

One hopes that, like her fathers denial of having had sexual relations with that woman, Chelseas disclaimer isnt for real. Doesnt she realise that the radical power of Satan is having a moment unparalleled since Milton unwittingly made him the badass rebel hero of Paradise Lost?

According to the LA Times, a heterodox generation of new self-described satanists is upending old Rosemarys Baby and Helter Skelter stereotypes in service of radical politics, feminist aesthetics and community unity.

The paper sent a reporter to investigate a satanic soiree in a California basement where they found a coterie of artists, writers and musicians who chanted Hail Satan!, while someone, unacceptably, played minor chords on the organ.


Satanism is attracting counter-cultural Californians because it is seen as a community-based response to the Trump era. As the paper writes: Traditionalists might debate if any of it is properly satanic at all; this new take is much more feminist than nihilist, flexibly self-aware and better versed in internet culture than orthodox theology.

Better versed is right. Consider the Church of Satans laconic Twitter feed that wryly corrects those taking the dark lords name in vain.

Consider, too, the good sense found in the websites FAQs: We see the universe as being indifferent to us, and so all morals and values are subjective human constructions contends the fundamental beliefs section, while the selling souls section argues: There are no souls and nobody to buy them. If you want something out of life, get off your lazy butt and work for it.

Satanism has been associated with moral panics over witches or the ritual abuse of children during its history, sometimes unfairly. It has also attracted devotees such as Leamington Spas most wicked son, Aleister Crowley, who scandalised Edwardian society by claiming to be a master of black magic. Modern satanism, riven between theistic and atheistic sects, may owe something to Crowley, who called himself Great Beast 666 and who made a posthumous appearance on the Beatles Sgt Pepper album cover, but chiefly because he preached free love and drug experimentation.

Satanisms latest mutation is something else, a contrarian uprising against a patriarchal world order that deserves its comeuppance.

How inspiring to find that in 2018 satanists are more progressive than the Great Beast even now tweeting diabolically from the Oval Office.

  • This article was corrected on Monday 8 January 2018 to change a reference from strumming an organ to playing it.

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After experiencing the horrors of war, Bryan Mealer lost his faith. Morning runs with a priest and a visit to a more welcoming church helped restore it

A few mornings a week, I go running with a priest.

We meet at 5.30 under a streetlamp in central Austin and make our way down to the state capitol building and back, a distance of about eight miles. Its a routine we started nearly two years ago, and it came during a pivotal point in my life.

I was 40 years old, the father of three small children, and beginning to wrestle with some of the bigger questions that loom at middle age, particularly about faith.

After growing up in the church and leaving for many years even abandoning my beliefs at one point while covering war I was contemplating a return. On a visit to my parents, my children had inadvertently exposed a void that Id been trying to ignore. My three-year-old daughter asked my mother, What is God? only to have her brother reply: Dont you know, silly? God is Harvey.

Harvey is what we called our Honda. The look my mother shot me is still burned into my retinas.

Id also begun writing a book about my familys saga out in west Texas, how theyd embraced Pentecostalism during the Great Depression and how its promise of salvation had steeled them against poverty and the pain of losing children. Ever since, wed remained in Assemblies of God and other evangelical churches, where the overriding message was that hell was hot and sin was your ticket. That kind of religious belief still served the needs of many of my relatives, and I didnt judge them for it.

But it was also the religion of moral crusaders like Dan Patrick, Texass lieutenant governor, who wielded Christian values like a blunt instrument against gay people and transgender schoolkids, and Roy Moore, who continues to use Christianity as his shield against allegations of child molestation.

I wondered how could I again call myself Christian, and raise my children to do the same, while feeling separate from that gross distortion of Christs message. Decades of culture wars had sullied the whole institution for me and millions of others who stood on the same precipice, looking back in.

I was grappling with these issues when I met David Peters.

David was a priest at an Episcopal church in south Austin and the author of two books. He was also a former marine and chaplain in the army whod served in Iraq. After the Texas legislature allowed people to openly carry handguns in public and concealed weapons into public universities, David wrote a piece for the Huffington Post advocating the open carry of prayer beads, not bullets. I thought he was a good writer and reached out to chat. Turned out he was also a runner, like me, so we planned to get some miles.

This alone filled another growing void. In the melee of fatherhood and career, Id started hanging out less and less with my friends. I ran semi-regularly with an old college buddy, Lee, whom I met occasional for a beer, but I had no standing weekly engagements to look forward to. Recent studies show that for men, this middle-age drift into isolation can be more harmful than obesity or smoking. The remedy? No more bowling alone, or running, for that matter.

David and I were in the same situation: we were both 40 with three kids and busy work schedules, and we had little time set aside for friendships. But we both ran, alone, in the early morning, which wed long claimed as ours. So we started meeting up every Monday, then again on Saturdays with Lee, before eventually adding Thursdays, too. Hot or cold, sleep or no sleep, we ran.

