Saint Pope John Paul II at the Movies (Plus ‘The Princess Bride’)

Jon Voight as Pope John Paul II

Saint Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) was a towering figure in many ways. He was physically strong and vital; he was a dynamic speaker; he was the first non-Italian pope in a long time; he stood against modernism and Communism; he survived violence and oppression to stare down violence and oppression; he generated love from without and within.

He’s also a tragic hero — in that his body failed him by increments in front of the whole world, reducing the former hiker and skier to a stooped figure who could barely move or speak. At the same time, the Church he loved and led was torn apart by darkness from within in the last years of his life, when he was significantly weakened.

In short, if you had to invent a pope made for a dramatic story, you couldn’t do better than than the former Karol Józef Wojtyła of Poland.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that his life and papacy have been dramatized several times, by both American and European producers. Here’s a rundown of some of the ones worth watching.

“Pope John Paul II” (1984)

British actor Albert Finney (in his U.S. TV debut) plays the pope in a CBS TV movie that follows him from his early days as an actor in Poland to being elected pope. Writer Christopher Knopf received a 1985 WGA (Writers Guild of America) Award nomination for his screenplay.

And, here’s the whole thing:

“Karol: A Man Who Became Pope” (2005)

Produced during John Paul II’s lifetime — and seen and praised by both the film’s subject and by his successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — the European TV miniseries stars Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk as the young Karol Wojtyla, as he survives World War II to become a priest, a bishop, a cardinal and eventually pontiff.

It was set to be released in early April 2005, but was delayed until later in the month by the pope’s death on April 2 at the age of 84 (a bit over a month shy of his 85th birthday).

It was successful enough to generate a sequel, “Karol: The Pope, the Man,” which came out in 2006.

Writes film reviewer and Catholic deacon, Stephen Greydanus:

Even before production began, the Holy Father met with Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk, who plays him in the film, jokingly telling him, “You are crazy to make a film about me.” After the completed film was screened privately for the Pope, Vatican press spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls described John Paul II as “very impressed” with the portrayal. Then, following a subsequent Vatican screening the day after what would have been the Pope’s 85th birthday, Benedict XVI addressed “a word of admiration” to the director and star, offering some moral reflections on the film’s portrayals of the inhumanity of the Nazi era of Wojtyla’s youth.

Again, here’s the whole thing:

“Pope John Paul II” (2005)

After airing in the Vatican in November 2005 and then on Italian TV, this CBS TV miniseries hit U.S. airwaves in December of that year. British actor Cary Elwes (a Catholic) plays the young Karol Wojtyla, with American actor Jon Voight (also a Catholic) taking over when the Polish cardinal becomes pope.

The new Pope Benedict XVI saw the film. From a CBS News story at the time:

When Pope Benedict screened the mini-series, Voight was sitting near him. “I was able to watch him a little bit, sneak a look… I could see he was moved by it and stuff. It was quite an experience.”

Afterwards, the pope greeted Voight in Italian, probably because the movie had been dubbed in that language for the Italian audience at the screening. Voight doesn’t speak Italian.

“You can see he’s very warm and everything. I could get the words he was talking about. Very sweet.”

As for Pope John Paul II, Voight said, “I really always thought he was such a man of grace and such a moral force. Good guy. Very good guy.”

Elwes is well-known for his role as Wesley in the cult favorite “The Princess Bride,” and apparently the pontiff he was to play was a fan.

From a 2014 New York Post story:

Elwes briefly met His Holiness at the Vatican in 1988, a year after the movie was released. After posing for a quick photo, the pontiff turned to the actor and asked if he was the one from “The Princess and the Bride.” (Infallible, my backside.)

Elwes was so startled, he could barely speak. “Yes,” he answered.

“Very good film. Very funny,” the pope said.

“I mean, what are the chances of that?” Elwes tells The Post. “‘Inconceivable’ was what went through my mind.”

As for the miniseries itself, Greydanus wrote:

Reverent, respectful, well acted and well-paced, Pope John Paul II does about as good a job at covering both halves of its subject’s life as could be hoped for in a TV movie. The miniseries neatly splits its two nights between the pre-election Karol Wojtyla and the reign of Pope John Paul II, with Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) playing Wojtyla from his youth to the 1978 conclave and Jon Voight (Holes) playing John Paul II from the conclave to his 2005 death.

