The film depicts the life of Catholic missionary Francesca Cabrini, portrayed by Cristiana Dell'Anna, as she encounters resistance to her charity and business efforts in New York City.

Gotta love the Catholic interwebs. There never seems to be a shortage of brothers and sisters arguing about the important things, like whether to go see a movie or not. If you are on the fence about seeing the new film Cabrini, I would like to share with you three reasons I think it’s worth your time.

Girl Power

Back in my day, when someone was trying undeservedly to claim the moral high ground, it was not uncommon to respond by saying “You’re no Mother Teresa.” I don’t recall anyone ever saying “You’re no JPII.” That’s not because St. John Paul II was not viewed by many as a particularly holy man. It’s simply because stories of Mother Teresa and her mission to help the poor and sick in India made news around the world. It’s also worth pointing out that EWTN was founded by a woman who persevered against the odds to create a literal Catholic media empire. In a similar vein, the story of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is a shining example of the tremendous witness one woman can provide for our Faith even if she can’t be a priest or bishop. You simply can’t tell her story without this element.

Fighting Bigotry

Cabrini is set around 1889 when Pope Leo XIII sends Mother Cabrini to New York to care for the poor Italians who immigrated there. An unfortunate fact of our country’s past is that certain ethnic communities have been disparaged and oppressed. Mother Cabrini was Italian, female, and Catholic; all three were strikes against her in 1880’s New York. She fought back hard against all of these obstacles and achieved great things in her life. That alone is inspiring—which brings me to my third reason.

Evangelization

Most of the criticisms over Cabrini that I have seen focus on a lack of clear Catholic piety. This likely has to do with the purpose of the film.

Catholic Answers was asked by the producers to host a viewing of Cabrini (before it was finished) here in San Diego. I spoke to one of them in the hallway afterwards. He told me that Cabrini’s story was chosen because of its value for evangelization. If that is the case, then it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t try to pepper the film with a lot of images of explicitly Catholic devotion.

Imagine a scene showing Mother Cabrini praying silently in Eucharistic Adoration. Who besides you and I, dear reader (assuming you’re Catholic) would understand what is going on in that scene without some amount of explanation? It’s possible that the filmmakers went too far in this regard, but that still doesn’t mean you should avoid the film, in my humble opinion.

Or, putting it another way (as this tweeter does):

Furthermore, before my conversion, the thing that attracted me most to Catholicism was the heroic missionary work of a Mother Teresa or a Mother Cabrini. It wasn’t how much time they spent praying the rosary that caught my attention, but how selflessly they gave their lives to the poor and downtrodden. If the creators of Cabrini want to evangelize, then focusing the bulk of the film upon that facet of a saint’s life is a perfectly acceptable and effective way to achieve that goal.

When it comes to entertainment and Catholic storytelling, there’s simply no way to please everyone. If you have not seen the film already, my recommendation is to stop reading reviews and go see it for yourself.