My children have been asking me to make a film with them, so today I set up a “green screen” and we had some fun. None of this was rehearsed; I just started rolling and they shared their thoughts.
I watched Pope Francis fearlessly go among the crowds with no bullet-proof glass or armed guards to protect him.
I saw how he spent much longer than his handlers would have preferred with people who seemed to truly need his comfort.
And I’ll never forget the warmth of his smile.
Being there for the general audience in St. Peter’s Square got me thinking about all the criticism directed at Pope Francis from people who don’t actually know him, and by that I mean knowing him on a personal level and not just as a figurehead.
After all, truly knowing what’s in the heart of another human being isn’t an easy feat, especially from afar and through the haze of a thousand news outlets, all with their own biases.
Now, I admit that I don’t actually know Pope Francis. Immaculee had the opportunity to meet with him in October; months earlier, he had actually recommended her book, Left To Tell, to someone who had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and so their meeting was one of mutual respect and admiration.
But even Immaculee can’t truly know his heart after just one meeting. Knowing someone and understanding what drives them takes time–and a lot of it. That’s why I’m surprised to see so many good people publicly judging Pope Francis without really knowing him.
Some of the strongest and most relentless sources of criticism come from fellow Catholics. Social media sites, blogs, TV shows, magazines and even prayer group meetings have all been used to proclaim dissatisfaction with the pontiff.
People should always be free to share their thoughts. I mean, that’s exactly what I’m doing now. But there’s one question I find myself asking every time I read one of these critical articles or posts: What happened to trust?
Nowadays, it seems, a good number of faithful just aren’t interested in the mystical aspects of Christianity. For some, the religion has been reduced to a mere idea–a theory governed by worldly factors as opposed to the otherworldly source from which it came–stripped of the ethereal and all that makes it so fascinating and radical.
But God is not a set of laws; God is mystical, transcending time, space and matter. He yearns for our trust.
“Be not afraid,” as St. John Paul II said, is still as relevant now as it was back then. He knew full well that God is all-powerful. He trusted.
Think back to the day that Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis. I feel confident that the Holy Spirit was there in the conclave, the same Holy Spirit who perhaps gently whispered to Benedict XVI that it was time for him to step aside, and the same one who now guides Pope Francis in what I believe is the beginning of a great period of renewal and growth for the Church.
But the Church will not grow through preaching, not in this day and age, and Pope Francis knows it. Nor will it grow through fear, which does not come from God anyway. No, the Church will grow through love, which calls to mind the Holy Father’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who was tasked by God to rebuild the Church, and who, tradition tells us, said:
“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
Just as Jesus fearlessly bucked the taboos of his day by dining with sinners and tax collectors — actions that were misunderstood and even condemned by his peers — I see Pope Francis trying to reach the very people that many Catholics have labeled as enemies.
He’s simply asking us: don’t they, too, deserve to know the love of God?
After all, believers won’t win many hearts with combative rhetoric or dogmatic condemnation. However, they can absolutely bring about conversions through compassion, and by living as examples of people who know the love of God. One fruit of knowing that love, I think, is joy, so don’t forget to smile.
I’m reminded of the uproar Pope Francis caused when, during his first Lent as pope, he shunned the Holy Thursday custom of washing the feet of cardinals and instead washed the feet of young inmates at a juvenile detention center. And in a further departure from the custom, two of them were women and two were Muslim. That was just too many heathen feet for some people to handle!
But, for me, that’s the moment Pope Francis became my hero.
Remember, when Jesus dined with sinners, his enemies and even some of his followers were confused and upset by his actions.
But then the conversions started happening. People who had previously been burdened by the weight of sin and hopelessness suddenly received the joy and peace of redemption. Don’t forget that Matthew wasn’t always Saint Matthew!
Sure, as a believer, it’s comfortable hanging out with other believers, but what value is there in doing that exclusively? Especially when there are so many lost sheep in the world, wandering in darkness. Love is the light that will lead them back to the fold.
I look at the simple faith of my children–such as my daughter, Anna, whose innocent prayers at the tombs of saints last month in Italy constantly melted my heart–and I wonder how our adult faith got so complicated. Pope Francis, I believe, is trying to bring simplicity back to the Church, just as the early Church was simple, long before doctorates in theology were even a thing.