We didnt start off discussing G-O-D, but our conversation often turned to theology and history. I grew accustomed to hearing David deconstruct the Reformation or Augustines libido as we climbed the hills and empty boulevards. But as the months passed by, we began to open up more, and I soon learned that David had experienced his own journey back to faith with some parallels to mine.

Hed grown up in a rigid fundamentalist home, not in Texas but in Maryland and Pennsylvania, where his weekends were spent in airports and knocking on doors, handing out Bible tracts. While his father was a pastor, mine raged and rebelled against the fire and brimstone of his youth. But unable to chart his own spiritual course, he resorted to raising us with what he knew.

Like David, I burned for Jesus while enduring the cant dos of a strict religious upbringing: no Halloweens (it was the devils holiday) or secular music. He knew how conflicted Id felt trashing my Metallica cassettes after a rocknroll seminar at church.

While David joined the US Marine Corps reserves and enrolled in seminary, I went to college and, like my own father, built a great wall between me and the Lord. While David got married and became a youth pastor at an evangelical church in Pennsylvania, I moved to New York to work in magazines.

But after 9/11, it was war that called us both, and war that would finally rip us from our beliefs.

In 2003, following the invasion of Iraq, David was commissioned as a chaplain in the army and later went to Baghdad. While serving with the 62nd engineer combat battalion, he ministered to traumatized soldiers whod survived rocket attacks and roadside bombs and lost buddies in the process, and he presided over numerous memorials for the dead. After rotating home, he discovered his wife and the mother of his two children had been having an affair.

The marriage ended shortly before his deployment to Walter Reed army medical center, where he worked in the psych and amputee ward with men and women suffering severe trauma. The divorce, plus the crippling depression triggered by his own post-traumatic stress, finally forced a crack in his faith. I felt like God had abandoned me, he said. I was very angry, at myself, my ex, and at the God who I thought would give me an easy life if I did everything right if I played by his rules. But that God disappeared on me when I needed him most and I was alone. I distanced myself from everything that represented that God church, faith, hope and love.

Around the time David joined the army, I moved to Africa to become a freelance correspondent and wound up in eastern Congo, covering a largely neglected war that had killed millions. For three years I reported military operations, massacres, and cholera outbreaks, losing count of how many children I saw buried in some unfamiliar ground where their families had sought refuge.

Eighty per cent of Congolese people identify as Christian, and like my own family during the Depression, they leaned heavily on their faith in times of tragedy. Its Gods will, many would say in response to a militia attack, or an infant whod succumbed to diarrhea. God was punishing them for not believing, people told me, for theirs was a vengeful god, much like the one I had grown up with, and the god our politicians often hide behind without conscience.

One day while I was visiting a displaced camp, my guide took me on a tour of tents where babies had died during the night, the mothers still cradling the tiny corpses, catatonic with grief. Its Gods will, one woman told me, but Id grown tired of hearing it.

Then I want no part of this god, I thought. As I stood in a haze of cooking fires at the forgotten edge of the world, that god ceased to exist.

On our morning runs, David and I often talk about Paul Tillich, the German American theologian whod served as a chaplain during the first world war. The carnage of war and its heavy psychological toll pushed Tillich to the brink of his faith and beyond. Tillich hit rock bottom and, while there, came to see God as both everywhere and everything, the very ground of being. It was a god who met him in darkness when the other had proved trivial and inadequate.

The courage to be, Tillich later wrote, is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety and doubt.

David had a similar discovery. One dark night, he found himself alone on his balcony, sobbing and cursing God for allowing his life to crumble. When I stop weeping, I hear a voice, he wrote in his book, Post-Traumatic God. The voice is silence it is a voice that is unconditioned, like a horse standing still.

Not long after, David left the evangelical faith and became ordained in the Episcopal church, where the ritualistic liturgy offered a kind of spiritual liberation, one that not only helped ease his anxiety and depression, but renewed his bond.

God has to die, he said. The God of our childhood has to shatter in a thousand pieces, die, disappear or change, if we are to have a spiritual life beyond our childhood. The same eventually happened for my father. During his early 40s, while I was in college, he and my mother left the church for several years before joining a more moderate Lutheran congregation. After decades of seeking, he finally found true spiritual peace.

In the years after leaving Congo, I knew that God was out there somewhere, waiting in whatever form. Around the time I started running with David, my family and I began attending a progressive Methodist church here in Austin, one committed to social justice and offering sanctuary to the LGBT community. Our first Sunday, a man stood up and testified about being ostracized from his previous congregation because he was gay. All hed wanted to do was worship, and the God whod met him at Trinity did so with compassion and love, not judgment. I knew Id found a home, one whose Christian values were suitable for my children.

