Category: News & Trends

‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground': Martha Williamson on Faith, Love and a Touch of the Blues

Martha-Williamson-Signed-Sealed-Delivered-1On Feb. 2, “Touched by an Angel” creator Martha Williamson sat down for a talk at Bel-Air Presbyterian in Los Angeles, as part of its faith-based Beacon Hollywood ministry.

Williamson is currently known for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” a series of movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, which premieres a new installment, “Higher Ground,” on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 9 p.m. ET.


The series focuses on the “POstables,” a team based in the Denver, Colorado, office of the U.S. Postal Service, which attempts to deliver mail lost in transit and left undelivered. It’s up to the POstables to make sure the “dead letters” are, as Williamson says, “delivered late, but right on time.”

Here’s what’s happening in “Higher Ground,” from the official Website:

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans handyman and blues singer-songwriter Gabe Recolte was left homeless before he had the chance to express his love for club owner Hattie. Oliver and his team retrieve Gabe’s love letter years later and face challenges in solving the mystery. Stars Keb ‘Mo, Eric Mabius, Kristin Booth, Crystal Lowe and Geoff Gustafson.

While the stories of the POstables continue through each movie, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” also lets Williamson tell a story about new characters in each Martha-Williamson-Signed-Sealed-Delivered-2installment — as she did with “Touched by an Angel” — with faith themes threaded through.

We’ll deal with “Touched” in another post, but here are some selections from what Williams had to say about her new project.

On the tentative romance between head POstable Oliver O’Toole (Eric Mabius) and postal detective Shane McInerney (Kristin Booth):

I wanted to explore a man who’s a Christian, whose life was messed up. So, he’s married, and his wife has left him and taken off to Paris. He’s finally worked through that, and what it meant to be a man of honor and not take up with this other woman, even though he hadn’t even seen his wife for almost three years. But he wanted to do the right thing until he was released to do something else, and he was really was struggling.

He’s basically in love but hasn’t said it yet to Shane.

She is a 21st-Century technology woman, and he is a 20th-Century, basically a Luddite, who doesn’t even own a cellphone. The two of them should not be together whatsoever, but that’s not how God works, and so they’ve been going back and forth.

She’s not a believer and he is, so to pitch that to Hallmark without them thinking it it’s going to be a Christian show, was a real tap dance. But I said, “Just trust me, and as we develop these characters you’re going to want to see what happens, and you’re going to want to see his level of faith.”

On how Hallmark responded:

Michelle Vicary, the senior executive vice president [at Hallmark], said, “I’m not afraid of God,” which I thought was a very powerful thing to hear at a network.

They’ve been very supportive and I think the challenge for this that they are human. They are walking in faith, and they are at different points at faith. And they actually are responsible for maintaining other people’s faith. It’s a tremendous act of faith.

How fan response planted a seed for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”:

I found some letters that had been written to me that I never read. Fan letters. I was reminded of how people’s lives had been changed. …

I’ll never forget this one little boy in an airport once he said, “My mommy and my sister and me, we watch [‘Touched by an Angel’] all the time. My daddy watches it too, but he watches it in the den because he cries.”

And I thought that was just adorable because it said so much, that this poor man, you know, was wanting to feel things but he didn’t want to appear weak, apparently. So I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to have somebody like Oliver, a guy who’s really weak in so many ways but strong in his faith and that’s what keeps him going, and he’s a kind person?”

There’s this amazing web of fans for this crazy little show. They just deconstruct every single line. They see the Biblical references in it, even though it’s not there. … What they love is there’s this really sexy guy who struggles. He has fallen and gotten himself back up. He made bad decisions but he can still be a man of faith, and he’s a gentleman. He opens the door not because you’re a woman, he opens the door because you’re a human.


On the mature love story in “Higher Ground”:

Keb ‘Mo is one of the most remarkable blues artists in the country. Back, a few months ago performed in the White House for President and Mrs. Obamam and he performed with James Taylor and Eric Clapton. I mean, he’s an incredible musician and he’s an old friend.

