Watching Thirteen Lives With The Eyes Of A Catholic

by Faith & Life, Movie Reviews and Recommendations

If I asked you about underground rescues that captivated the world, two events might come to mind.  The rescue of 33 Chilean miners in 2010, captured in the film The 33 and the second would be the 2018 Thailand rescue of a boys’ soccer team from a cave taking on water.  Ron Howard masterfully retells this story in the new movie Thirteen Lives, which released on August 5th on Amazon Prime.  

Thirteen Lives presents the story of the thirteen-member soccer team and the divers who rescued them from the Tham Luang cave throughout the seventeen-day excursion (June 23-July 10).  The divers are English speakers but much of the film is subtitled in English allowing the story to be told in the Thai language. Viewers of the movie will encounter a different culture as the nearly 2 ½ hour movie unfolds.  93% of the country professes faith in Buddhism.  A mere 1% are Christians.  As a Christian Catholic watching the film though, I found parallels to our faith.  

Thirteen Lives – Official Trailer | Prime Video

Catholic Parallels In Thirteen Lives

There is a shrine located near the Tham Luang cave.  This is no different than our Catholic shrines to Mary and different saints for their faith.  An interesting point in the movie was the gathering of people around the shrine before the rescue of the boys was to take place.  The person leading the prayer apologized to the Guardian of the Forest for any way the boys may have intentionally or unintentionally offended this (false) god.  After the apology, they petitioned for their safe recovery.  While this prayer was not a Christian prayer, it conveyed a spirit of reparation for wrong that may have been done, much like we can do to make atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.  

When the boys are discovered by the divers, they ask them how they are surviving.  They remarked by meditation and prayer.  In one scene, the coach is seen leading the boys in a prayerful meditation.  They pray according to their religious tradition.  Meditation and prayer got them through such a horrific event.  It’s a reminder to us that meditation and prayer can help us in the difficult moments of life.  For us as Catholics, a perfect meditation is the rosary, which then acts also as our form of intercessory prayer.  Before the rescue commenced, one of the parents gave bracelets to each of the divers and boys.  The bracelets were blessed by a Buddhist monk and seen as a token of good luck.  Translate this into our Catholic experience, it’s like wearing a Miraculous Medal or St. Benedict Medal or any other saint bracelet for special protection.  

A scripture passage from Luke’s gospel came to mind as I watched the movie: “Nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37).  The rescue seemed impossible.  One diver remarked that the boys are never going to get out of there.  As they sought a way to make possible the impossible, the divers came up with a plan which didn’t seem like it would work.  As the rescue continues, it will have you on the edge of your seat, cheering them on, hoping for the best, and in the end believing in miracles.  

It took many people to undergo the rescue mission.  Over 5,000 people from 17 different countries assisted.  They did so from the goodness of their heart, knowing and realizing that no parent should have to lose a child.  They wanted to bring the boys home to their families.  Unfortunately, a few of the Good Samaritans assisting in the rescue would give their own lives, reminding us of what Jesus said, “no greater love has a man than to give up his life for a friend” (John 15:13).  While they did not know the boys, they were still willing to risk their lives for theirs.  

When one of the final boys was being rescued, he expressed doubt and asked if he would live.  He was told by his peer that “We will survive.  Don’t be afraid.  We have to trust them.”  The same words that God the Father and His son Jesus have echoed throughout the scriptures of “do not be afraid” were spoken in this moment and one had to trust.  These words and actions are for any person facing a difficult situation.  

The movie Thirteen Lives tells a story of a true event that captivated the world through the news and social media.  As people rediscover the story, perhaps it can serve as a reminder for us to pray with the news.  A world was joined in prayer for the rescue of the boys.  The world believed miracles could still happen.  In a world filled with violence, natural disasters, and war, may we open our eyes to what is happening, and lift our voices to God through the intercession of the saints, asking for divine assistance and miracles our world still needs today. 

– Fr. Looney

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