People might say that my answer was simply finding a church that was liberal, but its more than that. Im reclaiming my faith at a time when American Christianity is in crisis, when the institution of Jesus Christ a radical humanitarian who was killed by the police has been co-opted by corporate conservative interests, culture warriors, and the false religion of Fox News, just as it was by slavers and segregationists.

Reclaiming the title is a moral protest against those who attack immigrants, refugees, minorities, and the poor and the sick, the very people whom Christ instructed us to help along the road, and without question. Those stubborn red-letter directives are the same in Roy Moores Bible as they are in mine and yes, I too will fall short in carrying them out.

But at least my path is clear now, the one that Id been seeking. As scripture tells us, and as Tillich and my father both understood, this journey of faith is best done down a narrow road. There is no room for pulpit politicians or yammering pundits. Its just God and you and maybe a priest who met you under the streetlight putting one foot in front of the other in the dark.

Bryan Mealers latest book, The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Familys Search for the American Dream, is out in February.

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The long read: As a child in Iran, Dina Nayeri belonged to a secret Christian church where the Rapture was welcomed as a rescue. Later, as a refugee in the US, she saw how apocalyptic prophecies masked a reactionary nihilism which is why they are so tempting

When I was a girl in 1980s Isfahan, secret meetings of an underground Protestant church were part of my after-school routine. I would go from standing in a line of schoolgirls in hijabs, half-heartedly chanting the slogans of Irans Islamic Republic on the school blacktop, to singing hymns in a basement full of men and bareheaded women, all desperately believing in imminent rescue.

After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Christian converts like my mother and her friends persisted in a constant state of danger. At any moment they could be rounded up by the Shia revolutionary guard for apostasy, held for months without charge, perhaps taken to Tehrans notorious Evin prison to be tortured burned, beaten, cut, sexually exploited, starved of food and sleep then executed by firing squad or suffocated in a town square, a crane lifting them slowly as they hung by the neck. One beloved preacher in Tehran was shot in the street.

Every few days, we would listen entranced as our happy, bearded pastor (a man who used to perform backyard baptisms in an inflatable tub decorated with cartoon fish) spoke of the new life we would soon have, of happy futures lived openly in communion and worship. But these promises werent about the end of the brutal theocratic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, or of the ongoing war with Iraq. We werent getting smuggled out of our country, either. This was about the Rapture, the worldwide disappearance of believers that would trigger Christs second coming, as promised in the biblical Book of Revelation.

Though the word rapture never appears in the Bible, the concept has gripped Christians for centuries. It has spawned novels and movies, books interpreting modern events and thousands upon thousands of feverish pulpit speeches. Some have even tried to predict the date using complicated numerology, counting the days since the crucifixion and so on. In Isfahan, our interpretation of the Rapture, the one shared by most evangelicals across the world, was this: as the end of the world nears, floods, wars and famines will plague the Earth. The righteous will be persecuted as the rest of humanity descends into sin, making normal what was once shameful. Then, one day, as everyone else goes about their wicked business, all true Christians will be snatched up to heaven.

When Saddam Hussein bombed our city, or a political dissident disappeared into Evin, or rumour of more deaths and tortures reached us, our pastor told us to take heart we were living through the last pangs of a glorious birth. Our congregation whispered about the signs of the end, how it all fit so well into end-times prophecy. We talked of rescue, and the heady notion that we might avoid death altogether, though it was always nearby. In that way, we made terrifying news tolerable tortures and arrests werent so bad when compared with the fate of the un-raptured on Earth.

A poster for A Thief in the Night, a 1972 film about the Rapture. Photograph: Mark IV Pictures

The first time I heard about the Rapture, it sounded near and exciting. In Iran, many young people (Christians included) watched smuggled foreign films. That was probably how I first saw a movie called A Thief in the Night, a 1970s cult classic about three women, college friends, each of whom represents one of the paths set out in Revelation. One is saved and raptured; another refuses to believe and takes the mark of the antichrist, dooming her soul; and the third believes too late and must suffer through the tribulation, which ends when she is guillotined with her eyes prised open, facing the sky and the blade.

It was the scariest movie I had ever seen, my worst fear being left behind to suffer hell realised on screen. Every scene was made to crawl deep into the deep places of your memory and set up shop there. I can still see the boy with a red balloon being escorted to the guillotine, camera lingering behind the prison window, then the balloon floating to the sky. The creepy theme song haunts my nightmares to this day.

And yet, we believers repeated the Rapture story again and again, taking from it a perverse hope that these gruesome images represented the world we were leaving behind. Even amid the troubled times in which we actually lived the taped-up windows and bomb shelters, the brothers and cousins called to war then lost, small boys led into fields to set off mines, the Bahais and Christians who were maimed, forced to recite recantations, then killed anyway none of it was comparable to being guillotined face up. The anticipation of rapture, our secret otherworldly plan, comforted us every time the morality police burst in to question our pastor, every time the lights went out and bomb sirens screamed in the middle of our prayers.