Yes, Pope Francis has ruffled some feathers, and his critics accuse him of irresponsible actions and careless statements, but I continue to find his approach refreshing. I’m enlivened by his bravery and candor, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been more excited about the future of our Church than I am now with him at the helm.
Going deeper, though, where does all the worry and fear about Francis come from? In many cases, people seem to have politicized the papacy. Unfortunately, the heated rhetoric formerly reserved for partisan politics has seeped into our religion.
Recently, someone I had just met asked me, “So, are you a conservative Catholic or a liberal Catholic?”
“I’m a Catholic,” I replied with a smile.
John Adams and George Washington both warned that the two-party political system would be a threat to America. Applying such divisiveness to religion, in my opinion, is even more dangerous.
Still, what I find most unfortunate about those who openly criticize Pope Francis are not the criticisms themselves… On the contrary, I welcome the opportunity to learn about different viewpoints. What I find unfortunate is that so many of his critics never seem to have anything good to say about him.
Surely there’s something he’s done that they admire, but I rarely see any deviation from the negative slants, unless perhaps it’s accompanied by a cynical caveat. When things are so one-sided, I begin to wonder if an agenda lurks somewhere behind all the words.
Despite this, I remain confident that fear and doubt will fade in time. And, bolstered by the assurance that the gates of hell shall never prevail against us, the Church will rise up to fight the true darkness in the world (hint: it’s not the pope!), and, ultimately, we have been assured that love will win.
In the meantime, though, I sincerely hope and pray that everyone will start looking at the world (and Pope Francis) in colors more varied and vibrant than mere black and white.
And for Heaven’s sake: smile!
This is my tribute to the sweetest, bravest and just plain coolest girl I have ever known. I made this video for our friends and family 9 years ago, but only a few people have seen it; I decided to post it today as we celebrate our 9 year anniversary.
Lisa, how I conned you into marrying me, I will never know. Nine years and three beautiful children later, I still love you like I did the moment I met you in junior high school… way back in 1994! I guess that makes us adults now, right?
So, happy anniversary! I’m looking forward to many more adventures together.
Big day! The Triumph DVDs came in and we’re shipping orders out right now, because today, March 18, 2014, is the official DVD release date! It’s really a wonderful feeling to hold the DVD in my hands for the first time.
I hope people will use this documentary to help others come to know about one of the most important supernatural events in history: Medjugorje. The screenings changed a lot of lives, and I can only imagine how much more the DVD will do.
Why did we choose to release the DVD today, March 18? Because March 18 is a very special day in Medjugorje for several reasons. Not only is it visionary Mirjana Soldo’s birthday, it’s also the day Our Lady chose to appear to Mirjana once every year. According to Mirjana, March 18 will also have significance in the future.
Today, March 18, 2014, the visionary Mirjana Soldo received her annual apparition and the following message was given:
“Dear children! As a mother, I desire to be of help to you. With my motherly love, I desire to help you to open your heart and to put my Son in the first place in it. Through your love for my Son and through your prayer, I desire for God’s light to illuminate you and God’s mercy to fill you. In this way, I desire for the darkness, and the shadow of death which wants to encompass and mislead you, to be driven away. I desire for you to feel the joy of the blessing of God’s promise. You, children of man, you are God’s children – you are my children. Therefore, my children, set out on the ways on which my love leads you, teaches you humility and wisdom, and finds the way to the Heavenly Father. Pray with me for those who do not accept me and do not follow me – those who, because of hardness of their hearts, cannot feel the joy of humility, devotion, peace and love – the joy of my Son. Pray that your shepherds, with their blessed hands, may always give you the joy of God’s blessing. Thank you.”
After a long, unexpected journey, The Triumph will finally be available for parishes, schools and groups outside the theater!
First and foremost, thank you to those who helped make this film possible by contributing to our successful crowd-funding campaign last spring. To those who have patiently awaited the DVD release, the official release date is March 18, 2014, so we are just weeks away from shipping the The Triumph’s special International Edition with never before seen bonus features, additional archived footage, nine language subtitles, and closed captioning for the hearing impaired.