One more thing you should always do is never be afraid to reach out to somebody you admire and tell them that you admire them and say thank you. Which is exactly what I did with Keb ‘Mo, and we ended up begin friends, and now he’s on our show. Hallmark is not known for its diversity, and so it took three years to get this romantic couple on the screen, and I’m very happy about that.

And also, we know this, they ain’t young. They’re older folks. Who can fall in love too.

On the romances you’ll see — including Oliver and Shane — and the future:

I didn’t know if “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” was going to be picked up for three more movies, so I wrote this with the intention that, if this is the last show that we ever see in this series of movies, we will resolve some things.

The two couples that you see will come together in ways that the audience has been waiting for for a long time. I’m very happy about that, but most importantly, we finally see Shane realize, step up and become something of a believer, I would say.

She acknowledges that God has been working in her life. That’s huge. So, all the little tiny pieces were pulled together, and happily, we were picked up for three more movies for 2017, so I’m going to be busy for a while.

Here’s a sneak peek at “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground” …

Images: Courtesy Hallmark Channel

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Movieguide’s Faith and Values Awards Gala: An Awards Show You Can Get Behind

movieguide-faith-values-award-reelz-benhur-hacksaw-ridge-risen-andrew-garfield-joseph-fiennesOn Feb. 10, Christian media group Movieguide offers the 25th Annual Faith and Values Awards Gala, an awards show that might be upbeat and positive — and about showbiz instead of politics.

What a concept, eh?

Terry Crews is host, overseeing a slate of nominations that includes Epiphany Awards for a TV show and a movie that “greatly increased man’s love or understanding for God,” according to the press release.


The movie nominees are (in alphabetical order):

  • “Ben-Hur (2016)”
  • “God’s Not Dead 2″
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “Hail, Caesar!”
  • “Miracles From Heaven”
  • “Risen”
  • “Silence”
  • “The Young Messiah”

And the TV nominees:

  • “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”: Season 3, Episodes 20-22, “Emancipation,” “Absolution,” “Ascension” (ABC)
  • “The Bridge Part 2″ (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)
  • “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” (NBC)
  • “Operation Christmas” (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)
  • “The Passion: New Orleans” (Fox)
  • “Pocahontas: Dove of Peace” (CBN)
  • “A Time to Dance” (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)

Also, the Grace Awards honor an actor from one movie and one TV program for offering, as the release says, the “most inspiring performances in movies and television demonstrating God’s grace and love toward us as human beings.”

For movies:

  • Roderigo Santoro (“Ben-Hur (2016)”)
  • David A.R. White (“God’s Not Dead 2″)
  • Melissa Joan Hart (“God’s Not Dead 2″)
  • Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”)
  • Josh Brolin (“Hail, Caesar!”)
  • Robert Pike Daniel (“Hail, Caesar!”)
  • Jennifer Garner (“Miracles From Heaven”)
  • Kylie Rogers (“Miracles From Heaven”)
  • Cliff Curtis (“Risen”)
  • Joseph Fiennes (“Risen”)
  • Adam Greaves-Neal (“The Young Messiah”)

And TV:

  • Natalia Cordova-Buckley (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”)
  • Faith Ford (“The Bridge Part 2″)
  • Ted McGinley (“The Bridge Part 2″)
  • Alyvia Alyn Lind (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Gerald McRaney (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Dolly Parton (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Tyler Perry (“The Passion: New Orleans”)
  • Devielle Johnson (“A Time to Dance”)

Here’s a look at what else is on the agenda:

For 32 years, Movieguide and Companion Christian Film and Television Commission have been “redeeming the values of the entertainment industry by influencing industry executives and by informing and equipping the public about the influence of the entertainment media.”

The honors will be telecast on Easter Sunday, April 16, on the REELZ cable channel.