Over the years Ive thought hard about what we must have felt then, what we needed to survive psychologically, socially and spiritually. We went about our routines in a daze, working and studying, collecting ration stamps, cooking, making music, always waiting for the next big shock. Though some late converts among us were haunted by having marched in the 1979 revolution, we protected our hope in humanity with the belief that the mess of Iran was not our mess. Those driven underground arent responsible for what happens above: we were exiles in our own country.

In the 30 years since, Ive witnessed a different kind of rapturous thinking, in post-revolutionary Iran, in gulf war America, in the Netherlands of Geert Wilders, Brexit Britain and Donald Trumps sinister new reality show, a place where Nazis preen and murder and are rewarded with winks and wrist-slaps from the president. In every country, there are those who retreat from a mess that they feel isnt their own. Often they are outsiders or vulnerable groups on the fringes of society (Christians in Iran, immigrants in small-town England and Holland).

Rapturous longings start with the powerless and spread outward like a virus: despair leads to denial and fantasy, to an attitude of Ill just wait this out. In response to a dark new reality, the weary go underground, retreating into homes, hiding behind screens, using stories as a salve and an opiate. They become watchful, delirious, stunned and effectively paralysed as they wait, refugees in their own land. They eat cake, go to sleep, and hope to wake up in a better reality.

In 1987, my mother, brother and I escaped Iran. Our departure was quick and unexpected and I didnt have a chance to say many goodbyes. For two years, we lived in refugee hostels in the United Arab Emirates and Italy, with Iran out of reach and the future unimaginable, and we waited. Then, in 1989, we were offered asylum in Edmond, Oklahoma, a peaceful middle-class suburb of Oklahoma City. Soon, the first gulf war began, and though I didnt live in the middle of the conflict this time, I was just as afraid as I had been in Iran. Images of Baghdad burning on CNN; journalists giving unfiltered accounts from hotel rooms while American networks waxed patriotic; the familiar enemy, Saddam Hussein these things triggered wartime memories and reminded me that we still lived in the same violent world where children could lose an arm on their way to school and leafy streets could be flattened in an hour.

Like me, my Oklahoma neighbours fretted, obsessing over rolling tanks parting the desert, cruise missiles lighting up the sky, piles of rubble and poor, dirty babies. They behaved as if war was already at their doorstep. Some bought gas masks. I did not remember this kind of anxiety in Iran, a place where we worshipped underground, where falling mortar interrupted our meals and revolutionary guards slept a few doors away.

In my intimate hilltop church, discussions took on a frantic, impatient new tone. We live in end times! our congregation often said, instead of the end is near. Now the Rapture wasnt just on the horizon; it was a daily possibility. Though I was young, I was surprised to hear the language of the refugee in their mouths: We are exiles on Earth, they said, as if to deny involvement. Were citizens of heaven. This casual disavowal was like a pantomime of displacement, containing nothing of the reluctance of the true refugee, the sorrow of being forced to leave home. Were leaving soon! they said happily.

Over time, something else needled at me: here, the Rapture talk wasnt so much about finding escape from frightening politics, as it had been in Iran. Here, the talk was a way of engaging with politics. The most ardent in the church carried out a side-by-side exegesis of newspapers and scripture with a certain thrill, as if fitting a puzzle piece into place. This habit often led to a rejection of any programme or policy that would contradict the end-times narrative. There was no need to slow climate change, protect against scarcity or pursue global peace because wars, famines and natural disasters are foretold and therefore unavoidable.

If statistics showed that violence had declined in the US, they would say: Oh, but thats only per capita! Overall its up, just as the Bible predicts. If a politician seemed too skilled, too smooth, too sympathetic to liberals, he was always a candidate for antichrist the anticipated ruler of a godless, post-Rapture earth. King Juan Carlos of Spain was a candidate, as JFK and even Reagan had been. In casual conversation, people counted the signs, growing breathless as the list grew: the gulf war, Hurricane Andrew, the Kobe earthquake, monsoons in Pakistan, torrential floods in China, tornadoes in Oklahoma, blizzards in Boston. They spoke of the decline of family values and the natural way of life: abortion, gay soldiers demanding to live openly, the young rejecting marriage in order to live in sin all indicators of the tribulation to come.

A sign at a 2005 demonstration against the Iraq war. Photograph: Alamy

Its easier to focus on what we can see than to try to imagine an unknown future. Though we yearned for otherworldly love and beauty, and to be removed from an ugly world, we were soon lost in a voyeuristic fascination with its fate. I began to notice that all the anticipation was focused on what would happen to the Earth, to the unbelieving hoards left behind, and not on what awaited the righteous in heaven. Perhaps, too, it was a contempt for the unbelieving, who lived as if they had every option. Our rapturous longings had morphed from rescue to reckoning, our image of the future from a better Earth to a scorched one.