We’re excited about how amazing the DVD turned out and humbled by the global demand for this film that has screened in over 8 countries on 400 screens over the course of 2013. In fact, in 2014, fans of the film are bringing it to additional countries like Panama, Malta and Honduras.
To thank all those who helped make it possible, we’re now unveiling a special parish screening program to correspond with the DVD release! If you’d like to join more than 200 hosts who have raised money over $150,000 for charities, prayer groups or parish projects, you can now do so with a special boxed set that includes a parish screening license, DVDs you can sell or give away to benefit your cause, and promotional materials to help make your event a success.
The Triumph Parish Screening Package includes:
- 20 DVDs of The Triumph
- 250 collectible tickets
- 20 wristbands
- 1 Triumph movie poster
- License to publicly exhibit the film
Beginning March 18th, your parish or school can purchase a public exhibition license to host The Triumph in a hall, school auditorium or on a projector just like so many folks have in theaters worldwide. In fact, the average host has raised well over $1,500 directly benefitting a worthy cause.
For those of you who would still like to bring it to theaters, we’re also discounting the theatrical site licenses–both domestically and overseas–to encourage you to bring this film to as many communities as possible and join the hundreds of organizations that together have raised over $150,000 to benefit everything from church capital campaigns to impoverished children on other continents.
Click here to learn about our expanded screening program and bring The Triumph to your community this spring!
Not long ago, I saw a news segment about a woman named Leanne Bearden who had traveled the world for two years with her husband, and she went missing in Texas right after they returned home. Tragically, her body was recently found in the woods near her home.
At first it seemed like a sad irony — to have traveled to so many dangerous places only to experience a tragedy at home — but some news reports are saying that it looks like she may have taken her own life.
For some reason, this story really captivated me. My wife, Lisa, and I have done a lot of traveling. We lived in New Zealand for over a year and have visited many amazing places. Travel changes a person. The world is truly a beautiful place.
After we returned to Florida to raise our family, we initially felt a little sad and out of place. The excitement of travel and the joy that comes from meeting new people and seeing new lands can be addictive.
But then we embarked on a new adventure: parenthood.
Compared to all of our previous adventures, becoming parents was the most thrilling, terrifying and gratifying thing we have ever experienced. We now have three children from 11 months to 7 years old, and we occasionally whisk them off to far-away lands as a way of enriching their lives and simultaneously satiating our wanderlust. Most often, we bring them to Medjugorje, where the Virgin Mary has (allegedly) been appearing since 1981.
Which brings me back to the tragic story of Leanne Bearden. Leanne blogged about her travels, and that blog is still online. I was compelled to learn about her and her husband. It seemed there was some connection, perhaps because of my own love for travel.
And then I found it: they had gone to Medjugorje.
Not as pilgrims, but as tourists, on a day trip from Dubrovnik. You can read about their Balkan travels here.
The above photo shows Leanne and her husband in front of St. James Church in Medjugorje. Leanne wrote the following caption for the photo: “We decided to take a day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina with Mike and Lynn (friends) for some adventure. Our first stop on the tour was a visit to Medjugorje. Medjugorje is a village in the southern part of Herzegovina in the present-day state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The small parish of about 4,000 has become famous due to a series of reported visions of the Virgin Mary in the hills that began in 1981. The apparitions have not been validated by the Catholic Church but the Shrine of the Queen of Peace at Medjugorje attracts thousands of tourists each year.”
The caption on Leanne’s blog for this photo, which was presumably written by her husband, read as follows: “Leanne was tempted to pay a visit to one of the confessionals. She’s fairly certain she might need to ask for some forgiveness for some episodes of lost patience during this around the world adventure.”
From the sounds of it, she only saw the confessional through the eyes of a tourist. I don’t know if she was Catholic or not, but If only she would have stepped inside that confessional and experienced the mercy and love of God… maybe her life would not have ended so tragically, and, perhaps, her next adventure could have been motherhood.
Speaking from experience, the world is a different and far better place after a good confession. It is a happier place. In The Triumph, a priest talks about the greatest addiction of our time being sorrow. The cure, according to him, is God.
My heart goes out to Leanne’s husband. Please keep him and Leanne in your prayers.
