Fr. Willy Raymond, former head of Family Theater Productions, and currently president of our parent organization, Holy Cross Family Ministries, is on pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, home of Saint Pope John Paul II. It officially started today and runs through July 31.
But he’s not alone. Fr. Willy has companions on his travels, including actor — and HCFM board member — Clarence Gilyard Jr., known for “Matlock,” “Left Behind,” “Die Hard,” “Top Gun” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Born on Christmas Eve, 1955, and raised as an Air Force brat and a Lutheran, Gilyard converted to Catholicism in the ’90s. From a 2001 Zenit interview:
One of the things that grounds me is the Mass. I can find a Catholic church wherever I go. I try to go daily and feel like I´m missing something if I don´t strive to go daily. It’s not a reflection on anyone else, just where God and I are right now.
I´m really listening to what God is communicating to me. I really need the Eucharist. My spiritual director, Father John Dick, suggested I pick up the Liturgy of the Hours about eight months ago. I struggle with that, three times a day. But I love it when I hit a stride and can get more prayers in.
I´m like any Catholic who is striving. I try to do what the Church says we´re supposed to do – pray the rosary, keep up with the saints being observed, and participate in the liturgical seasons like Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.
When you do what the Church says to do, it works.
He also got to meet now-Saint Pope John Paul II:
I was on a 10-day trip to Italy this past summer with a priest — who is my spiritual director – and a seminarian. We saw the [eucharistic] miracle at Lanciano [near Rome], [the shrine of] Padre Pio, Assisi and other holy places.
Upon returning to our room in Rome, after visiting Assisi, we received a note confirming that we would be able to attend morning Mass [with the Pope]. We were overjoyed and just dropped to our knees and thanked God. The experience was awesome. We got to kiss his hands; he said “good morning.”
We hear talk about the Holy Father being so frail. But these comments are like a Sunday couch-potato quarterback commenting on a game. The Holy Father is as sharp as a tack. We are so concerned about our bodies that we think that´s the going deal. But I´m not worried at all. The Holy Father is doing just fine. He´s right where God wants him.
Gilyard came to the Faith after dabbling in substance abuse and sexual immorality, but then a friend invited him to Mass.
Being on his knees in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist had a profound effect. From a 2009 piece in St. Anthony Messenger Press:
“I don’t know how many Catholics are aware of why we are on our knees in the presence of Jesus,” he continues. “That’s where I needed to be. Mother Church allows that and informs us that way,” he says. “It is one of the great gifts.”
Being near the Eucharist made Clarence intensely aware of the presence of God, he explains. “It’s all about the presence of God in the consecrated host. Otherwise, it’s just a building. If Jesus is not present, it’s a sham,” he says. But Jesus is present, he knows: “I experienced it that day and to this day. To this day, it is what sustains me.”
He describes “needing” to go to daily Mass, and when he slips, he recommits himself to the practice. He had known God’s mercy, God’s grace. Back in the early ’90s, when his religious awakening had occurred, he soon got himself to a priest: “I dumped everything” out, and, after it was all over, he was “in a state of grace,” he says. The priest told him, “’You’re in a great place, kid.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”
That Jesuit counseled Clarence into an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program for joining the Catholic Church and gave him some booklets for daily prayer.
Now he’s in Krakow. Courtesy of Fr. Willy, here’s a look …
Here he is, captivating 1,500 Vincentian Youth with his personal witness:
Here, he’s with a Vincentian Youth from Sicily (in the wheelchair), who’s met Pope Francis twice:
Up on the Jumbotron in front of Marian Youth:
Thank you for your witness, Mr. Gilyard!
Images: Courtesy Fr. Willy Raymond