Now and then I saw the Rapture depicted on television, in books, and in conversation: piles of loose clothing dotting streets, cars crashing into each other, empty prams, wandering animals dragging unmanned leashes, unbelievers (including atheists, people of every other religion, and Christians in name only) left behind to gnash their teeth, regretting their pleasures, their ambition and their false gods. Every pastor quoted from Matthew 24: Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

As I grew older, I began to fear that I would be left behind. Privately I loved all the worldly things we were supposed to reject. I couldnt get my head around creationism and prophecy and ancient norms dictating modern life. I wanted to go to Harvard. I wanted to stomp grapes in a vineyard and swim with exotic fish and have sex with more than one person. I wanted the world to continue existing so I could conquer it.

But I was afraid of losing my mother to the Rapture in the same way that I had almost lost her in Iran when she was arrested again and again. Every time I came home to an empty house, I took out the church directory and sat by the phone, ready to start dialling. If my mother failed to arrive after 30 minutes, I would turn on the television and search for news. I would look outside for wayward cats and dogs, the empty prams, the discarded clothes. Then I would begin dialling starting not with the pastor, whom I found sinister, but with one of the grandmothers, someone kind and pious I believed would be raptured. I always hoped to hear a baby in the background the cry of a baby (an innocent who would be raptured) always halted a tumble into my nightmares of divine judgment, all that inexplicable famine and disease and drought. Calculus and physics books helped, too, as did the rose bushes and milkweed in our yard. Perhaps these things reminded me of the resilience of the Earth, its age and complicated logic, and all that anchors us to physical, verifiable truths.

Or maybe, secretly, I longed to remain. I had already been snatched away from one home. I kept thinking: I hope it doesnt happen till after college, till after Ive had children and fallen in love and become someone great. I liked the idea of this world, the notion of studying and having a skill and a livelihood, building a family and a house. I didnt want release; I wanted to take root.

In my mid-20s, after years of grapplingwith my identity as a refugee and my place in the world, I stopped believing in the Rapture. By then I had embraced all the secular, corporeal things I had secretly desired: a rigorous education, travel, great food, the admission that I do believe in science and that the Bible is at most a metaphor to me. I watched that old movie, A Thief in the Night, on my laptop and was fumed at the heavy-handed messages that had colonised my adolescent brain. The Christian characters benefit from the goodwill and love of their secular friends, then dismiss human love as insufficient. Ever blase, their lives never progress; they only wait. This was the detail in the movie that struck me most as an adult: the two primary Christian characters dont have jobs or romances. They live in the next life.

This fetishisation of waiting was the final straw. Because here is something that only refugees (and people newly in love) can tell you: there is no painful business quite like waiting. Roland Barthes calls it subjection. For me, waiting for the Rapture and for political asylum felt much the same: the constant anticipation of a new start, of vanishing, of having already smelled the tiny yellow roses that draped our garden walls or tasted my grandmothers celery stew for the final time. Being a refugee is dismantling home, setting out into the desert and becoming stateless in pursuit of a better life. Refugees are seekers of a sort of Rapture, and, in leaving their known world for something unimaginably good beyond, they enact a small apocalypse.

When I said this to my mother recently, she balked. Though she believes in the Rapture it is her living hope and has suffered long bouts as a refugee, she doesnt like the comparison. I didnt choose to leave my home, she said. Being a refugee is being homeless, not having hope. In those years I lived in constant numbness, because while youre waiting, there is nothing. No way back and no way forward. With the Rapture, going back isnt an option, but whats ahead is beautiful.

The Last Judgment by Hans Memling (c1467). Photograph: Alamy

The Rapture story offers a known future that you dont have to build yourself. It happens in an instant: before youre done with one life, youre whisked into another. And that is everything skipping that in-between space, the country of purgatory where the refugee lingers. If youve ever been a refugee, my mother says, you know how much that matters.

Shes right: I do know that. I understand now that eschatological promises provide closure, the end of mankinds story on Earth, at once terrible and necessary. They are designed to assuage a universal fear: the fate of the refugee. To set off as an asylum seeker is to endure a carousel of embassy visits and interviews and application papers without any idea of what comes next. Its life without a heaven or hell, just recurring cycles that lead nowhere. Refugees live out the ancient themes of purgatory and banishment literally, and that not the guillotines blade or the antichrist or oblivion is the ultimate nightmare: life without closure, forever in limbo.