I had the honor of spending some time with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey recently. Their new film about the life of Jesus, SON OF GOD, will be in theaters on February 28.
Mark Burnett is the executive producer of Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, Shark Tank and many other popular shows. He and Roma, his wife, also produced The Bible miniseries on The History Channel. Roma Downey played an angel for many years on the popular television program, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.
Roma told me that playing the role of the Blessed Mother was the best part she’s ever had. After playing the role, she now truly understands how much Our Lady suffered when Jesus was put to death. Roma prays the rosary daily. We had a long conversation about Mary and Medjugorje, and I gave her a blessed Miraculous Medal from there.
Please support Christian cinema by going to see SON OF GOD when it comes out.
Immaculee and I appeared on EWTN Live with Fr. Mitch Pacwa to discuss Kibeho and our film If Only We Had Listened.
I’ve been asked to do a number of radio interviews and television interviews about my films over the years, but recently I did a show that was both radio AND television. It was a show called “In The Arena” with Msgr. Kieran Harrington. Here’s a photo of he and I:
The interview was a lot of fun and has some interesting topics covered, including Medjugorje and The Triumph, as well as Halloween, Exorcisms and the process of sainthood.
You can watch the entire show here:
By Sean Bloomfield
The hospice ward where my grandfather lay dying was on the same floor as the hospital’s maternity ward. I found it comforting and beautiful to think that people were entering this world in such close proximity to where they were also exiting it. For some, their missions were concluding; for others, they had just begun.
As I waited by my grandfather’s side with a rosary in my hand, I saw an orderly walk by pushing a gurney upon which there was a body covered by a sheet. At that exact moment, I heard the faint wail of a newborn infant, and I imagined the soul who was leaving giving advice to the one who was just starting out.
Don’t take one moment for granted.
It will be over before you know it.
Be nice to everyone you meet.
Love with all your heart.
I laughed when I thought about my grandfather’s playful sense of humor and what he might say, instead, to someone just coming to this world.
Work hard and be good, but not too good.
Adopt at least one mutt in your life; it will be the best dog you’ve ever had.
Be a fan of the Miami Dolphins, even if they never win a game.
Go fishing often, even if you don’t wet a line.
And whatever you do, never trust a man who doesn’t drink.
The infant—who was likely now coddled in his mother’s arms for the first time—stopped crying. I looked down at my grandfather. Now in his final hours, he, too, had become like an infant, unable to speak, incapable of feeding himself, vulnerable yet beautiful. His eyes reminded me of how the eyes of my own children looked in their first moments: dark, foggy, and unable to focus.
I took his large, calloused hand in mine and held it tightly as his body trembled. When he was young, my grandfather—Patrick was his name, but people called him Pat—was tall, handsome, and blonde-haired. Everyone loved his sense of humor and, according to my grandmother, the ladies, herself included, were enamored with his blue eyes and large, “kissable” lips. After college, Pat had joined the US Marines and was sent to the Korean War. He had hoped to fight for his country but instead arrived after the battles had ceased, so he passed his time hunting pheasants. He paid a Korean boy to retrieve the birds.
After the war, my grandfather married my grandmother and they moved to Florida at a time when air-conditioning was non-existent. Back then, it was like moving to the frontier, but far hotter and swarming with mosquitos. He took a job as a sales agent for Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace company in Florida, and started a family with my grandmother. They had two children: Daniel, my father, and Patricia, my aunt.
Grandpa’s smile and sense of humor led to success at his job, but it was how he lived outside of work that really made him special. He took full advantage of the wildness and adventure that still existed in Florida at that time. He built a swamp buggy and took his friends and family camping in the Everglades where they shot empty beer cans with .22 rifles and caught rattlesnakes with burlap sacks. He fixed up an old boat and went fishing for sailfish and mahi mahi in the Gulf Stream, telling my grandmother he was out hunting for mermaids. He took the family on road trips to the Keys where they caught lobster from the reefs and scoured break-walls for driftwood treasures, although his idea of treasure might be considered trash by many.
