St Peter Parker holds key to faith

FOR decades he has championed the cause of the weak and helpless and struck fear into the hearts of the wicked as he swings between the towering skyscrapers of New York City.

But now the Catholic Church in Scotland has made the amazing claim that Spider-Man is an emissary of an even higher power.

They claim the superhero's story has strong parallels with the gospel and that his selfless sacrifices and struggle against evil can even be compared to the life of Jesus.

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As part of the annual Lentfest, run by the Archdiocese of Glasgow, children from Catholic schools were offered the chance to watch a special showing of the Hollywood adaptation of Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire.

The screening entitled "Search For The Hero" described the big-budget blockbuster as a "parable for our times" and organisers hoped the web-slinger's travails would inspire youngsters to consider joining the priesthood or becoming nuns.

In the long-running US comic series, which began in 1962, a young high school student named Peter Parker gains super powers and becomes a masked crusader for justice after being bitten by a radioactive spider.

In previous years children were shown more conventional religious-themed movies such as Mel Gibson's Passion Of The Christ and a biopic of the late Pope John Paul.

But Lentfest director Stephen Callaghan claimed the solid moral bedrock in the Spider-Man trilogy meant they ranked "among the most prominent spiritual films of our time".

The film studies graduate said the films were infused by both overt and subtle nods to the Catholic faith.

He said: "As a trilogy there is absolutely no doubt that it explores Catholicism.

"It has a got a very profound Christology and Catholic iconography appears throughout.

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"In Peter Parker's home there is a holy water font, while when he boards the school bus there is a little prayer of St Therese of Lisieux stuck in the driver's visor.

"Similarly, the cathedral occupies a prominent position in each film of the trilogy."

Callaghan insisted there was some symbolism that even the most hardened sceptic would be unlikely not to recognise.

"In the second film you can actually see Spider-Man crucified on the front of a speeding train.

"In that shot you see his side has been pierced in the battle.

"He is bleeding from his side, there is blood on his face and he is literally taking the weight of everyone on his shoulders like Christ on the cross."

The playwright, whose musical tribute to the life of St Paul recently premiered, said the fictional hero's struggles were also like those faced daily by many priests.

He said: "In the first film, Peter Parker discovers he has a vocation, something he is called upon to do which is unusual and what Pope John Paul called a burden and a gift.

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"It is something he wouldn't have chosen for himself and it denies him the freedom to have the relationship he would like to have with Mary Jane.

"When he starts to be more interested in her and throws off his suit he starts to lose his power.

"He eventually makes the sacrifice and, as in the priesthood, chooses to be everyone's and no one's."

Callaghan adds: "In the films they are not laying on thick that Spider-Man is Jesus in the way they do with Aslan in the Narnia films, and I think it is all the stronger for that.

"The reason I called the event Search For The Hero is because we need men to consider the priesthood and women to consider religious life and for people in general to be heroic and contribute to society."

The showing, which took place earlier this month, was part of a series of Lentfest events which are endorsed by the Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti.

The link between Spider-Man and spirituality is strengthened by the fact that the films were based on graphic novels penned by Mark Millar.

The Coatbridge-born comic king is a Catholic and recently retold the Book of Revelation in a contemporary tome called Chosen.

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In a recent interview, he said: "It's God versus Satan, probably the world's most famous story, and yet it's rarely if ever dramatised. I'm a practising Catholic, which is incredibly unusual in the entertainment industry. Now it is probably more shocking to be Catholic than to be a Satanist."

Similarly, US-based nun Sister Rose Pacatte has put together a series of exercises for schoolchildren based on the superhero series.

She said: "Spider-Man is interesting to believers and people of good will, and offers thoughts and questions for reflection and conversation with students, friends and family members."

But Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society was amused by the attempts by the Catholic Church to claim Spider-Man, and asserted that another group had already staked a claim on him.

He said: "The gay community already regard Spider-Man as an icon and with tights as tight as that how could it be otherwise?

"I'm not sure if the Archdiocese had thought of that when it promoted Spider-Man to Catholic superhero."