But I also know that being rescued from the nightmare of waiting is not only the refugees greatest desire, but also her greatest dread, because then home is no longer home and shes no longer who she once was; she is transformed. Maybe thats why I was so much more afraid in Oklahoma than in Isfahan by then, I had tasted that transformation. I knew what it was like to be taken away, never to smell the yellow roses or taste the celery stew again.

For believers, the end has always been imminent.In the Christian world, every century seems to bring a new wave of calculations. On 1 January 1000, Pope Sylvester II predicted a millennial apocalypse. Two centuries later, Pope Innocent III predicted that the end would arrive 666 years after the birth of Islam. The Black Death brought rapture fever, as did every comet. Cotton Mather, the influential American preacher, had three guesses between 1697 and 1736. As for this century, a 2010 Pew Research Center study found that nearly half of American Christians not just evangelicals believe Christ will return in their lifetime.

A few weeks ago I found the Facebook page of a popular preacher in Montana, who asked his 17,000 followers to consider, Is the Antichrist here? The tone and language of the responses gave me chills. Many were excited, frothing, ready with all that they knew about the Beast of Revelation: he would be Jewish, he would be a charismatic politician on the rise, someone capable and hopeful, bringing peace to the Middle East. He would be represented by the number 666.

Though spotting the antichrist is common among believers, the new candidate surprised me: Jared Kushner, Donald Trumps son-in-law. Blogs and forums advancing this theory count the evidence: he purchased 666 Fifth Avenue for more than anyone had ever paid for an office building. He is Jewish. He is handsome, and under all that eerie silence could be charisma. He has money and the ear of the president and dead eyes. He has done business with George Soros (atheist, liberal) and is friends with Netanyahu. Trump proclaimed that Kushner could bring peace to the Middle East. Was this not enough proof?

Behind the many websites and social media posts claiming that Kushner is the antichrist, I see a common bafflement: many conservative Christians realise now that Trump has lied to them, that his loyalty is to the wealthy, and that he has no understanding of macroeconomics, foreign policy, diplomacy or the Bible. But wasnt the Republican party supposed to be on their side the side of the ordinary middle-class Christian? Didnt pastors lay hands on Trump, blessing him and his administration? How can the faithful have been manipulated, if not for a mighty evil at work? Such trickery doesnt come from cheap conmen.

Donald Trump and Jared Kushner. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

This is, of course, cause for excitement. The arrival of the antichrist means that the faithful are closer to their deliverance. And he wont be their devil. He will only harm the unbelieving.

After I gave up my own apocalyptic obsessions, I began to notice evidence of rapturous thinking elsewhere and not only among evangelical Christians. Sometimes I saw the signs in those wishing for a return to the past: the elderly, social conservatives. The more the rest of society seemed to reject their identity, the more they craved a reckoning, something decisive and game-changing to stop the creep into the unfamiliar.

I suspect that no eschatological thinker of any faith has ever said: We have another hundred years to go. Every war is the most terrible. Every natural disaster the most epic. Every generation thinks the world is ending.

And for the oldest among us, it is true their world is ending. Social, economic and technological change has engulfed them so slowly that they didnt even notice it happening. Suddenly home looks like a foreign place. Its messy and threatening, and, as the underground Christians in Iran believed, its not their mess.

At one time or another we all stop recognising the landscape around us. It feels like a long con: to build a way of life, a legacy, only to have the next generation reject it. It seems apocalyptic: the end of goodness, of comfort, of peace. And what is to be done when it seems that history has no direction but the grave? All you can hope for is a sudden removal from the narrative, a sharp left turn, a deus ex machina. What you desire most is a violent disruption.

Eight in 10 white, born-again Christians voted for Trump. In Britain, 60% of voters over 65 opted for Brexit. Should this have come as a surprise? Despite Trumps many affectations toward Christian faith, it didnt matter if he was Gods man. Because here was the chance to do something to reject the present to usher in something rapturous and revolutionary.

But revolution without a stake in the future is apocalyptic, and revolution for the sake of the past is anathema to life because progress is the business of the young. In Iran, that same attempt to stop time, as much as the executions and the bombs, filled our days under the Islamic Republic with an aura of death.

But I suspect that, consciously or not, end-times believers crave apocalypse. They want a leader who will return them to the past, or barring that, hurry it along to its end. Someone who will fulfil a narrative in which they play a role. To my ears, their impatient groans are a prayer for the fall of civilisation.

The universe must be explainable, and God must be in control of its fate. Otherwise, all is chaos; then every good deed becomes inconsequential, history is just a series of events leading nowhere, leaders can only do so much and this latest, too, is just another rich man who has come for their dreams.

A few weeks ago, a youth pastorfrom my Oklahoma days told me a story about a discussion he led with a group of teenagers. He asked his students: If it was conclusive that cellphones were killing honeybees, would you stop using them? Most said no. I think the scientists will figure it out, said one student, but really, who cares if there are honeybees? This world is coming to an end anyway. Well all be raptured.