He lived life to the fullest, and, although I only knew him in the last thirty-two years of his life, a big part of him made its way into me. There are certain things that I will never forget about him. For example, he smoked Tiparillo cigars for many years; I still use some of his empty cigar boxes to hold my keepsakes, and the smell of the smoke from a Tiparillo is etched into my senses. He loved old Country Western music, war movies, dogs of all kinds, and his riding lawnmower which he used like a little tractor, hauling firewood and junk. He found peace in nature. He carved out a “jungle trail” in the wooded lot next to his home and nailed coffee cans to the pine trees which he filled with pecans, hoping to befriend the squirrels. My fondest memory, though, is sitting on his lap on the balcony of his waterfront house early one morning; in silence, we watched the sun rise over the St. Lucie River as white egrets erupted from their mangrove perches like angels taking flight.
I thank God for his influence in my life. God, however, was one of the few things that he and I never talked about, and as he began to slip away in the hospice, I started to wonder what he believed. I had no doubts that he had faith. He was an altar server during his childhood and came from a devout Irish Catholic background, but I had never really known him to attend Mass.
On the day after he passed away, I would find out the reason for this when I asked my grandmother about grandpa’s beliefs.
“When he was a young man, Pat was very much a Catholic,” she said. “He had a stronger belief in God than I did. He had no doubts. But when he got married the first time—”
“Whoa, what?” I interrupted her. “Grandpa was married before you?”
She smiled. “I wasn’t sure if you knew that. Yes, he married a girl named Anna, in a Catholic wedding, right before he went off to Korea. While he was there, they kept in touch through letters, but, one day, she stopped responding. When he got back from Korea, she was gone. She had just disappeared, and he never heard from her or saw her again.”
I was shocked. I had never even considered the possibility that my grandfather had been married to someone else. “And then he met you?” I asked.
“That’s right,” said my grandmother, trying to hold back her tears. “We wanted to get married, but the Church would not allow it. Your grandfather really wanted to get married in a Catholic Church—his faith was so strong—but the clergy said ‘no’ because of his previous marriage to Anna. Well, we wanted to start a family together, so we had a simple non-church wedding, which made it so that we could no longer receive Communion. Your grandfather was very hurt by the Church. He didn’t understand how they could be so rigid about his previous marriage, and he stopped going to Mass.”
I was sad for my grandfather. I explained to my grandmother that the Catholic Church had made great strides since then, especially in cases of annulments for extenuating circumstances.
“I know,” she said with a smile. “Not long ago, your grandfather and I got married again.”
“You did what?”
“We got married again, but we didn’t tell anyone. The Church finally annulled his previous marriage, and he was able to fulfill one of his biggest wishes in life… for us to be married in a Catholic Church.”
That night as my grandfather lay dying, however, I did not know anything about his previous marriage nor his history with the Church. All I knew was that he was the kindest, most loving man I had ever known. As the sun began to set, I decided that I would do everything I could to ensure that his transition to the next world would be a peaceful one. He had, after all, done so much for me in my life, and I was finally presented with a way that I could help him. I loved him dearly. And, by the end of that night, I would have three experiences that confirmed to me that God loved him dearly, too.
It began with a song. My grandmother and aunt had spent the entire day with my grandfather. As they were about to leave, the hospital chaplain—a bubbly Baptist man with a calm, Southern voice—asked if we could all pray together around my grandfather. We were all a little bit uncomfortable with his suggestion at first—we’re Catholics, thank you very much—but we reluctantly held hands with the chaplain in a circle around my sleeping grandfather. The prayer was simple and non-denominational enough: blessings for Pat and his family, and a reminder of Jesus’ love. But then, quite suddenly, the chaplain announced that he felt called to sing.
Oh no, I thought to myself, and I could see that my grandmother and aunt were equally nervous. What was he going to sing? A Baptist hymn?
But then, suddenly, he opened his mouth and the most beautiful song came out. Ave Maria.
As the chaplain belted out the Latin in a deep, melodic voice that seemed like it could have come out of Pavarotti, we were all shocked and intensely moved. My grandfather, too, reacted to the song, moving his hands up and down slightly; I imagined that, in his mind, he was probably joking around and pretending to be conducting a symphony. When the song was over, the chaplain looked just as surprised as we were, and he thanked us and hurried towards the door.
“Wait,” I said. “Can you call the nearest Catholic church and see if a priest can come give my grandfather the blessing of the sick today?”