Both actors do a remarkably good job at evoking the speech, style and physical presence of this most media-exposed of popes. Elwes particularly excels at projecting Wojtyla’s formidable intellect and passion, and Voight is especially good at realizing the Holy Father’s pastoral spirit and iron resolve. Both actors effectively tackle the physicality of the role, Elwes energetic and athletic as the younger Wojtyla and Voight giving an impressively controlled performance from the vigor of the early years of the papacy through the slow decline to that painful final public appearance when all the pope’s immense willpower could not coax speech from his throat.

Unfortunately, the whole movie is not on YouTube. Here’s a trailer:

But, you can buy it from Ignatius Press or from Amazon.com.

“Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism”

Of more recent vintage is this documentary, produced by Ignatius Press. Narrated by “The Passion of the Christ” star Jim Caviezel, it can be streamed or purchased at Amazon.com and several other platforms (see here).

George Weigl wrote at First Things:

It took me nineteen years of research and three books (The Final RevolutionWitness to Hope, and The End and the Beginning) to do what executive producer Carl Anderson and writer/director David Naglieri have done in ninety-three minutes of gripping videography and marvelous graphics: explain how and why John Paul played a pivotal, indeed indispensable, role in the greatest drama of the last quarter of the twentieth century, the collapse of European communism. In doing so, they make us think hard, again, about how this miraculous liberation took place—something no one expected on October 16, 1978, when a little-known Polish cardinal, who styled himself the pope “from a far country,” was presented on the central loggia of St. Peter’s as the new Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis is well on his way to being put into as many TV specials and documentaries as Saint Pope John Paul II, while no great dramas have yet to be announced concerning the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

One suspects he’s fine with that.

Image: Courtesy CBS

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Mass Enthusiasm With Bishop Barron, Father Mike Schmitz and Lizzie Reezay

So, what’s the big deal about the Catholic Mass anyway? If you’re not sure about that, Internet video is here to help.

But first, a few words from St. Francis of Assisi.

Forget the things St. Francis is said to have said, which he didn’t say (like “Preach always…” and the “Peace Prayer”), here’s something he actually said (or actually wrote), from the Vatican Website:

And as [Jesus] appeared to the Apostles in true flesh, so now also He shows Himself to us in the sacred bread. And as they by their bodily sight saw only His flesh, yet contemplating Him with the eyes of the spirit believed Him to be very God, so we also, as we see our bodily eyes the bread and wine, are to see and firmly believe that it is His most holy body and blood living and true. And in this way the Lord is always with His faithful, as He Himself says: Behold I am with you until the end of the world (Mt 28,20).

That’s the supernatural event happening in every Catholic Mass, but it’s easy to lose sight of that  — especially if you either take Mass for granted or just don’t know much about what’s going on.

Luckily, there are Web resources out there to help — some more engaging than others.

For example, there’s this video from CatholicChicago, which is very informative but not exactly cinematic:

Then there’s this short video from Ascension Press’ “Altaration” series featuring former actor Father Mike Schmitz, which really captures the drama:

Or, where Father Mike takes a more one-on-one approach, in his usual video format:

Los Angeles’ Bishop Robert Barron, known for his “Catholicism” series and much more, has undertaken a new series on the Mass. It is a subject he’s dealt with before, such as in this video from November 2017:

But now he’s taken it to the next level, with an upcoming video series called, unsurprisingly, “The Mass.”

Much of it was filmed at a church in his new hometown of Santa Barbara, Calif. (he’s the auxiliary bishop of the Santa Barbara region of the huge Archdiocese of Los Angeles). The six-episode series launches June. 12.

Episode 1: A Privileged Encounter: The Closest Thing to Heaven on Earth

Episode 2: Called Out of the World: The Introductory Rites

Episode 3: God Speaks Our Story: The Scripture Readings

Episode 4: Responding to Our God: Homily, Creed and Prayer of the Faithful

Episode 5: Preparing for Sacrifice: Offertory and Eucharistic Prayer

Episode 6: The Real Presence Creates Communion: Transubstantiation and Transformation

Click here for the homepage of “The Mass,” where you can sign up for early digital access of episode one; and here for a page with more information. Below is the trailer:

And, last but not least, here’s a video from recent convert to Catholicism (from Church of Christ), 23-year-old YouTuber Lizzie Reezay, a k a LizziesAnswers, whose bubbling-over enthusiasm for the Faith is infectious.