The late Christopher Hitchens called this attitude a contempt for all things of this world an acceptable form of nihilism. All religion has to hope for the end of days, he said. When youre tied to other people, youre tied to needs and frailties and messy long-term puzzles, like the fate of honeybees. But the Rapture is about unfastening, being citizens of heaven and breaking with all thats difficult and risky about life among humans. Is there a more attractive notion than to be spirited away and freed of responsibility? The fate of the Earth may be unknowable, or catastrophic you dont have to care.

But I want to care. Like everyone else, I still crave knowing whats next. But I no longer comb through scripture. I read climate change reports. I read tweets threatening nuclear war. Its tempting to dig for signs of worse to come. But Im not aching for removal.

Being un-raptured is simply the condition of being alive on this planet. It means being responsible for a piece of it, being a citizen. For a while, I believed in a utopia, a heaven that would replace this imperfect universe. Then, as the years passed, so did my fears and I saw that I had already lived out this story, waiting with my bags for the call of the rescuer. What lay beyond was not a sudden and permanent release. It was years of aimlessness and more waiting. Then, after that, there was rebuilding, responsibility, ownership, creating the home I wanted.

My limbo is over now I wont imagine myself into another. I want to be responsible for a place, and to care about its outcome. For years, the cry of babies soothed my apocalyptic fears and brought me back to a worldview that I was still decades from articulating: that I live now. That the Earth is old; that I, and my children, belong to it; and that it must continue beyond me.

Children tie us to a world that wont soon end. Its alarming to think that this flawed Earth is all we can give them, and how much weve already wrecked their home because we thought someone would whisk us away. I cant throw my hands up. I have a daughter who will outlive me. Yes, we live in ugly times. Often Im tempted by superlatives. Its never been this bad. This is the most corrupt, the most absurd. Sometimes waiting for something better is agony. What can be done? Cities and customs transform, becoming unrecognisable and strange. The rich eat our dreams. Honeybees fall dead. Again and again, we long for a new age of rapturous joy, of peace.

When I speak to believers about the future, they always talk about how unreliable the physical world seems, how overwhelming its problems. They talk of how everything of value can be taken in a second. Dont put your hope in the things of this Earth, they say.

But the yearning to escape is selfish and callous. It is removing yourself from the long story that gave you your life taking a match to the book just because your chapter will one day end. I believe in this world, and in our ability to withstand these dark days. Im not getting raptured. Im not going anywhere until Ive wrung out my mind, until Ive solved whatever small mysteries Im here to solve and its time to go into the ground.

Main illustration by Lee Martin/Guardian Design

Dina Nayeris second novel, Refuge, was published in July

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Graham Caveneys defiant, important memoir details how the Catholic establishment fails abuse victims

Pope Francis has taken great strides in challenging all sorts of entrenched attitudes and prejudices in the Vatican that have given the Catholic church such a bad name of late. Progress has been disappointingly slow, however, on the commission he appointed in 2014 to tackle the appalling scandal of clerical sexual abuse. In March of this year Marie Collins, the last remaining member of the panel who was a survivor of abuse, resigned after a Vatican department failed to comply with the commissions recommendation that it respond to every correspondent who writes in with allegations that they have been a victim. If the curia is resisting such simple steps, how to have faith that they will tackle the bigger underlying issues?

Reluctance to face up to the consequences of clerical abuse remains hard-wired into the structures of the church: an instinct to protect the institution at the cost of the individual who has suffered, and a brick-wall resistance to addressing the profound questions about the nature of vocation posed by such abhorrent behaviour. And so church leaders not all, granted; certainly not Pope Francis tend to speak of historical allegations whenever victims find the courage to speak up 20, 30 or even 40 years after events that are not for them in any way historical, but are a psychological and emotional trauma they will live with until their dying day.

Individuals like Graham Caveney. The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness recounts with great courage and candour how, in the 1970s, as the clever, awkward, nerdy, only child of devoutly Catholic working-class parents in Accrington, Lancashire, he was groomed by a priest at his local grammar school in Blackburn, and then sexually abused by him.

A casual glance might suggest he has managed to put it behind him he has a successful career as a writer on music (the sounds of the 70s are one thread of this well-structured, rounded memoir) and biographer of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. But as he describes, without self-pity, Caveney dropped out of university, struggled to form adult relationships, turned to drink and drugs to blot out the trauma, and on occasion attempted suicide.

The abuse leads you to fuck up yourlife, he reflects bleakly but unsparingly, and a fucked-up life means that youre a less credible witness to the abuse that fucked you up in the first place. Its an ironic trick of memory and survival: abuse makes you want to forget the abuse.