Images: Courtesy Paramount/MGM; Lionsgate; Sony/Affirm; Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Bishop Barron Weighs in Scorsese’s Jesuit Drama ‘Silence’ (VIDEO)

silence-movie-andrew-garfieldThe Catholic world has long been talking about Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” his three-decade, passion-project movie version of the 1966 novel by Japanese writer Shusaku Endo.

It follows two Jesuit missionary priests (played in the movie by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who go to 17th-century Japan in search of a Jesuit mentor (Liam Neeson), who is rumored to have renounced his faith and gone into the service of the government — which he indeed has.

The Christians of Japan are suffering terrible, unspeakably cruel persecutions. The tyrannical rulers subject the priests to torture themselves, and then force them to endure the torture of others, to pressure them to publicly renounce Christ.

These things are boldly portrayed, but then the movie falters.

From The New Yorker:

The cruelties that Rodrigues and Garrupe encounter in Japan reach to the core of Scorsese’s cinematic identity. These afflictions conjure bitter, wild, almost absurd ironies regarding faith and devotion that cast a strange, self-mocking glint over his entire career. Adapted from a 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, “Silence” approaches grave philosophical, political, and psychological matters unflinchingly. It rises to a harrowing crescendo of overlapping strains of agony—physical and emotional, spiritual and moral—that is among the strangest, most intricately tangled of all of Scorsese’s creations.

Yet it takes two hours for Scorsese to reach that inspired height. Until that point, the movie suffers from literary-ism, a mode of direction that illustrates a set of events with a relentlessly expository, nearly impersonal tone.

Despite great anticipation before and after its Christmas release, and some very good reviews, “Silence” has no awards momentum.

From the New York Post:

This week, the film got completely left off the list of BAFTA nominations. The Producer’s Guild of America didn’t give it one of its ten nominations for its equivalent of Best Picture. (Last year seven of the nine PGA nominees went on to Oscar nominations for Best Picture.)

“Silence” was also shut out at the SAG awards and the Golden Globes. It got the cold shoulder from the American Cinema editors. It didn’t get a screenplay nomination from the Writer’s Guild of America. It won zilch from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

There are hundreds of movie awards being given out this season. But so far the one film that was set to dominate them has captured only a measly Best Adapted Screenplay honor from the National Board of Review.

A lot of the reviews, especially the faith ones, praised the film’s ambiguities and subtleties, but Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron is having none of that. He thinks these aspects of the films not only support the attitude of the 17th-century Japanese cultural elites towards the threat of the Faith, and that the movie does the same for the cultural elites today.

You can click here to read what he had to say about the film, but here he is in person, pulling no punches in support of the brave Japanese martyrs:

Images: Courtesy Paramount Pictures

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The Golden Globes’ Roll of Celebrity Deaths: Why Do We Mourn?

mother-angelica-carrie-fisher-prince-david-bowie-ffbOn Sunday, January 8, the telecast of the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards will feature, as it always does, a list of the notable celebrity deaths of the previous year.

This time, the list will be a long one. Among them are stars of earlier eras who reached ripe old ages and passed of natural causes, along with accidental demises, and a fair number of people who succumbed either directly to substance abuse and destructive lifestyles, or at least in part due to the aftereffects of said abuse and lifestyles.

A few took their own lives.

One published list for 2016 has almost 250 names, including David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, Nancy Reagan, Joe Garagiola, Morley Safer, Gordie Howe, Arnold Palmer, Florence Henderson, John Glenn, George Michael, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and the one-two punch of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, who died one day apart right after Christmas.

And, of course, on Easter Sunday, there was EWTN founder Mother Angelica.

Each death brings with it a spasm of public mourning, spreading across social media and generating print and online stories, and endless video reports.

All this, for people the mourners may have never met or even seen in person, or if they did, it was up on a stage or from the stands of a sporting event. And for many, their emotional outpouring for a deceased celebrity may exceed that for deaths of neighbors, co-workers or even family members.