Filmed just prior to her entering the Church this past Easter Vigil, here’s what Lizzie loves about the Mass:

BTW, Family Theater Productions’ own Web series, “Catholic Central,” is working an episode about the Mass, so keep your eyes glued to CatholicCentral.com for when that happens.

In the meantime, here’s our latest effort, a short video on Pentecost (which is this Sunday!).

Hope to see you all at Mass! (Even if you’re not Catholic, we’re always happy to have visitors; here’s a useful guide on Mass etiquette for non-Catholics.)

Image: Word on Fire; Ascension Presents; LizziesAnswers (YouTube screenshot)

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‘The Twilight Zone’: Not Even the Devil Escaped Rod Serling’s Imagination

It’s May 11, a k a #TwilightZoneDay, and if you’ve never seen this classic TV series in its original 1960s incarnation, all the episodes are available at CBS All Access (and there’s a lot sprinkled across YouTube).

It was a generally secular show, but with a very definite moral core and point of view, largely due to its creator, voice and on-screen host, Rod Serling. A decorated World War II veteran and amateur boxer, Serling was raised in a Jewish household, but converted to Unitarianism to marry his wife, Carol.

He was a fearless and talented writer, who often clashed with network and studio heads over his willingness to take on controversial subjects. In “The Twilight Zone,” which originally ran from 1959 to 1964, Serling introduced and closed out the episodes, which employed excellent writers, directors and actors.

Many of the stories had science-fiction and horror themes, often used as vehicles to explore contemporary issues of politics, racism, war and even faith.

One, called “The Howling Man,” dealt specifically with a monastery where Satan is kept prisoner, and how and why he is set free.

Here’s a review:

OK, so they did a show about the Devil, but why should Catholics watch “The Twilight Zone”? I’ve gathered comments from some folks on that very subject.

From the “Why I Am Catholic” blog, in a post called “Thanks to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone”:

Whole fan sites are devoted to analyzing the moral messages and twist endings of Serling’s Twilight Zone tales. One theme of all the episodes I have viewed is Serling’s view that human beings must connect with one another. And that all humans have equal value. According to his wife, Rod Serling often said that “the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in; becoming narcissistic.”

This care for others certainly is a value we hope we are nurturing in our children. As Pope Benedict XVI says: “The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbor or hate him altogether. Saint John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”

On the same subject, from The Catholic World Report, in a story called “The Battle Against the Devil Is Still Being Fought Today”:

It’s the devil that’s in dire straits—imprisoned—in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode, “The Howling Man”, an allegorical story that depicts a Satan captured and imprisoned to curtail the wickedness he inflicts on man. The devil eventually escapes by exploiting the weakest human link, exactly the manner in which he relentlessly works on the conscience of each human being.

From “The American Catholic,” talking about an episode called “The Night of the Meek”:

Originally broadcast on December 23, 1960, the Twilight Zone episode Night of the Meek features Art Carney as a drunken Department Store Santa with a big heart who substitutes for Santa on Christmas. Rod Serling sums up the message:

A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek.

Here’s a quick summary:

And from Catholic-homeschool-focused Seton Magazine (as in Mother Ann Seton), in a post called “12 Reasons You Should Watch ‘The Twilight Zone'”: 

The Twilight Zone takes us into the mind of Rod Serling, who was an underrated observer of human nature and culture in the Twentieth Century. That is reason enough the watch the show, but the stories are top notch.

I am always searching for movies with a good message, because without a good message, movies and shows must succeed purely on the level of entertainment, and most shows fail on that level. The Twilight Zone succeeded brilliantly on both counts.

The final episode of The Twilight Zone may have aired over fifty years ago, but many of its observations are, as Serling might say, “as timeless as infinity.” You might even say it has many Catholic elements. As I watched the show as a child, most of these elements escaped me, but now I understand the deep level of significance that Serling was after.