The chaplain smiled, nodded, and walked out. I told my grandmother that I wanted to stay with my grandfather alone that night at the hospice. I did not know why; I just felt a strong urge to be there with him the entire night. My grandmother was happy that I wanted to stay, and she headed home with my aunt. She had barely gotten any rest since my grandfather’s debilitating stroke that had happened the previous week, so I was hopeful that she would sleep peacefully knowing that I was there with him.
Moments after she left, the chaplain stuck his head in the door. “I called the church,” he said, “but they can’t send a priest until tomorrow.”
“OK,” I said. “Hopefully that’s enough time.”
It was November 8, 2010—the night before my mother’s birthday—and so I called her from the hospice (my parents have been divorced since I was three years old, and Pat was my paternal grandfather, but my mother always had a great fondness for Pat). I explained to her that the nurses and doctors said that my grandfather was passing away, and that it might be a few days or a week before he finally died.
“You should pray the Divine Mercy chaplet,” she said. My mother had recently developed a strong devotion to Divine Mercy, which involves messages that Jesus gave to St. Faustina illustrating his unfathomable love for mankind.
“I will,” I promised. Minutes later I was Googling the chaplet and I came across this quote:
As for the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, Jesus told St. Faustina: “My daughter, encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you. It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying this chaplet… Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior.”
That was all I needed to read. I grabbed my rosary and knelt down next to my grandfather’s bed, but I felt like I should go to Confession before beginning, if for no other reason than to be spiritually pure for such an important prayer. My thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. I turned around and, to my astonishment, a Catholic priest was coming into the room.
“I thought you couldn’t come until tomorrow,” I said.
He nodded. “Yes, but then right after I got off the phone with the chaplain, something came up that I have to do tomorrow, and my schedule became free tonight. So, here I am.”
“Will you hear my Confession?” I blurted out. The priest was a bit stunned at first, but then he smiled, and I could sense that he understood the reason for my wish.
“Sure, I can do that,” he said, and there—in that cold, dark hospice room—I cleansed my soul.
The priest then prayed over my grandfather for a long time and anointed him with oil, but afterwards he did not seem to want to leave, and I was happy about that. For the next hour, he led me in prayers for my grandfather. We held Pat’s hands as we recited the litany of saints, imploring them to carry my grandfather home.
This is what Catholicism is all about, I thought. It’s the bridge between this world and the next, the apex of the Great Divide.
By the time the priest departed, a palpable peace had filled the room. I like to think of that peace as a symbol of my grandfather—moved by the kindness of that priest—making amends with the Church that he had loved so much.
Filled with God’s love, I knelt beside my grandfather and prayed the entire Divine Mercy chaplet, and then I fell asleep in the chair next to him while praying the rosary. It reminded me of the times I slept in the hospital room beside my wife while she was in labor, and—as the first glimmer of sunlight woke me the next day—I rose with the same vague sense of an impending miracle that I had on the days my children were born.
I sat in the chair and sipped a cup of coffee as rays from the rising sun began to fill the room with soft, orange light. I heard my grandfather take a deep, slow breath, followed by a long exhale. I slowly turned to look at him.
“Grandpa?” I said, knowing he would not answer. I watched his chest for his next breath but it never came; the previous one had been his last.
It was faint at first—the smell of roses. But then it filled the room, and I breathed in deeply several times to be sure I wasn’t imagining it. There were no flowers in the room, and, besides, I had never smelled any flower as fragrant as what I smelled then. My eyes filled with tears; I was overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions. I felt grief at the realization that my grandfather had just died, but I also felt intense joy knowing that the flowers were a sign of God’s presence in the room. I knew then that my grandfather was in good hands.
I stood there and prayed for a moment, and then I informed the hospice staff that my grandfather had passed, and they confirmed it with one look. The orderly asked me to leave the room while he prepared my grandfather’s body for my grandmother to see him; they had called her and she was already on her way with my aunt. I left and went into the hospice waiting room, wiping tears from my eyes. I noticed a bookshelf, and my eyes were drawn to one book in particular. It was an old National Geographic hardcover with photographs of the Rocky Mountains.
I smiled when I read the title: The Great Divide.