Why do we mourn strangers with such intensity?

EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo had theories, including:

Secretly, it isn’t their death we are disquieted by; it’s our own forthcoming death. Suddenly the icons of youth are gone and we are faced with the inescapable truth: We’re not so young anymore, and all of us eventually will confront the final journey from this life without red carpets, songs, or movie stars.

Closer to home, Family Theater Productions’ Head of Production Father David Guffey, C.S.C., had some thoughts on the phenomenon.

Social media exacerbates it because there’s all sorts of possibilities to publicly express their sorrow. Social media is brilliant, and the perfect medium for it in some ways, because of who celebrities are. Many celebrities in our culture are so much a part of our cultural life, people think they know them. They’ve been in their living rooms; they’ve been with them throughout various points of their lives and their journey, whether it’s a movie or a presence in talk shows or other events. Some people feel quite close to celebrities, and, so, they’re reacting not to a stranger, but someone who feels like a person who’s part of their life.

But, of course, the celebrity really isn’t part of a fan’s life, so Father Guffey cautions:

I would say to people, “We need to put some things in perspective, and it’s okay to be sad about the death of someone but also to step back and say, it might be misplaced grief.” Or, the attention and the love and affection that are given to celebrities might be misplaced, if we aren’t offering the same kind of attention and affection and love to the people who are closest to us.

It’s a relatively few people who go overboard but I think there is peril. It’s very difficult to measure by just a post. You also have to wonder if people have close relationships in their own life, and do they have flesh and blood people that they love and spend time with and treasure and celebrate, or have they become part of a celebrity culture that lives life vicariously through sports celebrities or movie stars or television actors for whom they have no connection at all?

Asked what advice he would give to someone hit hard by a celebrity death, Father Guffey said:

I would try to ask them to pray about “What did this person mean to you? What is it that makes the loss of this person so sad? What role did they play in your life?” At that point, the celebrity has become not a real person, but a symbol of something bigger or greater. So, it’s worth looking at that, whether it’s a good thing.

Maybe people grieved Princess Diana because they grieved for the loss of someone that they perceived as good. Or it could be something more personal, like grieving the loss of youth because Carrie Fisher died at 60, and I’m 55 years old. But it’s
worth reflecting on what’s the underlying cause of the grief.

For a community to grieve the loss of a leader or the loss of a hero, that can be appropriate. It’s always possible to go overboard with grieving, and not living, or not putting things in perspective, because ultimately as Christians we should be rejoicing for them, or praying for their soul as they go before God.

father-mulcahy-william-christopherThe last recorded celebrity death of 2016 — on Dec. 31 — was actor William Christopher, 84, best known for playing Catholic chaplain Lt. Father Francis Mulcahy on “M*A*S*H.”

In the show’s final episode, there was this exchange:

Col. Potter: Well, Francis, you’ve been a godsend.
Father Mulcahy: Look on the bright side: When they tell us to serve our time in Purgatory, we can say, “No thanks, I’ve done mine.”

And the name of the episode?

“Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”


Images: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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Celebrating the True Meaning of Christmas With Our Children (Plus TV & Movies!)

charlie-brown-christmasWith the secular world appropriating so much of Christmas, how do Catholic parents make sure their children know the real reason for the season?

My twin boys will be two-and-a-half at the end of this month, so this is the first Christmas that they’re old enough to really understand the holiday and enjoy the season.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, “Santa Claus” entered their consciousness because Santa is pretty much everywhere this time of year. I didn’t have too much explaining to do on that front, because every television show they watch has a Santa-themed episode. But because I want them to understand the true meaning of Christmas, I began thinking about how I would talk to them about the birth of Jesus and what traditions we can cultivate to keep “Christ” in Christmas.