So if you’re looking for a new show to devote your time to, you aren’t likely find a better one. As J. J. Abrams, one of today’s finest directors, said: “The Twilight Zone at its best is better than anything else I’ve ever seen on television.”

Here’s a rundown of some top installments:

Happy #TwilightZoneDay!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Wisdom Compiled in New Book

Journalist turned PR maven Alexis Walkenstein (one of the team behind our recent documentary “The Dating Project”) recently released “Ex Libris — Fulton J. Sheen,” a compilation of writings from pioneering Catholic media evangelist Venerable Archbishop Sheen, who spread the Gospel on radio and TV from 1930 until the late 1930s.

He died in 1979 and is currently interred at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Since today, May 8, is the 123rd anniversary of Sheen’s birth, we decided to check in with Walkenstein and see what Sheen means to her, and what she’d like him to mean to others.

How did you first hear about Archbishop Sheen?

Archbishop Sheen would be an occasional topic in our Catholic home growing up, since he was really more of my parents’ generation. In my young-adult professional life as a journalist, I recall particular things about Sheen during one Christmas when my dad decided to gift my mother with a collection of his old radio broadcasts. The media connection intrigued me because I worked in TV.

More personally, I would say Sheen dramatically broke into my life around the time I accepted a new job as spokesperson and director of communications for a diocese in South Florida. I was transitioning from a secular news career in Boston, and I was flooded with all my hopes and dreams (and fears) as I was moving into new territory, career-wise and geography-wise.

I was so excited about moving and praying at the same time for a God-sent husband. I meandered into a local Boston Catholic bookstore before I drove myself south on I-95 to the east coast of Florida. I perused the shelves looking for a spiritual work to mark this time of transition. I plucked Sheen’s Three to Get Married from the shelves and was intrigued because here was this bishop teaching about marriage.

There was so much focus on vocations to priesthood, but at that time I couldn’t remember a bishop speaking about the Sacrament of Marriage with such profound pastoral care pointing to the high call of this vocation. On a practical level, I had no idea what it would be like to work for a bishop and thought Sheen could help me on two fronts, my new job and my desire for my own vocation — marriage.

Why a book, why this book, why now?

The truth is, I never imagined I would be compiling a book on the spirituality of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Ever. But I can honestly say that Heaven pressed me into service and kept me at my word.

This book is a fulfillment of a promise I made before God and Venerable Fulton Sheen 10 years ago. When I prayed inside the crypt where Sheen buried at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York a decade ago, I asked him to intercede for five intentions.

The whole experience of getting inside the crypt and being in New York was as spontaneous as my last prayer to him that December day. I ended my heartfelt string of prayer requests by saying “If you help me, I will promote you.” I never prayed that way — and was certainly not bargaining with God — but it was more of an offering of myself, almost thanksgiving in advance for what I knew he could do before the throne of God.

Immediately when I emerged from the crypt, I had an email at the top of my inbox from a priest I never met before. The priest was the executive director of the Fulton J. Sheen Foundation in Peoria, Illinois [Ed.: Sheen’s birthplace], and he said he heard about me and asked me to consider helping promote the Sheen cause for canonization in south Florida where I was working. That email dropped the mic and created a domino effect of all types of promotion of Sheen’s cause within Palm Beach and on a national level. The prayers I prayed were being answered almost immediately one by one.

My activities became a labor of love in service to a saint in the making and one of my newest and most fierce intercessors. It wasn’t until about a whole seven years later, when I was approached by Pauline Media to consider compiling this book. That was April, 2015, when I was about to move to Los Angeles, and my life was taking an entirely new direction. I thought my Sheen promo days had peaked and that was it. Not so fast!

My movie work and move to LA was all part of Sheen’s intercession. When the book opportunity emerged the night of my re-entry into the movie biz, Sheen was letting me know very directly that he was behind all the curvy twists and turns of God’s plan for my life.

The book introduces the Gospel as presented by Sheen to a new generation. I’m like the reader. I didn’t know much about Archbishop Sheen, however, I share my personal testimony via the introduction. I then present Sheen’s own words under areas of his main thought such as the mystery of God, human freedom, divine love, sin and knowing Jesus.

On another level, this book reveals Sheen’s efficacy as an intercessor – he’s not just a powerhouse Emmy-toting evangelist, he’s an intercessor for every manner of need. You want a friend in heaven who can move on your behalf in a New York minute? Go to Sheen.

