‘Catholic Central’ Star and Saint Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists

This fall, we’re launching a new Web series, called “Catholic Central,” to teach about the Faith in fast and funny short episodes that are both entertaining and informing — “enter-forming,” if you will — and our hosts are Kaiser Johnson and Libby Slater.

Both Minnesotans, Johnson and Slater are multitalented actors, writers and producers. Slater is also a graduate of John Paul the Great Catholic University, near San Diego, California, a relatively new school that, among other things, specializes in training students in all aspects of media.

Back in 2014, the school produced a video in which a group of students recited sections of Saint Pope John Paul II’s 1999 Letter to Artists, in which the pontiff — himself an actor in his younger days — spoke to hearts and souls of musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, writers, etc.

This mirrors what’s been going on in our in-house studio, as writers, actors, producers and crew people assemble to shoot new episodes of “Catholic Central” — which we’ll be doing again next week, in advance of a Sept. 15 launch.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s Libby and her former fellow students in the video, released in 2014 to coincide with John Paul’s canonization. Watch closely for a fresh-faced Libby:

Click here for the full text of the Letter to Artists, and here’s a taste:

Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teachers, fathers and mothers, who ensure the growth of the person and the development of the community by means of that supreme art form which is “the art of education”. Within the vast cultural panorama of each nation, artists have their unique place. Obedient to their inspiration in creating works both worthwhile and beautiful, they not only enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity, but they also render an exceptional social service in favour of the common good.

The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points as well to the tasks they must assume, the hard work they must endure and the responsibility they must accept. Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labour without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. There is therefore an ethic, even a “spirituality” of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people. It is precisely this to which [Polish poet and dramatist] Cyprian Norwid seems to allude in declaring that “beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.”

This past May, the National Catholic Register published a reflection on the Letter to Artists. The whole thing can be found here, but this is one particularly illuminating passage:

Those of us have felt that artistic “spark” brimming within us — those of us that love to write, to create, to paint, draw and sing — would do well to heed the call upon our souls that this Letter speaks of.

This spark is something divine – let us keep it that way. It is something God has endowed us with, and whether we always acknowledge it or not, it still belongs to him. Let us keep it sacred and use it to set the world on fire for Christ.

But to do this, an artist doesn’t always have to be obvious about it. Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., who’s just joined us on staff at Family Theater, is both a Holy Cross priest and a filmmaker. I asked him about the Letter, and here’s what he wrote back:

JPII’s Letter to Artists encourages Catholics to evangelize through Beauty. Hopefully, this leads to openness to Truth and the Good. My own prayer is that artists may do so, subtly and with veiled language as Jesus did — in some stories and parables he doesn’t even mention “God.”

So, if you want to praise God directly in your art, have at it. But, also know that there are many ways to lead people to the light of Christ, and it takes true talent to do it without your audience even realizing they’re being evangelized.

Images: Courtesy Kate O’Hare for Family Theater Productions/Wikimedia Commons

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