A few ideas…

  • Put your Nativity set up together and tell the story: Just as decorating the Christmas tree is a family event, putting up the nativity set can be given equal—if not more— importance. For the youngest children, there are even miniature nativity sets that can help facilitate telling the story of Jesus’ birth. Books like The Nativity Story are also useful in illustrating it.
  • Attend Christmas Eve Children’s Mass and pageant: Many Catholic parishes designate a Mass—often around 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve — as the children’s Mass and will invite young kids to participate in a portrayal of the Christmas story. If you’re away from home, click here to find Mass times in the area.
  • Make use of media: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day provide a wonderful opportunity to watch movies together with our kids. Of course, you can watch films like “The Nativity Story,” that stick close to the Biblical story (even if it deviated too much from the Catholic view for some), but there are other movies that capture the spirit of the season. Here are a handful of options.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” – Fans of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” know that the books were based heavily on Christian themes and are filled with biblical allegories, including the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Christ’s atonement. The 2005 Walt Disney Pictures movie, which follows four young children as they enter the magical world of Narnia, is as well. The kids discover a land where it is “always winter, but never Christmas” and must face their fears to help restore Narnia to its rightful state.

Yellow Day” – Released in 2015, “Yellow Day” was made with children and families in mind as it is part animated and part live-action. The film chronicles a young man’s life-changing and inspirational journey through the mysterious Yellow Day. To many, the Yellow Day is simply a fun day celebrating outreach at a kid’s camp, but to some, God bestows visions and miracles, transforming their lives. For this young man, the Yellow Day becomes an imaginative adventure, showing him true heroes, challenging him to face his fears, find love, and inviting him to accept grace, so that he can be shaped into who he is meant to be. The storyline illustrates how physical disability, sickness and emotional pain cannot hide the light and joy that God has placed within each of us. It is available to watch on YouTube and to stream online.

Believe” – A new film, in limited release in theaters now, “Believe” tells the story of the annual Christmas pageant in the small town of Grundy, Virginia. The town has always relied on the Peyton family to put it on and this year, when Matthew Peyton (Ryan O’Quinn) inherits the family business, the responsibility of the pageant also falls on his shoulders. But when financial hardships hit Grundy, Matthew finds himself overwhelmed. As his business profits plummet and his workers begin to strike, Matthew is forced to make a decision between selling the family business and cancelling the beloved pageant or sticking out hardships despite his rapidly declining popularity in the community. Through chance events, Matthew meets Clarence (Issac Ryan Brown), a boy who believes in miracles, and his mother Sharon (Danielle Nicolet). His newfound friends impact Matthew’s life in a way he never thought possible and teach him to believe and give faith a chance.

A Charlie Brown Christmas” – The 1965 classic will air on ABC on Thursday, December 22nd and can be viewed online in its entirety here. It is tough not to get chills when Linus gives his speech, reading from the Gospel of Luke to tell Charlie Brown and all the children what Christmas is really all about.

A Merry Christmas to one and all.

In the words of Tiny Tim …

Image: Courtesy NBC

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Advent TV Calendar: Pope’s Choir, ‘Sound of Music,’ ‘Elf,’ ‘A Christmas Story’ and More


Almost there! This is the last Sunday of Advent, and next Sunday is Dec. 25, the big day … Christmas Day! So here’s the final installment of our Advent TV calendar of notable offerings on broadcast, cable and streaming.

Watch, bookmark or load up on the DVR, and save a cookie for us!

December 18, Fourth Sunday of Advent:

“If You Give A Mouse a Christmas Cookie” on Amazon PrimeA mouse and his animal friends try to fix their mistake after destroying the set of the school pageant.

“Home Alone” on HBO GoWhen a Chicago family takes a Christmas trip to Paris and accidentally leaves their young son behind, the little boy defends his house during a string of neighborhood burglaries.