What’s been his biggest impact on your life?

This is hard question to answer because there are very deep and profound things that have happened to me through his intercession as well as his writings, that have impacted me with wisdom to better understand the Gospel. However, I think the biggest impact is the very personal relationship that the saints (or in this case, a saint in the making) want to develop with us.

Again and again, I am astounded by how thin the veil is between heaven and earth, and how responsive Venerable Sheen is to me personally, in the manner in which specific prayers are answered like live scenes from theater and in strategic methodical ways.

On a concrete level, Sheen was the big force in heaven behind my move to Hollywood. I had lived in many other cities, including Atlanta, New York and Palm Beach where I was introduced to Sheen, but three years ago I was back in Boston working in the mainstream at a public relations firm tailored to the business sector. My dad had been very ill, and it was good to be back at home at this particular time, and it seemed that’s where I would stay.

The mainstream job just didn’t satisfy. One day I heard God say, “today’s the day you leave.” I said, “If that’s really you God, make it the worst day ever.” It became the worst day ever ,and I quit my job on the spot without notice. I called on Sheen’s intercession to assist me in pursuit of the roots I wanted to plant in work and in life.

A month later I was asked to help on a movie, which turned into another movie ,which turned into me moving across the country to Los Angeles. I never envisioned moving to L.A. or the very many things that have emerged as a result of this unexpected catapult.

I started my own business, am host of a national radio show and just released this book on Archbishop Sheen. Sheen’s intercession is laced throughout this cross-country move and the new territory and relationships that God had planned for me from the beginning of time. Sheen helps me to see the greatness and vastness of God’s plan for my life when I invite Him to take over. It’s a much better show than I could ever produce.

What do you hope people take away from this book?

It’s my ardent prayer that seekers and the faithful alike will come into a deeper understanding of the meaning of life under Heaven, and that people would come to a greater understanding that, in God’s economy, He gives us saints to assist us in our life’s pilgrimage.

I share a lot in my introduction about my powerful encounter with Archbishop Sheen, and, beyond the introduction, I can say that of the five intentions I asked for help with, three have been realized with the final two unfolding now in Sheen-style dramatic fashion.

What God has done for me through the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, He will do for others. I also want people to know the depths of prayer that went into unearthing the selected quotes for the book. He wrote so many works, but you can’t fit everything in a book like this, so I asked the Holy Spirit to bring forward the themes and words that would penetrate hungry hearts in today’s world.

The care and prayer was intentional in hopes that the seeds of truth on the pages of this book would become rooted in hearts and souls and that every person who picks up this book would receive transformation in Christ through friendship with Archbishop Sheen.

How does Archbishop Sheen matter in the modern world?

Sheen matters in the modern world because Truth matters. Our world would like to drown Truth out. Our world would like to convince us that we don’t need God, and we can do things our own way. Yet, people everywhere are sin-sick and in bondage to things that separate them from the freedom they crave – a freedom that can only be known in Jesus who is Truth itself.

People are looking for solutions to problems and seeking false power for quick fixes. Sheen matters in today’s world because he shows us that Love has a name, and that name is Jesus, and he shows us the power source that connects us to this Love in the Sacramental life of the Church.

Sheen also takes the spiritual ax to the root of our spiritual ills (sin, ego, addiction, lack of faith) and sin habits by exposing the woundedness in a soul void of God.

Sheen unabashedly proclaimed Christ and had a charism for conversion, a zeal for life pointing all to the reality that “life is worth living.” Not only do his potent words matter today, but his intercession matters – for our Church, for youth, for families and all who are called to a particular life of holiness to be lived for the glory of God.

What do you think he’d say about social media?

Can you imagine the Facebook lives and the fiery Tweets? I think Sheen would say #LifeIsWorthLiving and would give everyone a run for their money on Instagram Story! I can only imagine that the two-time Emmy Award-winner would see the social landscape as missionary territory, and the “digital continents” of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram would be fair game for a contemporary platform to proclaim the Gospel.

