By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — One of the key concepts Father Robert Barron had when he first set out to create his acclaimed 10-part documentary series “Catholicism” was to find a way to bring together the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith.
“That was a big motivating factor for me,” Father Barron told The Anchor. “I wanted to show the texture of Catholicism. We have all this great, visible wealth in the Church and I didn’t want to reduce it to just words and ideas. Whenever we had an idea to present, we asked ourselves: ‘How can we show that idea?’ And that’s really what inspired the whole series.”
“Catholicism” illustrates the history and treasures of a global religion shared by more than one billion people around the world. The series, written and hosted by Father Barron, was photographed in stunning high-definition and spans more than 50 locations in 15 countries.
In this sweeping documentary, Father Barron tells the story of Catholicism around the world using art, architecture, literature, music and all the riches of the Catholic tradition. The production crew traveled to some of the most magnificent and sacred sites in Jerusalem, Rome, Krakow, Warsaw, New York, Istanbul, Ephesus, Lourdes, Mexico City, Athens, Corinth, Mexico City, Uganda, Manila, Sao Paolo, Auschwitz, Kolkata, Philadelphia, Chicago, and beyond.
“I wanted people to take it at different levels, that was always my hope,” Father Barron said. “When you’re talking about a 10-hour program, it would become tiresome to listen to a talking head for 10 hours. So I hope people can view it on different levels and maybe go back and re-watch things they missed the first time. That, to me, is the genius of ‘Catholicism.’”
The “Catholicism” team was granted exclusive access to shoot privately in many locations inaccessible to the general public. Highlights include some of the world’s architectural and artistic masterpieces and most sacred places such as The Dome of the Rock, the Hagia Sophia, the tomb of Mother Teresa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, rare views of the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the pope’s private gardens, Chartres, Notre Dame, and Cologne Cathedrals, as well as one of the largest religious celebrations on the planet — the feast of the Ugandan martyrs.
“I’m happy when people say they become entranced by what they see on screen, even though they might not be paying attention to what’s being said,” Father Barron said. “I think that’s fine. I’ve heard about eight- and nine-year-old kids who will watch the series with great interest. They’re not taking in the ideas, necessarily, but they’re taking in the beauty of it, and I think that’s fine.”
Here in the Fall River Diocese, many parishes have adopted and praised “Catholicism” as an important evangelization tool.
“We’re using ‘Catholicism’ in our Confirmation program for ninth-graders as well as the RCIA and the adult Confirmation programs,” said Father Roger J. Landry, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford. “The reason we incorporated the video series this year is Father Barron not only explains very powerfully and persuasively the chief doctrines of the Catholic faith, but he takes people on a virtual pilgrimage to all the great shrines in the Holy Land, in Christian Europe, in Guadalupe, in Brazil. So it really expands — in a way that only a video can — on the Catholicity of our faith.
“The people have very much liked Father Barron and the video series is an absolutely first-rate thing to watch and to listen to. At the same time people feel inspired and really nourished both in head and heart by what Father Barron gives us.”
“We’ve screened the first five episodes leading up to Lent every week at our parish,” said Louis “Bud” Miller, director of Adult Faith Formation for Holy Name Parish in Fall River. “I like the fact that in a 45- to 50-minute presentation, Father Barron covers a tremendous amount of theology. Also, being shot on location, it’s very beautiful to watch. The various locations he goes to — the churches, the lands, the architecture, history and religious sites — it’s all visually-appealing and Father Barron remains faithful to the Church’s theology and covers a lot of ground in a brief amount of time.”
Father Jay Mello, parochial vicar of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth, started screening the “Catholicism” series at his parish last fall, offering morning and evening sessions. He was surprised at the turnout for the sessions, which drew an average of more than 80 people each time.
“It just goes to show how thirsty God’s people are for the truth,” Father Mello said. “They don’t want the faith watered down. They want real substance.
“I think it has been a tremendous tool for evangelization, and in particular for the New Evangelization because Father Barron isn’t saying anything new in regards to content, but the way in which he explains these truths of our Catholic faith — his methodology — brings those viewing it right to the heart of our Catholic faith.”
Susan Wallace, director of external relations for Holy Cross Family Ministries in North Easton, said they have been hosting similar screening and discussion sessions and people have been impressed with the “Catholicism” series.
“It’s always great to see what others in the Catholic Church are doing and this is certainly an amazing piece,” Wallace said. “You’re just so proud to be Catholic when you see it and it’s done with such professionalism and quality that it not only represents our Church well, but serves us well internally.”
Given Father Barron’s previous work through his Word On Fire ministry and website and now his ground breaking “Catholicism” documentary, Wallace said she sees similarities in him to Holy Cross Family Ministries’ founder Father Patrick J. Peyton, C.S.C.
“Father Peyton knew in 1947 that he needed to get on the airwaves,” Wallace said. “He knew you could only reach so many people face-to-face. So he looked to getting on the radio and TV.”
Today, Father Barron is using more modern Internet tools like YouTube and social media websites to spread the Good News.
“Father Barron portrays a great image for our Church and it’s come at a time when we need it so much,” she said.
“I find Father Barron is doing, in a way, what Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen did in a previous generation,” said Miller. “One of the things that I’ve said for a while is we need a new Fulton J. Sheen — someone whose presentation is attractive, whose method is orthodox, and someone who is very relatable. I find Father Barron very humble in his presentation style. He’s non-threatening and he has Good News to get across to the world.”
“That’s certainly high praise,” Father Barron said. “He’s one of my great heroes. We have a picture of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in our Word On Fire offices. I’m always grateful to hear that. I don’t think I’m at Fulton Sheen’s level, but we’re trying to do what he did and use what we have available to us.”
Wallace and Father Barron agreed that pioneers like Father Peyton and Archbishop Sheen would have loved using today’s Internet-based tools to spread the Gospel message.
“With sites like YouTube you can post a video and have it seen all over the world immediately,” Father Barron said. “Archbishop Sheen had to rely on people tuning in at a particular time on the radio or TV. Now we can use all this means to communicate instantly.”
Father Mello said he is grateful that Father Barron has shared his talents and ability to explain the faith in such a way and he highly recommends the “Catholicism” series to any parish or Catholic seeking to grow in their faith.
“I think Father Barron is such an asset to the Church at this point in history because of how he is able to clearly articulate the deep theological truths of our Catholic faith in ways that those who do not have a theology degree can understand,” he said.
For more information about the “Catholicism” documentary series along with the accompanying 300-page book and workbook study guide, visit www.catholicismseries.com.