“60 Minutes”: 7:30 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on CBS : Charlie Rose profiles Maestro Massimo Palombella of the Sistine Chapel Choir, known as the “pope’s choir,” and how he restored the men-and-boys choir back to its original Renaissance sound. Apparently it worked. From a CBS press release:

Palombella recalls what one man said to him after a concert, “[He] said the choir I conduct is missing one thing: wings.”

Click here to see a preview.

“The Sound of Music”: 7 p.m. ET/PT on ABC: The classic 1965 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical drama, based on the memoirs of Maria Von Trapp, stars Julie Andrews as Maria, a young Austrian Catholic woman in 1938. While discerning a vocation, she takes a job caring for a widower and his large family. She finds love and also gets caught up in the Nazi takeover of Austria.

December 19, Fourth Monday of Advent:

“America’s Got Talent Holiday Spectacular”: 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC – Some of the series’ past contestants return to the stage to perform holiday-themed entertainment.

December 21, Fourth Wednesday of Advent:

“Christmas with the Kranks” on NetflixWhen a married couple’s daughter decides to make a last minute trip home for the holidays, they rush to create the best Christmas ever.

“Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas”: 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC: Based on the hit 2003 movie, the stop-motion animated special features the voice of Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) as Buddy, a human raised among Santa’s elves, as he heads to New York City to meet the father he never knew he had. Other voices are Mark Hamill, Ed Asner, Jay Leno and Matt Lauer.



December 23, Fourth Friday of Advent:

“Thomas & Friends: A Very Thomas Christmas” on NetflixAll aboard for a special holiday delivery filled with friendship, teamwork, fun and the perfect Christmas tree.

“A Home for the Holidays”: 8 p.m.ET/PT on CBS: The 18th annual special focuses on foster-care adoption, featuring celebrities who’ve either had their own adoption experiences or are involved with children’s issues.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”: 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBCChuck Jones produced and directed the classic 1966 half-hour animated special, which was written by Theodor “Dr. Suess” Geisel based on his book. The special features the voices of Boris Karloff as the Grinch and the narrator, as well as June Foray as Cindy Lou Who. In honor of the special’s 50th anniversary, NBC is airing the full 26-minute version that was originally broadcast.

Or you can watch it here:

“How Murray Saved Christmas”: 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC: Based on Emmy-winning writer/executive producer Mike Reiss’ best-selling children’s book of the same name, it centers on cranky deli owner Murray Weiner (Jerry Stiller), who is forced to fill in for Santa (Kevin Michael Richardson) one Christmas and does a weirdly wonderful job.

“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”: 9 p.m. ET/PT: Originally aired Nov. 30, this two-hour movie is a sequel to 2015’s “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” and continues the childhood story of Parton and her family in the hills of Tennessee.

December 24, Christmas Eve:

“A Christmas Story” :24-hour marathon starts 8 p.m. ET/PT on TBS – A young boy named Ralphie attempts to convince his parents, his teacher, and Santa that a Red Ryder B.B. gun really is the perfect Christmas gift.

“Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas” on Netflix – George and The Man In The Yellow Hat are having a merry time counting down to Christmas. But neither can decide what to give each other. Will they find the answers before Christmas morning?

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC: The 1946 classic tells the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) a frustrated small-town husband and father who, in a moment of desperation, wishes his life away, only to learn what the world would be like without him.

“Christmas Eve Mass”: 11:30 p.m ET/PT on NBC: Christians from around the world gather at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, as Pope Francis celebrates Midnight Mass.

“Listen! A Musical Celebration of Christmas at Berea College,” 11:35 p.m. ET/PT on CBS: The one-hour special features students and music faculty from the Christian college in Kentucky, blending sacred and secular Christmas music. Also, there will be a reading from Berea’s newly acquired copy of the St. John’s Bible, the first handwritten and illuminated Bible published since the end of the 15th Century. It was commissioned by Catholic St. John’s Abbey and University, and is the work of calligrapher Donald Jackson.


Image: Courtesy NBC

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.