Knowing his disciplined life and attention to the whole person, I can also imagine Sheen would have something to say about excessive social media use, and the crutch to hide behind screens instead of fostering authentic interactions and relationships. Would he use these platforms to preach Jesus? Yes. Would he warn about living your life out on social media alone and warn against traps to social addiction? Yes, I think he would also help tame the dragon of technological dependence.

 What’s your favorite Bishop Sheen quote?

Easy. “Love is a mutual self-giving that ends in self-recovery.”

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m an East Coast transplant to Los Angeles, and even though most say I don’t have a Boston accent, I sometimes sound like a Wahlberg or a Kennedy, depending on the day or the score of the Red Sox game.

After just about three years in California, I have fallen in love with the West Coast and all the influences that make up this side of the planet. I’m a storyteller at heart, as a former newswoman turned PR pro. Movies are my day job (more like my 24/7 day job), but writing is my personal passion. I have a little radio show called Mary’s Touch that I host each week and is broadcast on over 60 stations around the world. My contemporary heroes are Saint John Paul II and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

If I’m not moving or flying on a plane, I’m not living.

Click here to buy the book from Pauline Books & Media and here for Amazon.com.

Images: Wikimedia Commons; courtesy Alexis Walkenstein, Pauline Books & Media

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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From Father Ray to Father Rob to Sister Cristina: The Church’s Singing Reality Stars

What are Catholic priests, seminarians and religious doing on reality-TV shows?

While many consider TV to be a wasteland, reality TV especially gets a bad rap … much of it deserved. But as much as the Apostles didn’t just stay in friendly areas, Christians are called to evangelize the whole world — and sometimes that involves a microphone, a camera and a panel of judges.

Last week, Irish priest Father Ray Kelly — who gained fame when a 2014 video of him singing a version of “Hallelujah” at a wedding went viral — appeared in front of Simon Cowell and his fellow judges on “Britain’s Got Talent” (the same show that launched the career of Catholic singer Susan Boyle).

The 65-year-old did a moving rendition of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” linking it to the pain and distress he’s witnessed as a parish priest in County Meath, Ireland. It caused some moist eyes among the British audience and earned a standing ovation from the ordinarily acerbic Cowell.

Take a look:

This is not the first time that Catholics in collars and habits have wowed singing-show judges.

Also in 2014, Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia went on a blind audition to Italy’s version of “The Voice” and knocked the judges’ socks off.

Father Kelly’s fate on “BGT” is unknown as of this writing — but his viral video did earn him a short recording contract — but Sister Cristina won it all, as reported by CNN (including a screenshot of a congratulatory Tweet from a Vatican cardinal) …

She’s gone on to have a recording career, but Sister Cristina remains an Ursuline. When she won “The Voice,” she gave thanks to God and recited the Our Father.

Malta-born Father Rob Galea, who’s a parish priest in Australia, auditioned for “The X Factor Australia” in 2015, and was a hit.

He later dropped out of the competition because it conflicted too much with his pastoral and youth-ministry duties. But he’s continued with his ministry and music, as you can see from the video below (which shares a title with his new autobiography, out now from Ave Maria Press). Subtitled, “A Journey From Desperation to Hope,” it recounts Father Galea’s troubled adolescence, deep depression and eventual awakening to his Catholic faith.

BTW, we talked to Father Galea at the recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, so watch for that video or videos, coming soon.

Other Catholic have made their mark on non-musical reality shows, including Game Show Network’s “American Bible Challenge.” In season two in 2013, Team Sisters of Mary from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, came within a whisker of winning the Bible-quiz show, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy. But they did walk away with the fan-favorite award, winding up with a total of $50K in prize money, earmarked to support retired sisters from their order.

The following year, the Sons of Thunder, three men from St. Paul Seminary (one of whom, Father Marc Paveglio, was ordained after their appearance was taped but before it aired) also appeared on “The American Bible Challenge.” They came in second in their episode and won $5K for NET Ministeies, based in West St. Paul, Minnesota.

Happy to report that seminarian Chad VanHoose is now Father VanHoose, as is his Sons of Thunder teammate, Father Mark Pavlak.

Of course, there’s a danger for any priest or sister or seminarian appearing on TV and possibly becoming famous. The temptations of this are obvious and can be serious — but they’re not insurmountable. And along the way, these brave folks present a warm, welcoming, very human face of the Catholic Church to many who may never encounter people like this in their daily lives.

