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9pm Thursday 1st March, 2012 on BBC FOUR
"Show me the child of seven and I'll show you the man", goes the Jesuit proverb. In CATHOLICS – CHILDREN, award-winning documentary filmmaker Richard Alwyn observes the truth of this famous saying in a film about children becoming Catholic.
Filmed throughout the period of Lent and into the summer of 2011, CATHOLICS - CHILDREN focuses on the children of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School in the village of Chipping, Lancashire. Sitting at the foot of the dramatic Bowland Fells, this is an area rich in Catholic history where Catholic identity remains strong. The tiny school has just 33 pupils, 6 of whom are preparing to make their First Holy Communion.
Richard Alwyn’s lyrical and poignant film observes the essence of Catholicism being distilled into young children’s hearts and minds. Encouraged on the one hand to celebrate the riches of the natural world that surround them and to remember those less fortunate than themselves, the children are also required to reflect on Christ’s brutal death and resurrection.
The local parish priest, Fr Anthony Grimshaw, now in his 70s, has a strong presence in the life of the school and the children. To the younger ones he’s the avuncular character who rides through the village on his shopmobility scooter and reads Winnie the Pooh to them from his Kindle. To the older ones, he is more “on message”, talking with them about faith and fielding questions about his belief in the very real existence of Satan in this world.
Alwyn’s film weaves an observation of the Catholic life of the children and the school around the story of the preparation of a handful of the school’s pupils, aged 7 and 8, for their First Holy Communion. Their instruction is the responsibility of local parents who introduce them to the bewildering mystery that lies at the heart of the Catholic faith – the Eucharist, at which they believe bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Alwyn’s CATHOLICS - CHILDREN is a beautiful, charming film, full of the spirit of childhood, that shows how being Catholic is a rich but complex identity that can bring with it both agony and ecstasy. The seeds are sewn early and the roots go deep.