Tolkien's Dark Lord at the UN; a Blessed Painter

Hobbit Alliance Brings Triumph of Hope

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By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, APRIL 9, 2009 ( It was an epic tale of triumph worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien. The events at the U.N. Population and Development Commission last week could have been taken straight out of his great trilogy «The Lord of the Rings.»

Last week, representatives from 47 countries gathered in New York for the annual meeting of the commission on population and development of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. In view of a world population projected to hit 9 billion in 2050, the commission reviews and assesses the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development approved by the United Nations in 1994.

Behind the optimistic façade of concern for the welfare of a burgeoning population, a darker, most sinister agenda loomed. A new language was insinuating itself amid the hopeful statements of the earlier U.N. documents.

The main agenda item was «sexual and reproductive health and rights» — the terminology under which many NGOs and U.N. committees promote abortion — and the codification of a language that would open the door to an array of demands by homosexual activists.

Like the one ring forged by Sauron in the depths of Mount Doom, this term revealed the master plan: «One Ring to rule them all» and to bring them into darkness. Changing the word ‘ring’ to ‘agency,’ the specter of the Dark Lord could be replaced by Planned Parenthood, one of the most active NGOs at the meeting.

A prescient few saw the impending menace. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, noted that «one cannot help but get the impression that populations are seen as the hindrance to greater social and economic development.» The prelate also warned that the commission «is giving priority to population control and getting the poor to accept these arrangements rather than primarily focusing upon its commitments to addressing education, basic health care, access to water, sanitation and employment.»

But the armies of darkness were strong and seemed invincible. China, Great Britain, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Spain and Germany could be expected to promote this language. The United States, under a new administration in thrall to the culture of death, would use all of its might to advance the reign of Planned Parenthood. All seemed lost.

These international giants, the leaders in economy, development and technology, were certain that no obstacle remained to their plan.

In the statement made by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, the plan was revealed. She invoked the world financial crisis, and the subsequent difficulty in sustaining programs to improve the health and education of the world’s poor. “The financial crisis was threatening to wipe out this hard-won progress.»
But her solution was to ensure that «greater attention is paid to population issues and more resources are devoted to women’s empowerment and reproductive health, including maternal health care and family planning.»

Translating this to the common tongue, her proposal is to teach women that childbearing is dangerous and oppressive; therefore abortion is healthy and liberating. Even the Evil Lord of Mordor never tried to pass off his agenda of death and enslavement of the human race as something «positive» and «empowering.»

Obaid then reminded the commission that the Cairo conference had agreed that «every person has the right to sexual and reproductive health,» and exhorted the commission «to keep the promise to ensure universal access to reproductive health by 2015.»

The great nations nodded and applauded, much like the ring wraiths whose will had long been bound to that of their wicked overlord. The culture of life braced itself to take another loss among the many it had already suffered.

Then help came from an unexpected quarter. Iran took the floor and protested that the «right to sexual and reproductive health» could not be substituted with «sexual and reproductive health and rights.»

The Iranian delegate pointed out that this phrase had never been included in any negotiated U.N. document before and urged the commission to revert to previously agreed upon and carefully negotiated language from the original 1994 Program of Action, which is understood not to create any right to abortion.

Immediately four Catholic countries — Ireland, Peru, Chile and Poland — picked up Iran’s call to strike the wording. It was an unusual alliance, not unlike the dwarves and elves overcoming their differences to fight the common enemy.

Although the Christian community and Iran find themselves opposed on many issues, it was a heartening vision to see the diverse nations cooperating in defense of alliance and dialogue through the culture of life.

But as in Tolkien’s great adventure of the fellowship of the nine, it was the smallest of all that saved the day. Like the four indomitable hobbits of Tolkien’s epic, the Holy See (a tiny 104-acre state), Comoros (which I had to look up on Googlemaps — it’s in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar) Santa Lucia and Malta all joined the fellowship to break the stranglehold of the forces of evil.

These four hobbit-like states, whose collective national products probably don’t equal the operating budget for Planned Parenthood, spoke loudly and convincingly. Malta decried the consistent attempts by the commission to expand «reproductive health» to include abortion.

The delegate from Santa Lucia saw to the heart of the proposed wording and stressed that her delegation understood that this provision did not threaten the right of health care providers to refuse to perform or be complicit in abortions as a matter of conscience.

As Galadrial said to the wavering Frodo, «even the smallest person can change the course of the future.»

At the last moment at the close of the meeting, the ring of power was thrown back into the fires of Mount Doom from whence it came. «Sexual and reproductive health and rights» was struck from the text.

In these days of imminent conscience coercion, massive government funding of abortion and other gloomy signs on the horizon, this little fellowship at the United Nations demonstrated what Tolkien’s characters whisper during the darkest hours and Pope Benedict XVI exclaims from nation to nation: «There is still hope.»

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Godly Use of God-given Talent

This Easter season the city has offered a wonderful gift to Romans. An exhibition of the works of Fra Angelico, Dominican friar and first-class painter, opened Tuesday in the Capitoline Museum of Rome.

Fifty exquisite works, from miniatures to altarpieces to devotional panels, are on display until July.

Fra Angelico was born around 1395 as Guido di Pietro. He had trained several years as a painter before deciding to join the Dominicans and taking the name Brother Giovanni of Fiesole.

Providence had granted him supreme technical skill. One of the first painters in Italy to master one-point linear perspective, he could construct the most convincing three dimensional spaces on a flat panel. Well aware of the newest developments in architecture, his works were always framed by crisp, clear classical forms.

This impressive formal knowledge and arresting artistic vision made Fra Giovanni, as he was called, the most in-demand painter of the 15th century. Popes, public entities and private citizens clamored for anything produced by his brush.

Fra Giovanni’s commitment to his God-given talent was such that he never painted anything that was not of a religious nature. He prayed before lifting his brush and often his lips would move in silent praise of God as he worked.

The result was some of the most beautiful art the world has ever known. The show brings together a variety of his productions, from his larger works to his smallest drawings.

It may surprise visitors to f
ind an entire room of illuminated manuscripts. Like many religious of the age, Fra Giovanni spent several years illuminating texts. The luminous colors, judicious use of gold leaf and attention to the smallest details in his work can be attributed to Fra Giovanni’s years of transcribing and illustrating the word of God.

But his skill at composition was too great to be ignored and Fra Giovanni was given many important commissions. The wonderful Cortona altarpiece of the Annunciation from 1433 is one of the treasures of the show. As the Angel Gabriel bows before Mary under high elegant Renaissance arches, the vanishing point in the upper left corner reveals the Fall of Man. Using formal artistic organization, Fra Angelico links two of the most important moments in salvation history.

Perhaps the loveliest pieces in the exhibit are the private devotional panels, kept in people’s homes and lovingly treasured through the centuries. Merchants and princes knelt before these small renditions of the Madonna and Child, gazing at the serene countenances and the soft colors as they uttered their prayers.

A special work, rarely seen, came from a private collector who had loaned the panels to the Huston Museum. It is comprised of two panels, once the shuttered doors of a diptych. One panel represents the saved and the other shows the damned. The skill of the miniaturist come to the fore as Fra Giovanni painted the sparks that illuminate Hell and rendered the limpid atmosphere of Heaven.

The artist’s personal sanctity earned him the nickname of Fra Angelico the «Angelic Friar» long before his beatification by John Paul II in 1983. But his extraordinary combination of technical know-how and deep devotion make him a model for how to use one’s talents in our modern age. John Paul II named him the patron saint of painters. How one longs for painters to follow his example today.

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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus and the University of St. Thomas Catholic studies program. She can be reached at

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