John and Kath, his mum and dad, had no idea what was wrong. They watched their beloved boy, in whom they had invested so much hope that he would have more life opportunities than them, change first into a sulky, angry adolescent who refused to go to mass, and then into a messed-up wreck, beset by panic attacks.

They died in 1998 and 2002, still none the wiser. They continued to direct their flailing son back towards his old headteacher for wise counsel, never suspecting that Father Kevin ONeill had sexually abused him as a 15-year-old and set off the downward spiral.

The Caveneys had believed that the youthful, relaxed Rev Kev the Catholic equivalent of a trendy vicar was doing their boy a favour by taking him to theatres, cinemas and restaurants, broadening his mind. Whatthey couldnt know was that on the way home, the priest they looked up to would turn his car into quiet side-road and force himself on their son. Later, when he invited young Graham to go on holiday to Greece with him and a group of others, John and Kath enlisted the help of relatives to scrape together the cost, but it was just a pretext for more abuse.

Its them that I cant forgive you for, Caveney writes, addressing his abuser in the pages of a book that must have cost him dear to complete, the way in which you made their hopes and aspirations the tools of your own needs. Its them who spent their lives worrying if it was something they had done wrong to make their boy turn out the way he did.

Given how much Catholic grammar schools from the 1950s through to the 1970s were the route by which generations of working-class Catholic boys and girls got on in life the Irish Christian Brothers in my own home town of Liverpool boasted that they took the sons of dockers and made them into doctors it is impossible to believe that the betrayal of Graham Caveney and his parents is an isolated case. How widespread it is, however, remains impossible to know because every bit of information has to be dragged out of a compulsively secretive church that recoils from thinking in terms of deep-rooted, complex patterns of abuse.

And what happened when Caveney identified his abuser in the early 1990s to Father ONeills religious order, the Marists? Id just slashed up my arms, he adds, by way of context. The priest was challenged, apparently confessed his crimes, but was referred to a US therapy centre rather than the police. In 1993, he retired with full honours as headteacher. Kath even sent her son a cutting about the celebrations from the local paper. You were always one of his favourites, she reminded him. The report told of ex-pupils lining up to sing the priests praises, little suspecting how they too had been betrayed.

ONeill died in 2011, the serious charges against him covered up to the grave. He still doesnt seem to appear on any register I can find of abusive clergy. What distresses Caveney almost as much as the churchs failure to involve the police and courts is that he now can never confront his abuser, save in this raw, defiant but important memoir. A part of him, he confesses, still thinks in his darkest moments that what happened was somehow his own fault.

What was it about me? he asks. You see, theres a bit of me that still believes Im unique, that I really was your prime number, indivisible only by myself. I dont want to think of myself as part of a pattern, just another victim.

ONeills old school, St Marys, Blackburn, today has a drama block named after him, an honour accorded despite the Marist order having been told about Caveneys allegations nearly 20 years earlier. Is it plausible that there is no one who knew of them who could have spoken up? Or did they consider that whatever good he had done at the school cancelled out sexually abusing a 15-year-old in his care? It is part of the same impossible-to-fathom and offensive attitude that now apparently stops Vatican officials answering letters from those reporting abuse, in defiance of the pope.

Quite how long it will take for that prejudice to be defeated, I dont know. But after they have read The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness, the school governors might at least like to revisit the naming of their drama block, which rubs salt into open wounds.

Peter Stanford is a former editor of the Catholic Herald

The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness by Graham Caveney is published by Picador on 7 September (14.99). To order a copy for 12.74 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

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Martin Scorseses new movie, Silence, features a pair of action-man Jesuits on a secret mission in 17th-century Japan. They join a select band of big-screen clerics who never walk away from a fight

For all the cerebral piety and inward contemplation of Silence, the new movie by Martin Scorsese, there are more than trace elements of an adventure yarn: 17th-century Portuguese Jesuits sneak into Japan, where their religion is banned, searching for their missing leader. Our idealistic travellers (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) encounter dangerous weather, double-crosses, imprisonment and physical torture. For a film about a spiritual journey, it has its share of action.

There are plenty of films with friendly fathers, or clerics killed off as a device to kickstart a supernatural horror schlocker. What distinguishes Silence is that these devoted men are heroes. Men of the cloth are rarely leading men in adventure cinema, but there are a few titles that could be added to the priests-in-peril genre

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Leader of Catholic church stresses need to turn away from views that exclude the needy during service at St Peters Basilica

Homeless people received VIP seats to a special mass in St Peters Basilica on Sunday, where Pope Francis stressed the need to avoid exclusionary views that reject those in need.

Along with cardinals and other prelates dressed in impeccably pressed bright green vestments, homeless people sat near the ornate central altar.

The pope elaborated on his recent comments encouraging policies of social inclusion, at a time when the popularity of politicians who advocate exclusionary policies toward migrants of other religions, races or ethnicities is rising in several developed countries.

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