The most difficult decision of my life

Thank you to my dear friends who served as the committee to help decide and also to everyone who is supporting my new film, Apparition Hill.

Thank you to the Apparition Hill production team who is hard at work making this film a reality.

And most of all thank you to everyone who entered. As Our Lady recently said on April 2, “all of you carry something beautiful within you.”

The entries to this contest — each and every one of them — prove that’s true without a doubt. In the end, we chose these eight people to join us on what will undoubtedly be a fantastic journey…

 

Be part of my next film: Apparition Hill

New Medjugorje film, Apparition Hill

After the success of The Triumph—which was shown on cinema screens in more than 150 cities around the world, and which raised over $200,000 for charities—I have often been asked about my next film.

Over the past few years, an idea has been brewing, and I’ve been praying for guidance. Now, I’m thrilled to announce Apparition Hill, a documentary that will take audience participation to a whole new level.

First, a little about the origin of the idea…

www.apparitionhill.tv

In recent years, I’ve brought some people who are very close to me to Medjugorje—people who were really struggling in life—and I saw, once again, how powerful and life-changing even a short pilgrimage can be.

In just the last two years, I accompanied a skeptic who was struggling to understand a death in his family, a young mother who was terminally ill, and a middle-aged businessman with a daily crack cocaine addiction that cost him everything but his life, and nearly even that.

Immediately after coming back from Medjugorje, the skeptic became a believer, the mother’s illness went into remission, and the businessman has stayed drug-free.

These are just a few of the millions of people whose lives have been changed in Medjugorje.

I’ve also accompanied some recent pilgrimages, and, in doing so, I was reminded of all the pilgrimages I’ve been on over the years, especially my first one in 2000 which dramatically changed my life.

I have always loved seeing the dynamics of a Medjugorje pilgrimage. It’s like some kind of social experiment: a bunch of people with different backgrounds and different ages are grouped together and immersed into one of the most intense spiritual journeys any of them will ever experience. They arrive as complete strangers, but they go home as brothers and sisters, and the bonds that they forge during that short time often last a lifetime.

These two things—the life-changing experience of Medjugorje, and the unlikely solidarity found in a pilgrimage—are what led me to the idea of Apparition Hill.medj1

The idea is really a question: what will happen if I gather a random group of people from all different backgrounds and immerse them in a Medjugorje experience?

Of course, we won’t know the answer to that question until the film is complete, but I do expect many surprises—for the group, for me, and for the audience.

Now, more than ever before, I feel a strong call to continue sharing the story of Medjugorje, and I aim to do so with everything that God has given me. Primarily I want to share it with those who do not yet know the love of God. I hope that this film can especially reach and inspire such people.

I can’t tell you how many people have said that they were somehow deeply affected by The Triumph. People have had conversions, people have joined Cenacolo, people have gone to Medjugorje for the first time, and people who have never prayed before have started doing so.

This was all due to the power of MedjugorjeStill, I want to reach an even larger audience with this important message, and I’m hoping that Apparition Hill can do exactly that.

Medjugorje filmBut first, we need people!

To find the people who will go on the trip and be part of the film, I’ve created an online video contest where you can nominate yourself or someone else by posting a short video. The public can then vote on who they want to see in the film, and we will select the winners out of the entries with the highest number of votes.

Five people will be given an all-expenses-paid, 2-to-3-week trip to Medjugorje, and their entire journey will be documented.

I’m hoping to find a wide range of people who are willing to go to Medjugorje—even if only for the promise of a free European trip—including atheists, agnostics, fallen-away Catholics, people struggling with an illness or the death of a loved one, and of course believers, priests, and people discerning a religious life. The contest is open to anyone who has never been to Medjugorje before.

This will only succeed if it becomes a grassroots movement, and you, individually, have the power to help make Apparition Hill a worldwide success…

First of all, please Like the film’s Facebook page and share this news with everyone you know, especially anyone who might benefit from a trip to Medjugorje.

Second, please become a Production Partner to stay informed about the film’s progress and help us get this adventure off the ground.

You can enter the contest and vote on the entries at the film’s official website, ApparitionHill.tv.

Apparition Hill

The Meaning of Christmas

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.

Do you know Pope Francis?

pope22I snapped this shot of Papa Francesco last month when I was in Rome with my daughter, Anna, and our friend Immaculee Ilibagiza, among others.

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.Immaculee

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.

PopeAnd with that trust, there should be no fear. If we truly believe, after all, then no harm can come to us–eternally speaking, of course.

“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?

If we truly love our enemies, as Jesus asked of us, then we should have no enemies.immanna

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!

sean_annaSure, 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! :)

The Story of Lisa and Sean

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.

The Triumph DVD is released!

triumphBig 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.triumph_web_dvd

Click here to order DVDs.

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:

mirjana18032014

“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.”

Triumph DVD and Parish Screenings

triumph_web_dvd

After a long, unexpected journey, The Triumph will finally be available for parishes, schools and groups outside the theater!

You can pre-order your copy here.

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

packageBeginning 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!

World traveler, found dead, had been in Medjugorje

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.

Medjugorje

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.”

Medjugorje

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.

New movie: Son of God

Sean Bloomfield, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey

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.

Son of God