If that’s not the New Evangelization, I don’t know what is.

Image: Courtesy FatherRayKellyNews.com/HeartBeat Records

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Ken Burns to Receive Christopher Life Achievement Award

Ken Burns may be America’s premiere documentarian, but he’s also one of its greatest storytellers, tackling, over a career spanning nearly four decades, such diverse subjects as the Civil and Vietnam Wars, baseball, jazz, national parks, cancer, Prohibition, the Roosevelts and radio.

He’s a mainstay of PBS, which gives a place of prominence to his elegant documentaries, some of which are (occasionally very) long series. They’re serious works on serious subjects, offering oral and visual histories based on interviews and research.

Now, The Christophers — founded by a Catholic priest and dedicated to encouraging people to make a positive difference in the world — are presenting Burns with The Christopher Life Achievement Award at the 69th annual Christopher Awards ceremony on May 17 (click here for info on the other winners).

Several of Burns’ projects have been honored with Christopher Awards, including “The Statue of Liberty,” “The Civil War,” “Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,” “Jazz,” “Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip” and “The War.”

Interestingly enough, among the previous winners of The Christopher Life Achievement Award is author/historian David McCullough (“1776,” “John Adams”), who, in January 2017, also received the first Ken Burns American Heritage Prize, handed out by the American Prairie Reserve.

Said Burns at the time:

The Prize we present together to David acknowledges the historic role that the Great Plains played in helping to shape America’s character. It’s that same character, courage and fortitude which David’s tremendous work elucidates. This indomitable American spirit is alive and well today, in David and in the men and women in many arenas whose work reminds us that our lives serve a greater purpose.

In honoring Burns, Tony Rossi, The Christophers’ Director of Communications, said:

One of the most admirable aspects of Ken Burns’ approach to filmmaking is that he doesn’t approach history as dry facts. Instead, it’s about stories, human connections, and the emotions and experiences that bind us together by transcending time and place.

And while Ken knows that America and its citizens have sometimes fallen short of their own ideals, his films ultimately convey a spirit of hope that we learn from our mistakes to become better as a people and a nation.

For that reason, The Christophers are honored to present Ken Burns with our 2018 Christopher Life Achievement Award.

Contacted for comment, Burns had this to say:

I cannot think of a greater honor than receiving this life-time achievement award. The Christophers have long celebrated what is unique about each person and inspire us to contribute to the public good.

In our work, we look to tell the larger arc of our country’s history through the stories of individuals. By recognizing the actions of individuals I think we can better understand the issues of the past and the present, and hopefully do so in a way that is respectful of people’s lives, even when we tackle topics that are often hard to understand.

I’m inspired by The Christophers’ work and encourage others to embrace their belief that everyone can make a difference.

Burns’ next major project for PBS is “Country Music,” coming in 2019 — which was announced way back in 2014. Great things take time!

From Burns’ Website:

Country Music will chronicle the history of a uniquely American art form, rising from the experiences of remarkable people in distinctive regions of our nation.  From southern Appalachia’s songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking western swing of Texas, from California honky tonks to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, we will follow the evolution of country music over the course of the twentieth century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music.

It will be directed and produced by Ken Burns; written and produced by Dayton Duncan; and produced by Julie Dunfey.

Speaking of taking your time, also in Burns’ pipeline is a two-part, four-hour profile of boxer and activist Muhammad Ali. Production began in early 2016 for a 2021 premiere.

From an early 2017 story at Deadline.com:

In the announcement, Burns described Muhammad Ali as “maybe the most iconic figure of the 20th century,” explaining, “He arrived at exactly the right moment, amidst the tumult and upheaval of the 1960s, and he shaped his times with his powerful voice, mesmerizing presence, and achievements in the ring.”

“But beyond the astonishing athletic gifts and mountain of charisma, there’s a very complex, dynamic man whose life story has yet to receive the comprehensive treatment it deserves.”

In November 2017, Ken Burns accepted the Muhammad Ali Voice of Humanity award from the Society of Voice Arts & Sciences, at the 4th Annual 2017 Voice Arts® Awards at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Fredrick P. Rose Hall.

Take a look:

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Courtesy Ken Burns, PBS

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